We arrive at my grandmother’s house. I have mostly fond memories of this place since it’s where Christmas dinner often happened and when lots of people cook for lots of people the meals are usually pretty wonderful. At the very least you know there’s going to be some diversity.
There’s the fridge where the Grey Cup pool matrix goes when we’re there to watch the Grey Cup. That’s a pretty big deal.
There’s the dining room with its stand up piano that at least one member of the extended family plays well when suitably lubricated (and then shortly after that can’t play much at all). This is where the Christmas dinner happens when it happens and there’s dark fruitcake, a classic English pudding really, with coins wrapped in wax paper baked into it. It’s served with a sauce that everyone makes ecstatic noises over but that no one ever actually tries to replicate outside of my grandmother’s. It’s not that good, just sort of whipping cream incompletely whipped with brown sugar. But it seems to excite everyone and when it’s being made the brothers and sisters fight over who gets to lick the spoon. It has the tone of a ritual. But today there’s no Christmas pudding and no special sauce.
Stairs lead up from the dining room to the attic rooms that were built for the youngest daughter. They are the coolest rooms, covered in dayglow posters. Black light bulbs are in the sockets. The record collection is great and you can step out of the window onto the roof. It’s kind of a dream room for a young kid and I spend a lot of time up there over the years.
In the living room there are ashtrays everywhere. Big ones like we all had in the 70s. Murder weapon quality ashtrays. They are bigger than the candy dishes which, around Christmas anyway, contain ancient fused ribbon candy and humbugs, hard candy that has endured several years I’m sure. Occasionally the candy bowl has fresh candy but you only get excited about that once. It’s not as good as it is colourful.
There’s a nice recliner but that’s for Grandad Hopping, an ancient and uncommunicative old man and I can never remember just who’s father he is. He’s great at cribbage and the brothers play against him consecutively, often losing. He paints strange landscapes based on PBS painting show instructions and he’s actually pretty wonderful. He has a cane with a rubber snake nailed to it and I think it’s this visit that he gets a new cane and one of the brothers sets to work nailing a new rubber snake to it. I’m reasonably sure old Grandad has Seen Some Shit, maybe knifed some Germans during one of the wars. He’s unreadable, really. When he gets up to go to his room he lets out a ripping fart for the entire trip and it’s not clear that he knows it’s happening. I see his face though. He knows.
He could be anyone really. His persona in his old age implies nothing about his youth.
The wall between the kitchen and the living room is coming down or the doorway opened or something. I’m not clear on what the renovation is and I’m busy trying to find something to be busy with since nothing here is really for me. There’s a first generation Atari game machine but I’m already bored of Tank and Pong and Space Invaders. There’s a shelf full of Reader’s Digest version of various famous novels, all attractively bound, a showcase of literature. I’m uninterested. They are all practically brand new even though they’ve been there since I was old enough to look at them. I’m already snooty enough to sniff at an abridged version of anything even though I’ve never read the full version of any of them. At this stage in my life it’s pretty much Arthur C. Clarke or nothing.
I probably play around the house outside, picking the brightly coloured crystals out of the strange dangerous stucco that was popular at the time. It’s like a cake that’s way too old to eat, hard white icing and tooth shattering sprinkles. It’s very strange to me now that this was not strange to me then: what an absurd way to decorate a house. But as a kid I guess you’re still collecting things to make a guess at normal and so this is normal. This is the only memory I have of my sister at this location, both of us ruining the house’s stucco. Is that strange? She’s only three years younger than me so she must have been there most of these visits, and we would usually be the only kids so we’d be playing together. But I have nothing in my head there at all that relates to her. It would probably be forty years before I connect with my sister properly: something was (almost) permanently broken then.
I come back into the kitchen just as they are pulling the gyproc off the frame behind the stove. And in the wall is a small silver revolver packed in with newspaper. No one says a thing. I want to say that one of my father’s eyebrows goes up, like Spock, to perfectly punctuate this scene, but honestly I don’t remember anything except the revolver because that’s what I stared at. The gun in the wall.
Someone may have said, “Huh.” but I’m suspicious of that because it’s a pretty good scene closer as well.
We drive home in silence. I have no idea what the gun was about or where it is now. Dad puts an 8-track in the machine under the passenger seat. “Born On the Bayou” starts in the middle.
By the time we pull up to the car port at home it’s dark and we’re all singing along with Jim Croce, who’s already dead.