Last Saturday, I drove my kids to visit my parents, to the same house where I visited my grandparents when I was a child. South from San Marcos, we sped along Interstate 15. In the far back seat, six-year-old Rebecca and four-year-old Angela bickered over who got to sing.
“Mom,” Rebecca complained, “I was singing a song, and Angela just interrupted me.”
“Angie,” I said in my reasonable mom voice, “please ‘don’t interrupt Rebecca. Let her sing her song, then you can have your turn.”
Angela stared at my reflection in the rear-view mirror. When Rebecca launched once again into “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” Angela continued staring at me. I could see her lips move almost imperceptibly.
“Mom. ” Rebecca halted mid-note. “She’s doing it again.”
“Angie, you just lost your turn.”
Angela threw her head back against the seat.. “Man,” she exclaimed, “I’ll never get to sing.”
“Not as long as you keep disobeying.”
We stopped at Oscar’s in Mission Valley to pick up lunch, then headed west toward the beach. When I was a kid, my family lived in Pine Valley, out past El Cajon and Alpine and Descanso. Almost every Thanksgiving, we drove to my grandparents’ house in Pacific Beach. I remember the excitement as we neared the house on Crown Point, the great arc and half-arc of the old two-lane bridges that carried Ingraham Street over Mission Bay.
Sitting behind me in her car seat last Saturday, three-year-old Lucy pointed past the new bridge’s sleek railing. “Look, Mommy,” she said. “I see a boat.” Where Lucy pointed, I saw a sailboat slide through the bay like a knife through quicksilver. “You’re right, Lucy,” I answered.
When I parked in front of my parents’ house a minute later, Rebecca and Angela leaped out and ran up the front walk. After I unbuckled Lucy, she followed. I brought up the rear carrying 16-month-old Johnny and the bags full of lunch.
My mom stood at the front door. The girls had already disappeared down the hallway. I could hear the slap of their shoes oh the hardwood floor in the guest bedroom and the sound of their voices sketching out another make-believe game. “Lucy can be Thumbelina,” Rebecca told her sisters. “Angie can be the prince, and I’ll be Buzzbee.”
My earliest memories of my grandparent’s house are a toddler’s memories. The ceilings are high, the rooms cavernous. Great distances divide the areas of the house. I remember journeying down the impossibly long hallway from the living room zone to the bedroom zone.
When I came back to my grandparents’ house as a young adult, I was astonished to find a modest, three-bedroom beach house. My grandparents lived in this house until about six years ago. My grandfather had had a series of small strokes that left him unable to care for himself. My grandmother denied right up until the day they left that they needed any help. If you asked, she’d say, “We’re doing just fine, thank you.”
One Sunday afternoon, my grandfather walked out into the middle of Crown Point Drive and lay down. My grandmother called my mom and dad when she couldn’t make Grandpa get up. My grandpa died within the year. My grandma moved into a retirement home. She died last year. My parents moved into the house soon after my grandparents moved out.
Last Saturday, my mom kissed Johnny and kissed me and took the bags from my hands. We set out lunch on the table in the kitchen. While the girls and my dad ate pizza and bread sticks,_ my mom and I shared a salad. Johnny sat at the head of the table and made motor noises while he watched the cars zoom by on Crown Point Drive.
After lunch, Angela and Lucy disappeared down the hall for a few minutes then stuck their heads around the corner giggling. “Can Grandpa play ‘Ogre’?” Angela asked.
“Yeah, Ogre,” Lucy chimed in.
My dad pushed his chair back from the table. “Sure,” he said. “Here comes the ogre.” He walked with a heavy step. The girls shrieked with delight. We all went out on the back patio. My mom and I talked while my dad chased the girls slowly down the stone walkway and back around the rose bushes. I remembered a picture I have of me standing on the same walkway. My head is cocked to the side. I am wearing a new purple outfit my other grandmother made for me. I am Angela’s age.
I have new memories now of the house on Crown Point. I remember my father crawling on all fours in the living room teaching Rebecca how to crawl. I remember Christmas Eves with Rebecca and Angela and then Lucy gazing at the tree in my parents’ living room, examining the ornaments I remembered from my childhood, the green-and-white-striped elf, the long glass icicles, the ornaments made from blown-out eggshells. I remember my mother holding Johnny on the couch when he was six months old and the way they made each other laugh great, deep belly laughs. Watching Johnny toddle after my father down the path, I wondered at how such a small house could hold so many memories.