Grandma’s House

Ralph Thomas


I don’t know why I always called it grandma’s house when grandpa lived there too. Perhaps it was because it was grandma who enticed me to visit with the promise of freshly-made doughnuts, a trip to the ice cream store for a nickel cone or a trip to the beach nearby. I remember wondering how grandma always knew when I was coming for a visit. I suspect my mother called letting her know I was on my way.

Fortunately, I was doubly blessed having two sets of grandparents whom I loved to visit. Looking back on those days some 75 years later, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to always have a place I loved to visit and sometimes having a refuge when trying to escape some unpleasantness at home.

My grandparents on my mother’s side were simple people. But they were always kind and welcoming to me whenever I wanted to visit them. Not knowing better, I took their way of living for granted, I assumed all grandparents lived the same way.

Several nights ago, when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought about my grandparents and how fortunate I had been. My mother’s parents lived closest to us so I could visit them more often than my father’s parents. I vividly remember grand-ma’s house, even the smallest details ... like the soft warm feather bed in grandma’s bedroom on a cold, rainy and windy night. I was shocked at how different their style of living was compared to mine. I think their financial resources were limited, so they did the best they could with what they had.

Their house had three small bedrooms, but no bathroom. They didn’t have an outhouse, but they did have a commode on the back porch where one braved the elements in winter and summer. They had only one wash basin which served as a sink for washing dishes, washing up before supper and taking what I suppose were called sitz baths, as I remember them being called. Although, once a week grandpa would haul the big elongated copper tub into the kitchen and put it on a device with a couple of gas burners to heat bath water. This was their bath tub, and mine, when I was visiting. This same tub was used for sterilizing jars for canning vegetables from the garden and also for washing clothes.

Grandma washed clothes by hand in that tub, using a wash-board. I can see her now, bent over the tub, scrubbing pieces of clothing by pushing them up and down against the wash-board. I also remember the happy day when they were finally able to buy an electric washing machine. The machine had two rollers on the top that squeezed the water out of the clothes by turning a hand crank. She would then set them aside to be later taken outside where she would hang them on a rope clothesline. I remember her with a wicker basket full of damp clothes and an apron pocket full of clothespins, with a few between her teeth as she hung the clothes to dry in the sun. On the Oregon coast it rained a great deal in the winter so I suspect she timed her wash days to agree with the weather.

One wood stove was used to heat the entire house. Grandma would heat her clothes iron on it being as she didn’t have an electric iron. A hand-cranked telephone hung on the wall which was connected to a party line. The number of rings determined who the call was for. I used to learn a lot of the local doings by quietly picking up the receiver and listening to conversations.

Grandma’s house ... a place of refuge ... a safe place ... a magical place ... a simple place where I felt loved beyond measure, never aware of what they didn’t have.

I still miss grandma’s house. It was a simpler time for a little boy. And now, 75 years later I still long to visit grandma and grandpa.

Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun.