Monday, April 26, 2010

Grandma's Parlor

Most summers as a kid we took our vacation to my grandparents’ house in New Jersey. They lived in an old house, the one my grandmother was born in, and it was HOT. No air conditioning hot. Crazy muggy hot. In the evening with the windows open and the fans blowing it was tolerable and we’d all sit in the parlor watching the old black and white television. All the TV stations were out of New York City so we got the big stories not the fluff you get from local stations.

I distinctly remember certain touch sensations of that parlor. The quilt that covered the sofa had small circular patterns in it that I would run my fingers over and over. The carpet which was probably extremely old but incredibly durable was rough and flattened with age and felt kind of like running your hand over a panful of Rice Krispy treats; not sticky, just textured like that. All the years we went there, those 2 touch sensations were consistent.

The thing about sitting on that floor or that couch watching the NYC news is that major world news and social events and always seemed to happen in the week we were visiting there:

AIDS was discovered
A few different airliners were hijacked and on one of them terrorists killed that Navy diver, I still remember his name was Robert Stethem.
Yankee Dave Righetti pitched a no-hitter on the Fourth f July.
Rock Hudson announced he was dying of AIDS.

It’s the AIDS story that I remember most. You remember where you were when major events happen, like the shuttle explosion, Reagan being shot; I remember hearing about this new disease called AIDS. I was sitting on that rough carpet in that hot parlor with the fan blowing, playing cards with my brother. I was 10-11 years old. My brother and I both remarked “Aids, that’s the name of that diet candy.”

So much happened on that old black and white TV.

I first watched Norma Rae on that TV. I learned about unions and factories.
I watched 4th of July fireworks at the Statue of Liberty on that same TV. For a small-town Florida girl that was a big deal.

I don’t know if it’s because I was younger and my brain was more spongelike or if it was just because we had less access to information back then, but these stories stuck with me. Even now when I remember the footage of the body of the Navy diver thrown out of the plane, the footage of the pilot held captive in the cockpit window, and the heroic stewardess with the curly flyaway hair, I’m also still feeling the circles in the pattern on that sofa quilt in my mind, and my fingers still move.

In my 20s I lived with my grandma for a few months, and that same carpet and sofa quilt were still there. We would still sit together on the sofa and watch the TV news, which thankfully was now in color, and I’d run my fingers over the quilt pattern. It was familiar and somewhat hypnotizing, not in a spooky sense but in the sense of “I’ve done this 1000 times before,” and felt like I knew every thread in it. Muscle memory, sensory memory, loose associations. Like the autistic child who rocks back and forth, I’d feel the patterns and remember the stories.


  1. hey rachel! i saw your status on facebook! i forgot you had a blog! i thought i had it in my reader!

    you are a fabulous writer. you definitely have a professional style...think it's great you are going back for your degree in writing..way better than HIM:) lol

    Congrats on the dual a fellow blogger, I can feel your excitedness:)

  2. Thanks, BJo! I AM excited! It feels so right to be writing, even if it's just for my 17 readers. I've been keeping up with your blog quite regularly. Our lives are very different, but I love seeing all that you're experiencing. Keep on it! ~R