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Day 18 in a month of writing: The Brief and Peculiar Memories of My Grandparents

My first piece of jewelry

My first piece of jewelry

I have a large Limoge urn painted with pink and yellow roses, and lilacs so vivid you can almost smell them, it was something that my grandmother wanted me to have, if I ever came to be. My father’s mother died of breast cancer a couple of years before I was born. She knew she was dying and directed my grandfather on how to proceed if their youngest were ever to add a daughter to his duo of boys. Grandpa arrived at the hospital after I was born with his deceased wife’s amethyst and diamond cocktail ring. It would be years before I would wear it, actually I didn’t even have hair for quite a while. Her favorite color was purple and my favorite color has always been purple, like an amethyst. My mother brought the ring to the hospital on the day my own daughter was born, in the original box it came in.

My mother’s parents were on a ship headed to England when I was born and found out that I (who was to remain their youngest grandchild) was a girl via a telegram or some shore to ship communication. Six boys, three girls. I remember their visits when I was young, they would return from England and we would go to the airport. One time I recall them arriving by train. There are photo booth pictures of my cousin Greg and I waiting for one of their arrivals, confused toddlers looking different directions, not knowing why we had been put in the large metal box with the curtain. When Grandma and Grandpa were in town we served tea and cigarettes were put out in a marble holder for guests to help themselves to in the way a person would grab candy or nuts from a dish. They moved back to Minnesota before I started elementary school, built a lovely home, bought a horse and after a few years my grandfather retired. Upon my grandfather’s retirement they moved to their native Ireland and sadly died before their dogs (Black Labs; Rex and Dusky) were even out of quarantine. During the few years they lived in Minnesota during my lifetime I recall grandma teaching me how to jig and playing “Snakes and Ladders” which is exactly the same thing as Chutes and Ladders but you slid down snakes which was creepy.

There are many things I recall about the home they built and those few short years when they lived in Minnesota during my lifetime. Sledding with my brothers and cousins down the road which was their driveway after  a holiday meal is one that comes to mind. I remember there being a sort of elegance and grandeur to their home and also in photographs of the other homes they lived in on Emerson, Bryant and Mount Curve in Minneapolis, as well as on the Rum River in Anoka and their overseas homes in both England and Ireland. The rooms were designed for entertaining with numerous seating spaces, sofas facing each other by the fireplace like a hotel lobby. I loved that there was a pass-thru from the kitchen to the  formal dining room where enormous Waterford candlesticks framed a giant Waterford pedestal bowl. There was a large and fragrant cedar lined closet for storing woolen items, it resembled the size of my bedroom much more than it resembled the size of my own closet, which was only six inches wider than the door into it and was placed awkwardly at the angle of the roof-line. The rooms at Grandma and Grandpa’s were filled with furnishings of dark wood, large floral patterns, ornate lamps, trinkets and oil paintings. Many of those items found their way to the home I grew up in and some of the more special pieces remain in the homes of my brothers and I. A China music box from Ireland that played a tune “The Hills of Killarney” while the back slowly tilted out (to hold playing cards or cigarettes) sat prominently on their coffee table and was a favorite among the grandchildren. We buried my mother’s ashes in it at Fort Snelling.

My father’s father had remarried by the time I was born, so my memories of him include his wife Ruby who outlived him by about fifteen years and passed away just a few weeks before my dad did. Grandpa and Ruby’s was where the tradition of the Rose family Christmas breakfast came from. We arrived at the pink rambler in Golden Vally by 9 a.m. Christmas morning and my aunt, uncle and their teenage daughter arrived sometime before 10:00. This gave Grandpa sufficient time to burn the bacon, which was one of many traditions that my brothers and I have tried to maintain with our own rotating Christmas breakfast. Egg Nog (full strength) was served in tall glasses painted with holly leaves, there was a good high quality candy cane at each place and some other small item. We have grown these keepsakes into full-on “table gifts” which some years are truly the highlight of Christmas morning. We have replaced the scrambled eggs with egg-bakes and have for the most part substituted a caramel coffee cake for the Christmas tree shaped pastry with icing and red and green cherry ornaments. The fruit in the fruit cups can vary but pomegranate is not optional, it’s required.

We loved to play in Grandpa and Ruby’s basement which unlike the home I lived in was referred to as “finished”. The laundry room was aglow with lighting for his African Violets, there was a bar with fancy glassware and bottles lined up behind it, one of them labeled “Ruby Rose” which was his wife’s name. He had built a game that my brothers and I loved to play, it had wooden dowels through an open-topped box, each dowel having a bicycle handlebar grip on it. You moved the dowels back and forth and tried to get the pieces suspended from it to make contact with a ping-pong ball and score a goal against your opponent. Years later I was introduced to it as Foosball but my grandfather’s basement is the first place I played it.

Grandpa Rose was a Shriner (my Grandpa Browne was a Mason as well but just like with the homes he lived in, when he mastered something he quickly moved on)  and I remember him bringing circus tickets over when I was a kid. I also remember him arriving in his Rose Electric Van (with a picture of a Rose in bloom on the side) with pumpkins that we carved on the back porch. When my mother was visiting her parents in England he and his brother Ralph (the plumber) helped my dad gut and renovate our bathroom; new fixtures, new linoleum flooring and white with gold speckled Formica counter and sliding mirrored medicine cabinet. I recall when our dalmatian had puppies that Grandpa brought by one of his other brothers, Vern, who had suffered a stroke. I was only about six but remember knowing that when I set a puppy on his lap and tears rolled down his cheeks that it actually meant that he was happy.

By the time that I was ten all four of my grandparents were gone. In some ways I attribute that to why I have such a good memory, I opted to retain the things that happened with those people because there was not going to be an opportunity to make additional memories with them. I envision my Grandpa Rose wearing a shirt with inch wide vertical stripes in gray, cream and pink and can picture him slicing the Neapolitan ice cream which reminded me of his shirt at our annual July birthday gathering. My Grandpa Browne was always in wool, scratchy in texture like his mustache. He was formal. My Grandma Browne was petite, sweet and generous and I can only recall her wearing dresses and often a cardigan with fussy details over her shoulders. I would derive pleasure listening to a person with an Irish accent read directions to assembling an IKEA bookshelf because it would remind me of the lovely lyrical sound of Grandma Browne.

Memories. Just odd, disjointed associations of moments spent in places and occasions shared with people. My time with them was brief. Somewhere among my things there is a black and white photo of me with both of my grandpas, on a downtown Minneapolis street, I am between them in my spectacular dance recital costume with cardboard tiara. I was six. It is the only time I recall being with both men at the same time.

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