Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grandma Hook

She was always an enigma to me. Bigger than life, sterner than any woman I had ever known, for me she was always a strong old woman. Her dresses had a waistline that circled under her breasts. Her skirts always hung straight. She seemed to have no ass. She always wore dark colors and fashions that made her seem even older than she probably was.

Her house was always clean, but cluttered. There were corners and crannies to investigate in that house. I loved her house more than I loved her.

There were books. Actually, there was only one book that I remember: The Wizard of Oz sat beside the piano in a little corner of the living room where I tucked myself into the almost dark and read words on pages that were bigger than those in any book I had ever read before. Today, that print is reserved for folks who claimed to be partially sighted, those with cataracts or some form of benign blindness – almost.

I was aware of the energy in Grandma Hook’s home. It may have been intriguing, but it was not inviting. Her’s was a place where one behaved, where one remembered not to be too noisy, not to make a scene, but a place where currants grew in the back yard and chickens roamed the side yard – on the far side of the driveway, a horseshoe affair.

Grandma Hook lived on a very busy Davidson Road in the partially industrialized neighborhood in Flint, Michigan – as if the whole city were not industrialized. They made Buicks there. On her street, they produced AC sparkplugs. My grandfather, an electrician, worked in that factory. He was electrocuted on the roof one night in 1936, four years before I was born.

It was shortly after his death that my mother was boarded out to her home-ec teacher in a slightly more middle class part of the city. There she learned to wash and iron sheets, to set a table properly, to cook, to appreciate sterling silver, and to dress in the middle class style.

Perhaps because my grandmother, who was attempting to raise eight children without a father, needed to find a table at which each could find enough food, my own mother followed the pattern. I was boarded out, too, not when I was sixteen like my mother, but when I was one. I doubt that she learned to do that from her home-ec teacher. She did learn, however, to fold towels in the proper manner, to hand sew a hem, and to enjoy solid teak furniture, furniture I never remember seeing in my grandmother’s home.

Yes, the stern faced woman with a halo of grey-black hair pinned up around her face, the woman with the bounteous black skirts and the rolled up stockings and proper shoes probably taught my mother a great deal, but I doubt if she intended to teach my mother to give up her firstborn at so early an age.

My enduring memory of Grandma Hook is of her sitting at the breakfast nook, a white wooden table on each side of which was attached a wooden bench with a seat that lifted so that there was storage space underneath, a bench that would sit at least four on each side.
There she sat one afternoon when my mother and I stopped to visit. She was using a teaspoon to scoop out the soft green insides of an avocado. I had never tasted avocado. They seemed decadent at the time; they looked oily and slimy.

That was the last time I saw my grandmother.