I took the couch, the red chair, the porcelain cat. These things were permanent fixtures in her house; they never moved from the little-used living room with the pale blue carpet that once felt so cushy under my child’s feet. Over time, it has been worn down and some of those dirty paw prints from Belle and Jake and Gina, those dirty farm dogs never denied access to Grandma’s house, never went away, no matter how hard we scrubbed. The wingback chair, covered in cherry-red velvet, sat in the corner by the window next to its matching lamp; the lampshade faded with the sun, but the chair never has. The sofa, swirls of blue and green, sat waiting for Dylan to take his yearly Christmas nap on it. Roscoe the cat, brought back to America by Uncle Ronnie, sat proudly between couch and corner cabinet. I remember being eye-to-eye with him, patting his cold glassy forehead when I came to visit Grandma.
I visited her every day for 18 years, and then whenever I could after I moved away to the city. She was my roommate when I was born, as she moved out of her house and we moved into it. I knew, and will always know, every corner of her little lavender house by heart. I will always feel the cool linoleum of the basement pantry where she kept the cookies in their frozen Schwan’s tin. I will always remember which teacups sat where, teacups that now sit in Michigan, Florida, Bismarck, lonely for their old friends in my cousins’ houses. I will always hear the hum of that old radio near the door, a little dusty and staticky, the quiet thud of Uncle Steven’s boots in the kitchen. When I have a house of my own, I will always keep a jar of pink peppermints just like she did.
I will always be that girl on the couch next to her rocker, even though I’m older now, paying my bills and my rent and filling up my car with gasoline so I can go, go, go. But at home, when Grandma was there, it was slower. I would sit and talk to her about whatever was happening in my life or about the flowers or the birds; we’d talk about her books, my visits to New York, her childhood in the country. She was my audience, but there were so many stories that even 24 years could not hear. I had her for so long, and then suddenly I didn’t. You know these things are coming, but they always manage to surprise you when they happen.
When things get tough for me, I go back to that spot in my head, that little couch near her rocking chair. I take a great deal of comfort in my memories of sitting there with her, of her quiet strength. I think of her the way she always was for me; hands dotted with age, hair that seemed to turn bright white overnight, soft voice that could still scold her sons for placing the wrong dish on the Christmas dinner table. I will always have the calm and safe feeling I had with her, in her house, whenever I need it. I have her things, which are the first things I’d grab if my house caught fire, but more importantly I have her spirit.
Roscoe sits in my bedroom in Minneapolis now. He’s the first thing I see when I wake up.
For all of us she was Grandma, but for me she was my best friend.