Tuesday, June 23, 2009

76th and Tibbets

Corner of 76th and Tibbets
The boys, their sons,
My dad and his brothers
Called it 76
Always white with green trim
Side view looked like a barn
It was “the house” in my mind
Always, there, always part of our family

The garage was across a walk way
And there was a hidden key
I watched my dad get it, over the years
Later when I was in high school
I’d stop by, knowing they’d be gone
With a friend or two
Get the key and
Hang out inside for a while

In the back yard
Was a plum tree
That we’d pick from each year
And a weeping willow
Great for climbing
And pretending to be
Adventurers or lost children
The Columbus Day Storm
Split its core
It hung limp for years
Until finally cleared away

Two floors and a full basement
Half finished as a party room
Light paneled walls
And a bar by the fireplace
They were cocktail and hard liquor people
We’d sneak sips
With our cousins
When the adults were upstairs
I only knew a few of the people
Whose faces filled party pictures
That covered the walls

On party nights
I’d be upstairs, with my brother
Listening to the music pulse
Through the floors
And when brave
We’d sneak to the top of the stairs
To catch a glimpse
Finally in deep sleep
Dad would get us out
Of bed late at night
And we’d drive home

On the other side of the basement
Was a work bench
Laundry area
And a chest freezer
That always had Eskimo Pies that
I thought grandpa would
Bring them back from Alaska each fall

Grandma was so thin, boney
Dark, permed hair
And flowery dresses
She had a bedroom on the main floor
Next to the bathroom
It all smelled of perfumes and powders
She slept with a mask
Over her eyes
Had a lady-like cigarette case yet
Don’t remember her smoking much

She worked late nights
For the phone company
Connecting voices, lives
From across town and around the world
She’d sleep until almost noon

We’d listen to 45’s in the party room
Hits of the day
And dance with grandma
At Christmastime she’d make us kiss her
Under the mistletoe

Tension, outbursts and distance
Defined the family
Each son quit high school
And joined the service
She’d fight with her son’s
If they talked at all
She said they’d be sorry when she died
Their half-joke response
Was that we’d never know
Because she’d outlive us all
She didn’t, she died
Before grandpa
Before any of her sons
A few months before her
First great-grand child arrived

Grandpa lived upstairs
With the boys
Two bedrooms and a bath
Story was my dad shared
Grandpa’s room while growing up

He would leave every summer
For cannery work in Alaska
May have cherished
The break from grandma

He’d go to bed early
And rise in similar fashion
We’d sleep in the room
Across the hall when our
Parents were away
Get up early with him
He’d make Cream of Wheat
And toast for breakfast
With real butter
Every time
We’d sit at the Formica, kitchen table
Looking at the willow tree
Until it was gone

There was an attic off his bedroom
My older cousin showed us slide pictures
Of topless women
We’d hold them up to
The single, bare light bulb
Hanging from the rafters
Fascinated, afraid, fixated

After grandma got ready
On Saturday
They would go grocery shopping
She in her dress
And he in a white shirt, slacks
And a hat to cover his bald head
Always he drove
Always the same store
Always together

He’d been a cowboy
Working on a ranch in Montana
After coming to the states
As a young boy from Germany

She’d been a school teacher
And enjoyed correcting our grammar

She was embarrassed
He didn’t have a middle name
She gave him an initial
I often wondered why
She didn’t give him the whole name

In her mind all people
Should be Methodists and democrats
And you should never wear blue jeans
Those were for poor people
Who didn’t know better
Or couldn’t afford more

As teenagers we’d be sure to wear
Our oldest jeans when visiting

After grandma died
Grandpa stayed on ten plus years
Heard he started drinking
Finally he went to a nursing home
We visited shortly before he died

My dad’s oldest brother
Lived in the house for a while
I heard the stairs were more than
His joints could handle
I heard he sold 76


  1. "And when brave
    We’d sneak to the top of the stairs
    To catch a glimpse"

    my brother and i always did this when we visited our grandparents' house on Mercer Island, huddling over the spiral staircase, listening to the adults carry on when we were supposed to be asleep.

  2. "They were cocktail and hard liquor people." That is a strong image.

    I also love the stanza about the middle initial and the middel name.