It was 1958. I was ten years old. My aunt and uncle and cousin lived with my grandmother, a two-hour drive from my own home. My aunt and uncle were overdue a family vacation but knew they could not leave Grammy unattended. The four of them lived in a large three-story Victorian house on 1 ½ acres that had been in the family since 1879. My aunt and my mother concurred that I would be the designated “Grammy” sitter. My aunt explained to me that I was taking on an important task – keeping an eye on my grandmother. My aunt explained to my grandmother that she was to keep an eye on me to give my mother a break. As I look back, I think the second explanation was probably more accurate.
It began innocently enough. We baked, played games, looked through old photos and walked the dog. Walking the dog! An experience in itself. Sandy was a sweet dog. But walking her? Another story! She was so strong, so very strong. It took the two of us to hang onto her leash. It’s like she was using those few minutes to see the entire world! Grammy was afraid I’d pull my arm out of its socket and I was afraid she would fall and break something. But the dog had to be walked. We survived (barely) and, as always, were relieved to get her chained back up to her doghouse in the coal shed. Until one night. One dark and lonely night. We locked ourselves out.
The house had a wrap-around porch – three sided. We checked every window we could reach, to no avail. I climbed onto the short roof of the coal shed to check the little window above. We even tried to get in through the basement, through those big old hatchway doors. Secretly I was quite relieved those doors were securely locked. There was no way I was going to enter that old dusky scary root cellar in the dark of night. The only solution was asking a neighbor. It was quite a walk to the neighbor’s house but a successful one. A young man came back with us carrying a ladder. He was able to gain entrance by climbing through an unlocked upstairs window. Whew.
Then there was the time of the thunderstorm. I was downstairs in the front parlor reading and went to look for Grammy. I could not find her anywhere. I mean nowhere in that house! Finally, as I began to get really scared and the storm began to wind down, I heard a weak voice calling me. Apparently whenever there is a thunderstorm, she hides in her closet. There obviously was no concern for my welfare; her motto must have been “save yourself!”
And then there was the game of Crokinole. I’m borrowing Wikipedia’s definition:
“Crokinole is a dexterity board game similar in various ways to pitchnut, carrom, marbles, and shove ha’penny, with elements of shuffleboard and curling reduced to table-top size. Players take turns shooting discs across the circular playing surface, trying to have their discs land in the higher-scoring regions of the board, while also attempting to knock away opposing discs.”
It was invented in 1876 and I’ve never known another person who has heard of it. But it was a favorite of mine. Anyway, we were playing one night and Grammy leaned to the right to shoot her disc and all of a sudden . . . a crack. She cracked her rib. What!!! I didn’t know what to do! I was ten years old and supposed to be taking care of her! Now what do I do?? Grammy calmed me and retired to her bedroom. She told me it wasn’t the first time and she would simply go and tape herself up. I was shocked but a tad relieved that I didn’t have to call a doctor. That ended our Crokinole games for the week.
To round out the week, we were eating our dinner on the north porch. It was a delightful screened in porch with a built in table. It was one of my favorite places in the house. That last night together, as we were eating, we both heard a noise in the house. I looked at Grammy for reassurance and received none. Instead she (we) proceeded to check out the entire house, every room, every floor (except the basement, thank goodness.) It was bolted from the inside. It was finally bedtime and finding nothing, she walked me into my bedroom and proceeded to check under my bed. She then showed me how to prop up a chair under the doorknob so no one could enter. Then she bid me goodnight. Would it be stating the obvious to report I did not sleep that night?
Speaking about nights there, my bedroom was at the end of the front hall. The bathroom was down the hall, around the staircase, and into the back hall. At the top of the staircase was one of those big old portraits of some way old, dead for a long time, distant relative of mine. You know the ones I mean. No one ever smiled and the eyes would always be watching. During that week, my bladder grew stronger and I never used the facilities during the night.
The next day my aunt and uncle along with my cousin came home and my mother showed up to take me home. My aunt slipped me a five dollar bill. I was elated until my mother told me it should have been much more, after hearing all my tales. I was ok with the five dollar bill. In that day, at my age, I was rich! But I don’t ever remember “Grammy” sitting again. Maybe my mother missed me. 🙂