Before my grandparents moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, they lived in Coraopolis. I was very young when they lived in that Pittsburgh suburb, not even out of elementary school, but I recall a few things about their place. The property, for one. Their house, a midcentury one-story brick, stood on a piece of land that swooped in the back, and at the bottom of the hill, my grandad’s vegetable garden sprawled to the right, and neat rows of raspberry bushes marched along the left.
The raspberries, of course, were a treat, but I remember grazing my way through the garden, too, lingering by the beans, grassy and crisp, and the peas, like green pearls, snugly strung in their pods, and the little tomatoes, red cherries and yellow pears, warm from the sun, fat with rain, and bursting with sweetness. I’d run my arms up through the tomato leaves and sniff my skin until bath time, addicted to that pungent perfume.
Beyond the garden and raspberry bushes stood the chicken coop and my grandmother’s music room, a shed just big enough to hold her piano and a few chairs. She’d play hymns, show tunes, Christmas carols—familiar songs. I remember singing along.
The house’s interior hasn’t stayed with me, except for the living room. Whenever my family spent the night at my grandparents’, my older sister and I slept in this room on the pull-out couch, an amazing piece of furniture, I thought. My grandmother would make up the bed with sheets she kept stored in her cedar-lined hope chest, and I loved their woodsy scent.
I can still see the room’s layout, the front door, picture window, fireplace, and furniture, but what I remember most vividly is my grandad’s beloved mantle clock, its elegant face, carved wooden case, and musical chimes that marked the quarters of every hour. How steady and reassuring, the tick-tock, tick-tock: a measured heartbeat. It kept me company in the quiet house and lulled me to sleep.
I expect I’ve been thinking so much about this house because, just last July, my husband gave me an antique grandfather clock for my birthday. A big birthday for me—fifty!—and a big, beautiful gift. It sounds funny to say my new grandfather clock reminds me of my grandfather, but it does. It makes me think of his lovely mantle clock. And now, even as my birthday gift charmingly and musically marks the passage of time, it evokes my past, too, rewinding me to my youngest years and the experiences I enjoyed in my grandparents’ house.
Such simple pleasures, those experiences, probably not the least bit remarkable to others. But they seemed remarkable to me. Honestly, they still do—the tidy brick house, clock, raspberries, fragrant tomato leaves, music, pull-out bed, and cedar-scented sheets, all imbued with a strange magic, a quality of luxury, and beauty. Beauty most of all.
Happy memories, happy little me. Wandering through a thriving garden, tasting the earth’s bounty, I was a growing thing among growing things, warmed by the sun and veritably bursting.