Her Last Trip to Her Grandmother’s House
Danielle drove through the bright sunshine of the mid-morning, wondering why she had agreed to do this. Her mother knew that her grandmother had not been her favorite person in the world, and they hadn’t really seen each other in over two years. There was nothing at the house that Danielle wanted. As she drove on, she could feel her anxiety building. Would she and her mom get into one of their fights? Did she forget anything? Was she supposed to bring snacks or lunch? How was she going to feel walking into a house that she never liked being in anyway now that her grandmother would never be there again? She turned on the radio and attempted to distract herself with her favorite country station.
She finally found herself pulling into the drive. She put the car in park and walked up the path to the front door. As she opened the door, she looked around at the familiar living room. The pictures of the family still lined the shelves. There, smiling down at her, were her aunts and uncles, cousins, sister, and herself. At 5’4, she always felt small next to her mother and sister who each stood at 5’7. She didn’t realize that her thick raven hair, blue eyes, and high cheekbones gave her a classic beauty. She was always envious of her sister’s blond hair. She felt that it gave Victoria the extra confidence she needed to be so outgoing, while Danielle was shy. Although, she had come out of her shell since she began working in the dress shop in the mall as a teenager. In the 10 years she worked there, she had worked hard to become manager of the store. And, the employee discount helped with her love for shopping. While she wasn’t a “fashionista,” she always looked put together, even if she didn’t feel it on the inside.
She couldn’t help smiling back at the photographs, but it was a bittersweet smile. So many of them were out of her life due to one reason or another. Her grandmother’s ashtrays, empty for the first time in years, were there on the end tables, along with the 30- year-old brass lamps with what once were white bell shades that had seen much better days. All the knick-knacks (blown glass figurines, troll dolls, birthday cake ornaments, and the miniature tea sets) were still collecting dust in the small niche behind the dining table which was connected to the living room. Her grandma loved displaying the small items that her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids gave her over the years.
In her mind’s eye, she saw the Christmas tree in the corner. It was always decorated with the large old-fashioned lights that didn’t blink but glowed brightly just the same. There were the cheap, old, mismatched ornaments that would never be worth anything but memories. She saw the star that always leaned a little to the left no matter which tree it was attached to or how many times it was straightened. She saw the gifts that were packed and stacked under the tree, spilling out onto the floor so that it was at times difficult to walk in the living room. She could smell the different spices mingling together in the mountains of food that was cooked over the span of days. She could taste the pineapple and brown sugar glazed ham (she didn’t like turkey) and dressing. She could remember being so full that she didn’t want to move, but still went after the pies, cakes, cookies, and candies.
Her mother walked into the dining room to break Danielle out of her reverie. Even though Emily was smiling at her, Danielle could see that her eyes were red from crying. It was only natural, she supposed. After all, her grandmother had only been gone for two weeks, and being here today had to bring back even more memories for her mom.
“Hi, Sweetheart. I’m so glad you agreed to come today. You don’t know how much I need your help.”
“Hi, Mom. It was kinda tough moving my schedule around, but I thought you would need me and Victoria. She is coming, isn’t she? Don’t tell me, she’s running late.”
“No, actually, I just got off the phone with her. She will be here in an hour, right on time.”
“Did I get the time mixed up? If I had known you didn’t want us here for another hour, there were some calls I could have made.”
“I wanted you here early. I know that this isn’t your favorite place, and Mama wasn’t your favorite person. So, I thought you might need some extra time to look at everything and see if there is anything special you want before Viki gets here and starts claiming it all. There are some things that have already been promised to your cousins, but I hope you can find something you want to remind you of her. Before we get started, let’s sit down with a cup of coffee and sausage biscuit and talk for a few.”
At the table with the coffee and biscuits before them, the air felt strained to Danielle. She couldn’t tell if it was Emily’s grief over losing her mother, or something else, but it felt as though Emily had something on her mind. Danielle wasn’t quite sure of how to start a conversation without causing an argument, so she made small talk about the kids and her job.
“You look pretty today,” said Emily. “You always could make old jeans and a t-shirt look stylish.”
Dani felt a slight prickle of irritation at her mother’s words. It felt like she could not do anything right. Did Emily expect her to wear a suit to clean and pack up a house? “I just thought if we were going to be packing and cleaning, I would wear something that I could be comfortable in and not worry how dirty I got,” she answered.
“It’s good, just what you should be wearing. Although, I do wish you would let your hair grow out. It’s a shame that you have such pretty hair, and you always keep it short.”
“Mom, please don’t criticize me today. I really don’t want to get into another argument. I like my hair short. It’s so much easier to deal with this way. I don’t see what’s so special about it anyway.”
“I’m not trying to start an argument or criticize you. You never could see what was so obvious to everyone else. I know you always wanted blond hair, but it wouldn’t have looked right with your complexion. And, it doesn’t matter what you do with it. You can just get right out of bed and shake it out because it is so thick and full. Do you really think I don’t do anything but criticize you?”
Danielle sat there and thought for a few minutes. She went back in her memory to her childhood. She saw her mother with Viki constantly. She saw herself sitting in a chair watching tv or in her room alone. When her father was home, Danielle was glued to his side, talking and laughing with him. She loved going to her father’s parents house and spending time with them.
Danielle finally spoke, “You were always closer to Viki, and I felt like you didn’t love me as much as you did her. You two were together all the time. I felt left out with you two.”
There was a genuine look of shock on Emily’s face at this revelation. “I never knew you felt this way. Please believe me that I love you just as much as I do her. I never meant for you to feel like you weren’t as special to me. I have tried not to show favoritism. But you do have to take some of the responsibility yourself. You were closer to your dad, and I couldn’t compete with him, and I still can’t. Anytime you have good news, he is the first one you tell. Besides, you were such an easy child to raise, unlike your sister. She was, and still is, a never-ending drama. I know you don’t like me as much as you do your dad, and while I’m okay with that, I still feel a little like I was never good enough for you. Come on, breaks over. Let’s get to work.”
As they cleaned the dishes off the table, and Emily poured herself another cup of coffee, Danielle started rolling Emily’s words in her mind. Was Dani that blatant in her preference to her dad? Did Emily really feel that Dani didn’t like her? She knew that they didn’t have the best relationship in the world, but it was just so much easier to blame her mother rather than herself. It was true that Danielle knew that her father was the greatest man that ever lived, but maybe just a little deep down inside, she felt that Emily wasn’t good enough for him.
Danielle had always loved going to her father’s parents house. They made it so much fun for her and Vicki, taking them shopping and out for ice cream. Her grandfather even let them both “drive” down the country backroads as they sat on his lap. When all the cousins were there together, they would play outside in the woods behind the house, and at night they gathered in the living room, playing board games.
It was such a major difference from being at her maternal grandmother’s house. Her grandma always seemed to be unhappy, and all she wanted to do was sit around and watch tv. The only time Dani had any fun there at all was when her aunt came home to visit. Danielle had heard stories all her life about her grandpa, how funny he was and how he loved spoiling the kids. He always seemed to make time doing something special for each one. From all the tales that were told about him, Dani was sorry that she had never gotten the chance to meet him.
Danielle fixed herself a glass of tea and they went back into the dining room where Emily explained they were going to begin with the knick-knacks behind the table. Many of them had been promised to family members, and Emily had small boxes to put them in. Again, Emily asked if there was anything special Dani wanted. She had found nothing yet but promised she would keep her eye out for something. They had just gotten started when Victoria breezed in.
“Hi Mom. Hey, Dani. I didn’t know if you were going to be able to make it. Glad you’re here. I’ve missed you and wanted to spend some time with you. Besides, I think Mom needs us both here so she won’t go completely bonkers. As we both know, she’s already half way there.”
“If I am it’s because the two of you loved driving me crazy,” replied Emily, with a smile in her voice. “You got here just in time. Viki, go into the kitchen and get a bowl of warm soapy water and a rag. You can clean all this stuff while Dani wraps it in bubble wrap. Then, I will put it in the boxes and label it with the right name.”
They spent the next few hours cleaning and packing the house up. As they were working, Emily told them stories about her childhood; “Did I ever tell you about the time…” Sometimes, she would pick up an object and turn her back. Even though she tried to hide it, the girls could tell she was crying. Then, she would tell them about that thing and what made it so special. For the first time, Danielle felt like she was getting a clearer picture of her mother’s side of the family. Maybe she had spent too much time comparing the two families. Perhaps her preference for her father’s family made it an unfair comparison.
By the end of the afternoon, there were boxes of all shapes and sizes sorted and stacked neatly. There were only a few things left, and Emily felt it was time to ask if there was anything special they wanted, starting with Danielle. At first, she couldn’t think of anything. Then, she saw the star that always leaned to the left no matter what. All at once she realized that these were the best Christmases of her life. Even though Danielle was closer to her father’s parents, the holidays at their house could not compare. She then wondered if life at this house would have been different if she had been able to know Emily’s father, if she had known the grandmother who wasn’t a widow. She realized many things about herself and about her own mother.
Maybe she was as much to blame for the contention in their relationship. Maybe she let jealousy and envy play too much a part in her life. Maybe she had been a little ashamed of her mother, thinking Emily wasn’t good enough for her father. She reached for the star, and then went to her mom and gave her a hug. She whispered how sorry she was for her part in their arguments and miscommunication, and that she did love her mother so much. As they stood there sobbing in each other’s arms, Dani knew that even though it would take time to heal all the hurt in both hearts, they had finally taken their first steps on the right path. She was so glad that she had come today. She knew that she would hold onto the good things of her past and begin to let go of the bad in that last trip to her grandmother’s house.