Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The coziest memory of my childood is an auditory one.

In my mind's eye, I see nothing. But clearly I had to be in my very small bed upstairs in my grandparents' small house where, because of the bleak Depression economy, my parents, my two brothers and I lived for years with Nanny and Gramps.

The sounds that echoed from the kitchen laid down a cushion of safety and jollity
that, I now understand, lasted me through all my growing-up years.

The jolly part came from Nanny, five feet tall and about that much around, with a laugh that sounded like coffee boiling over and a joy in simple pleasures that I could almost reach out and stroke, like a friendly, purring cat. She and Gramps (NOT jolly, not laughing, infrequently talking now that deafness bedeviled him) played cards regularly with the Kilmers, Maude and Laban. Such wonderful, time-polished names! Their daughter sometimes joined the party: Beatrice, pronounced "BEE-tris." They sat in the old-fashioned kitchen at the round, old-fashioned oak table, and the coffee was within arm's reach on the wide coal stove. In a niche behind the stove, Daisy lay curled up and warm.

The game was almost always pinochle. (PEE-knuckle.) Gramps was great at the game; by the time everyone had melded once, putting on the table the cards that earned the initial points, he could pretty much predict who had what. Now Nanny had no great head for figuring out points, but she had a brave heart, and bid on what might be, not on what was.

"GOTTDAMMIT!" Gramps would shout at game's end. "How come you bid 32 on THAT mess, Gert?"

"But we won!"

"Yeah, but we shouldn't uh!" Great peals of laughter from around the table, except from Gramps.

I tried to stay awake as long as I could. In particular, I was waiting for the high point. Things would have quieted down as the evening went on, just muffled voices now, relaxed with the comfort of long friendships and the knowledge that big slabs of Nanny's warm peach pie would cap the evening and they'd all be winners. And then, suddenly, I'd hear Nanny shout in triumph, "TRUMP!" And she'd bang her cards down on the table, making the coffee cups rattle and waking Daisy, who barked in protest.

"Chee-zus, woman!" Gramps would yell, a snort masking his restrained laugh. I'd hear the scrap of his chair on the linoleum. "C'mon, Daisy, let's you 'n me gw'outside where we belong!" and he'd take the dog for her brief late-night trip. Silverware and plates would announce themselves; the smell of Laban's pipe would drift up the stairs, and I would drift away on that rich, warm smell, certain that a sliver of peach pie would be at my place in the morning.


Emily said...

I really enjoyed this - I also have good memories of grownups playing cards, though part of the memory involves a deep sense of indignation that they wouldn't let me play. I was very confident that if they'd just tell me the rules I could play Pinochle too (I was probably 4 years old). Instead I had to be satisfied just to sit under the card table drinking my mug of Nestle Quick and listening to all the good music my parents played on the stereo - Gladys Knight, Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66, Judy Collins...I've still not learned to play Pinochle but I know all the words to Midnight Train to Georgia.

Bellabell said...

Em, your comment made me think about the music in my early years; to be more precise, about the absence of it. In those days (late Thirties, early Forties) our family had no phonograph (as the word was then); and I remember no music from the radio until I was 10
or so. The music I had was Nanny whistling as she worked in the kitchen, and my father singing the old Scottish ballads to me just before bedtime.