09 June 2005

You can't go home again, but they just might let you look around a bit.

Wednesday night we had the unusual pleasure of taking my grandmother to dinner. She was in town to spend the night with my parents so Mom could take her to the airport early in the morning. We went by to pick her up and found her drinking Canadian scotch with my father. When we told her where we were having dinner, she clapped her hands in delight and said "Oh, I used to live in that neighborhood!" and tried to convince my father to come with us. Alas, he had already eaten, and was organizing his fishing equipment for the weekend, so he declined her enthusiastic invitation, despite her promise to show us the house they lived in when Mom was born.

She finishes her drink, and off we go. She insists on sitting in the back seat, which meant that she generally doesn't see intersections coming up until it was too late to turn at them. She mentions that her drink earlier has made her a little silly feeling. We refrain from saying "yes, we noticed." Eventually we got to the right neighborhood. This is more or less what the conversation sounds like at that point:

GS: Now what's this street?
D: Fourth Street
GS: No, that's not it, keep driving... what's this next one?
J: Third Street
GS: Ummm, I don't know, try turning right.
[we turn right, go all the way down, turn twice more to circle the block, when we pass Third again, she wants to keep going]
GS: How about this one?
D: Second Street, and probably the next one is First Street
GS: No, keep going... what's this one?
J: This is First St.
GS: no, keep going.... turn right at the next one.
[we turn at the next street]

We kept exploring for a while, with no success, and when we wound up around the corner from the restaurant, I suggested we eat and then try again. Our waiter was very tall:

GS: You're very tall, how tall are you?
W: Six-eight.
GS: SIX-EIGHT!! Goodness!
[Waiter smiles tiredly.]
GS: That's very tall, six-eight.
W: What can I get you to drink?
[She's still gazing at him in awe, but manages to order a mojito anyway. He leaves. She turns to the people that have just sat down at the table next to us.]
GS: Did you know he is 6'8"?
[They look at her blankly but politely.]
GS: That waiter, did you see him? He's 6'8"!
Them: Oh? How tall are you?
GS: 5'3"
Them: I'm sure he would seem very tall if you're only 5'3".

[D and I are trying not to laugh out loud at this point, barely managing only by avoiding looking at each other.]

Her drink comes, and she settles down a bit; we speak of this and that, some of family stuff, some of not. We feast on South American tapas (black bean hummus, ceviche, paella, red pepper-garlic shrimp, mussels in coconut milk, followed by pastel de tres leches and churros). Fantastic place, terrible lighting, but we'll go back and take pictures next time when we sit outside.

We resume the search by going over the same neighborhoods, either she doesn't recognize them, or she thinks we missed it the first time; I'm not sure which. This time, we go farther down the main road and turn onto another busy street. Luckily at the first light, she recognizes the cross street.

A block down that road, she points out the house she lived in when she was very little, recognizing it by the huge stump in the yard. It was a giant oak when she lived there, but the placement and size are enough to jog her memory. Her mother and father moved soon after that to the next house, the one we've been trying to find all this time.

Happily for all of us, she's able to navigate to the second house from there. We miss it on the first pass because she says it's over the hill. It turns out that it's not over the hill, but she recognizes it once we find the mailbox on the second pass.

GS: I want to go ring the doorbell, will you come with me?
J&D: [looking at each other] Um, sure.

We walk up to the door, noticing there's a Jeep 4x4 in the driveway, but it looks like there's another car usually parked closer to the street. She rings the doorbell and we wait. No answer. She rings again, with no response. We're just about to walk away, when a *very* expensive SUV pulls up, and a man in surgical scrubs gets out. We shuffle around and try to look harmless and un-Jehovah's witness-like and the crazy woman I call my grandmother greets him in her cheerful old lady voice. He returns her greeting very amiably, but is obviously puzzled by our sudden appearance on his front stoop.

She explains who she is and why we're there, and, as he reacts with what appears to be geniune enthusiasm, goes on to say she would love it if she could see inside the house. We continue to try to look non-murdery and also slightly like we don't know her at all, never seen her before in our lives. We have introductions all around, he is Keith, an anesthesiologist at a respected hospital here in town, and has lived in this house around five years.

My great-grandparents bought the house in 1943 and lived in it until the early 70s when they moved to Lake Burton to live year-round. My grandmother lived there as a teenager, and as a college student. When she and my grandfather were married, they lived there for a few years until they could afford to buy their own house. My mother and uncle were born during that time.

He gives us the full tour. In the living room, she turns to me and says "Your mother learned to crawl on that floor." They talk for three-quarters of an hour about the house and the changes that have been made since my great-grandparents moved out in the seventies. It is a truly lovely house, full of what a realtor would call character. There are trees in the backyard that my great-grandmother planted. One of them is enormous, it must have a circumference of at least fifteen feet. Keith tells us he and his friends were estimating that it was well over a hundred years old. After exchanging email addresses and mailing addresses, my grandmother promises to send him pictures of the house; I suspect she'll wind up corresponding with him for a while.

We were, and still are, amazed at how gracious Keith was. He had just come from a shift in the operating room; we didn't even give him time to use the bathroom, eat, feed his cat, hide the porn, etc. before traipsing all over his house, peering into every nook and cranny. He said all the right things, like "I just knew good people had to have lived here before me, I've had such a good feeling about this place since the first time I saw it."

Then again, he thought the tree was very old. Funny how people can be wrong about things.

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