Today if I could go back in time I'd visit my grandparents in their tidy two-story house on Dicke Avenue in S____ F_____ in the mid-1970s when I was in my mid-00s and my brothers all still lived at home. The whole time I knew that house it had the ugliest shag carpet you've ever seen, wall-to-wall deep-pile strands of olive green twisted with yellow and black. Whole alien civilizations were lost in that carpet. The sofa was a sort of brownish-olive green, as well, more a hard platform with the hint of a cushion than an actual sofa, and on the opposite side of the room was an enormous TV and a wide-body chair that matched the look and feel of the non-sofa, and there was a side table with a lamp and an ashtray next to it, although I don't remember anybody ever smoking.
Against the far wall sat the hi-fi console with the turntable where my grandma would spin Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" at top volume on Sunday mornings to wake us all up, before she'd head for the kitchen and start frying bacon. Before I ever knew who Johnny Cash was, I associated his bottomless rumble with my sweet, 4’10” grandma, and later in life when I watched her give my father the finger across the table during a heated game of sheepshead, I understood. My dad has always been a sore winner and loved to rile her up, but I think there was a little Johnny Cash in my grandmother, too, or at least whatever part of her it was that ran hot enough to say screw you to her own son over a card game. She was a real pip, as my mother would say. She could laugh with her whole body and never make a sound.
When we visited for the weekend I would spend most of my time sitting on the stairs between the first and second floor reading a book while everybody else watched TV in the living room, watching what seemed back then like one endless episode of Lawrence Welk morphing into one endless game of football. I loved those carpeted stairs, although as I mentioned the carpet was spectacularly ugly and also scratchy, and I loved the perch I had there, where I could see out the side window onto the driveway and into the street and also had a good view of myself in the hallway mirror. I liked being apart from everyone else but still close enough to hear. I liked observing without actually being involved, watching the sun set and the world outside go dark while I sat warm and safe and exactly where I was supposed to be.
The idea of having a second floor seemed exotic to me then, and so did the door at the top that led out to the cramped little landing that I understand now would have been their second means of egress in the event of disaster. I didn't know about building codes at the age of seven so it never occurred to me what that landing was for or how it could be used, but I remember my dad telling us his younger brother Gary fell from it once, trying to shinny down one of the pillars the way he'd watched my father and his friends do it. I think this is a true story. I don't believe I made it up. I always imagined him getting halfway down and then looking up and letting go or losing his grip and dropping fast and hard onto the cement below. He died last spring, my uncle Gary, of a heart attack, just as he was getting ready to retire. Life is a real fucker, but you probably know that already.
The house has been remodeled since my grandpa died, but I remember the doors there all had heavy beveled glass knobs and keyholes, and my room I stayed in was my aunt Nancy's old room, and just the right size for a small girl, narrow and cozy, with two tall windows and long gauzy white curtains and one twin bed against the wall. The wallpaper was dark gray with pink roses...I don't think I'm making that up either. I used to read in there for hours at a time and later, when I was older, I would listen to my Walkman and think about boys and school and soap operas and how exciting it would be when I married Huey Lewis or the News. I probably wrote some terrible poems in that room while I waited for my future to start—it was one of those formative places, one of those magical rooms—and now here I am 30 years later, dreaming of what it would be like to go back.