By Cathy Ostrum — 1979
It seemed as if I had to look up as high as to see a cloud in the sky, in order to see my Grandma Ostrum’s house. It sat on a grassy ledge on the side of a lush green, Pennsylvania hill, up West Creek. If the hill should breathe a sigh, the old house would tumble down through the bank of overgrown weeds and onto the gray road below.
Because I was so small and the cement tower of stairs was so tall, the climb I had was as steep as if on a ladder resting against the side of a house. I had to grab the cold steel pipe that was the railing, and pull myself up, step by step.
At the top of the stairs a bush protruded into my walkway. It drew it’s long fingernails across my arm, as I tried to push it away. The bush had dark, forest-green leaves and a sweet, pungent aroma. The leaves were shaped like fat tear drops and the smell came from the ice cream cones of lily white flowers, sticking up among the green leaves. I came to know them as Lilacs.
More gray cement stairs lay just beyond the bush. These stairs were more tired than the first. They stretched out as far as they could, as if it were a great effort to escort people to the porch.
I had to step twice on each landing, before I could move up one step. I tried very hard to step only once, with no luck. So, I made it a game throughout the years to see how long it would be before I was big enough to take just one step at a time.
The long, dark green porch of Grandma’s house was a question to me. The wood was paint-bare and pitted, and when I walked, the floor sagged with each step, then pushed my foot up as though the boards were made of rubber. I knew there must be spiders and other creepy things hiding in the nooks and crannies. Even so, I could feel a warmth and friendliness as I stepped gingerly to the front door.
I could never find a place to sit in Grandma’s house. She always had people in every chair. Looking for a seat was like trying to find a parking spot on a busy Saturday afternoon downtown. The dining room at Grandma’s house was two rooms long. The yellow wooden table took up one whole room. It sat snuggly beside the doorway to the kitchen as though waiting for the next meal to come out.
On those days when the house was filled with people, I could always be sure that the air would be filled with the hot steam and smell of chicken and biscuits simmering in the adjacent kitchen.
At dinner time the seating arrangements were made by the adults. That meant that anyone under five feet tall, except for Grandma, had to sit at the steel gray folding table, while the taller, older, more pushy individuals gabbed between bites at the huge yellow table.
Because of the constant chatter, the kid’s table was, more often than not, forgotten. The mashed potatoes arrived when the bowl needed refilled. The gravy in the yellow bowl, with the bright red apples painted on the side, was already sloshed out over the edge. I disliked that cold, slippery, slimy feeling. And the dark meat was always gone by the time the dish reached my waiting plate.
We never left Grandma’s hungry, but we had to fight for every bite we got. The wait was worthwhile when I tasted the soft, gravy-drenched biscuits. My mouth waters even now at the thought of the tasty meal.