The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

The Wrecking Crew

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.

James M. Barrie

It’s difficult to watch a loved one wither. It’s even harder to dismantle a life.

That’s what I did today.

I disassembled the last bastion of my grandparents’ home. Time is a cruel mistress. Grand is gone and Mammy is going. Two years ago, she moved into my parent’s house after it became evident she could no longer live alone.

Last summer, we had cleaned out Mammy and Grand’s house in a nostalgic whirl. We didn’t just clean out the house. We decided which pieces of the puzzle that was my grandparents’ lives were worth keeping and which were disposable. We passed judgment on every napkin, magazine and photograph. We dismembered their lives one item at a time. Every item brought a tale to mind. Some things we couldn’t look at—we just quietly wrapped and packed away. Furniture was divvied up—dining room set to my brother, crystal to Mom, an old wardrobe for me. We decided what to keep, where it should go and what to do with the rest. Mom and I dove into the task like we were just spring cleaning, but when no one was looking, we’d stop and stare at nothing, trying to think nothing. It’s the thinking that leads to remembering, and remembering is what gets you. As quickly as it hit, it was gone, and newspaper flurried over vases and lamps once more.

In a town where folks know what you’re having for dinner before you do, it was no time at all before someone made an offer on the house. Months passed before Mom acted on it, but to the citizens of Honey Grove, it was a done deal. Once more, we trudged to Mammy’s to clean out what was left. Mom told more than one curious neighbor that she didn’t grow up in this house. But I did, someone tiny inside reminded me. So there’s no sentimental commitment to keep it, Mom explained. She was, as the saying goes, putting on. I knew she was upset.

We sold it a few weeks ago to someone Mom knew all her life. He’s going to tear it down and build a new house on the comfy corner lot. Perfectly sensible.

But today I went back.

Not out of curiosity or a trip down memory lane. I went to salvage the kitchen cabinets and inside doors for a workshop we’re building. I got more than I bargained for.

As I pried fifty years of paint out of sixty-year-old screws so I could take the doorknobs off the doors, I stopped. Just stared at nothing and saw everything.

I saw myself running through the hallways, my sharp heels banging like cannon fire on the hardwood floors, my squealing little brother chasing after me. Behind him loped Grand, bare-chested and potbellied, whooping and hollering after us.

I remember the feel of the sheets, how they always felt cooler in Mammy and Grand’s un-air-conditioned little house than in my waiting bed at home. The soft glow of the ship-shaped TV lamp we used as a night light—the very same lamp that now sits on my son’s shelf, illuminating him as he dreams.

Standing in the rubble of what had been a large part of my childhood, I shrugged it off and marched inside, determined to get what I came for. My husband pried loose the cabinets with his trusty rusty crowbar while I piled up the broken remnants of shattered lives. He’d catch me standing around in a stupor every now and then, and had the sense not to bother me. Card games, dominoes, snacks and countless happy moments danced in my head as I stood in the dissected kitchen. I remembered the smell of Mammy’s famous chocolate pie, and if I squinted just right and peeked into the dining room, I could see Grand sitting at the table finishing off one full half of it. I watched him get up, rub his belly, smile at me and walk into the living room. He sat down in his favorite chair—the one with his scrawny butt print mashed into it.

The one we sold last summer.

When I pulled out one of the sliding pastry boards in the countertop, I found a treasure beyond words. On the wood written in my brother’s childish scrawl was “fart on Mammy.” It was too much. I laughed and cried.

I stumbled around the house, supposedly making sure we didn’t leave anything behind. We won’t walk these halls again. Pretty soon no one will. The house will be torn down to make way for a new one. In my mind, I heard the hum of the box fan that sat in the window in the front bedroom at night. I felt myself squirm under the cool sheets, Mammy perched beside me, giggling like a child. My brother and Grand snoring in the other room. I wasn’t leaving it behind. I just needed to see it again to make sure I could take the smells, the sounds, the love with me. I got what I came for.

K. K. Choate

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