Winter House created by mixed media artist, Nicholas Brancati
This beautiful image created by mixed media artist, Nicholas Brancati~ www.nicholasbrancati.com
There is a reason that this piece captured my eye and resonated with my heart. Winter House is the inspiration for the following story, Love Grows.
Loves Grows is still in draft form; I hope you enjoy reading it. I apologize for the editing issues I am experiencing this evening.
The insignificant house was a typical style of the Depression era.It sat on a large lot in the east end of the city. A passerby wouldn’t pay much attention to the austere structure or frugal design. The owner didn’t mind; she knew hardship and so invented occasional fun and games. There weren’t many luxuries. The whimsy that the now fashionable term, curb appeal conjures, didn’t exist. At least not in the east end neighbourhood where she lived.
The petite woman would have narrowed her eyes, tossed her bobbed locks with a look of scorn. Curb appeal? Nail back the tipped window shutter, cut the grass with a push mower, and plant a wee pansy garden aside the brick path. Nothing fancy. No one could afford, fanciness.Everyone worked hard just to get by.
At the back of the house, a detached garage stood off of the lane way. It greeted the man of the house when he returned from toiling away at the Black Brother’s garden shop. Their car, along with gas cans and tools, sat inside the garage. Only necessary items used for basic maintenance and repair. If he couldn’t fix something broken, a neighbour could. That’s how it was back then.
If you entered from the lane side you would see an enclosed structure attached to the main house. It bumped out, an after thought to the home’s straight lines. This was the woman’s cold porch. The room was never warmed except for a small free- standing heat machine that they brought out to thwart the winter’s chill. Two small, single pane windows graced the add-on structure; one situated high, under the eaves of the roof and one above the side back door. Slivers of light slipped through the windows during the late afternoon affording a glimpse of the kitchen. The occasional miscreants would attempt to jimmy open this vulnerable backdoor window. Usually she would hear them first and create such a commotion that the thieves would skedaddle empty fisted.
The woman was passionate about growing cacti. Every morning, after the last breakfast dish rattled from sink to wooden shelf, she would pat her hands on the front of her cotton apron and prepare to be enchanted by their simple beauty. It was her little ritual of sorts, harmless, inexpensive, a blessing to each routine day. She always began by dashing a tablespoon of malted Ovaltine powder into a floral tea- cup. The woman enjoyed this harmless luxury. There was time to fuss about and wait for the kettle to boil. Opening the door to the cold room, she let the fleeing warmth from the kitchen’s stove drift to mingle and mix with the cool porch air. A kettle’s whistle broke through the silence of mid morning, her signal to prepare.
“I’ll be along soon, darlings.”
Loving words whispered to the cacti that patiently waited upon the wooden shelves,their segments green and dangly. They were an odd assortment; some graced tin cans while others grew from clay pots.They were multiplying, taking over the small space. The woman paused at the door and giggled. She imagined someone observing her movements, listening to her silly banter.Imagine chatting to cacti. They’ll be coming to take me away, she mused and turned her attention back toward the stove. The element clicked off and she poured the steamy water into a waiting tea- cup. The silver teaspoon swirled about as the malt grains mixed with the boiling liquid; ten stirs exactly. A precise woman, details mattered to her.
The woman turned her attention to the job at hand. The cacti patiently waited.
Lifting her woollen sweater from the coat rack, she placed the garment around her shoulders, blanketed comfort from the forthcoming change in temperature. She carried the steaming cup of warmth to the cold porch room, set it atop the workbench and turned her attention to the silent darlings. She called them by name.
“Ah~ Charlie. You’re drooping on the side.” The woman’s gentle touch plucked off and discarded the withering bits that hung limply over the metal can. She walked the length of the room, caressed each plant. Some she propagated into a new vessel; others she rearranged to take advantage of sunlight. This obsession with cacti continued for years.
It was many years later when I got the concerned call from her neighbour.
“You must come quickly. The porch light was on for two days. This is most unusual. I have a bad feeling.”
The mid afternoon sun had just passed over my grandmother’s small house. My eye caught the shutter that had dislodged from the nail, something else to do, another fix. I knocked on the front door. The familiar sound of her, “tootle loo,” now silent.
Footsteps flew along the brick path to the back of the house. Pounding the wooden frame, I begged her, answer. A sliver of mid-day light edged through the glass above the door frame, illuminating a glimpse of the tiny kitchen. I sensed she was gone.
I closed my eyes, imagined it went like this. My grandmother woke and dressed for the day as was the routine for over eighty years. On this morning she chose her finest clothes, a sheer champagne coloured blouse and a grey blue skirt. She took an extra moment to choose a piece of precious jewelry from the velvet box that sat on top of the oak dresser. She centred the Mother of Pearl broach under the collar of her blouse. Fingers eased the pin curls loose and patted the strands into place. She lifted a cardigan from the bed frame, slipped her arms through the sleeves, checked the time on the watch she kept safety pinned to the underside. Just enough time.
Once inside the kitchen, she walked to the shelf beside the sink and lifted down the china teacup, the one with cabbage roses, her favourite. Opening the cupboard beside the refrigerator, she removed the Ovaltine jar and set it upon the table. Moving on to the pantry cupboard she opened the lid on the wooden box filled with silver and lifted out a tea sized silver spoon. I wondered if she felt a presence.
I imagined my grandmother turning the stove’s element on and waiting for the kettle to boil. As the kettle’s whistle signalled time, she switched off the element and carefully poured the boiling liquid into the china teacup. Lifting the silver spoon, she gently swirled it around and around the cup, ten times to mix the malt powder with water. She lifted her woollen sweater from the coat rack in the hall and draped it over her sloping shoulders; her feeble fingers lifted the china teacup. Footsteps shuffled to the cold porch room.
There was time to fuss over her darlings. Returning to the kitchen, she set the china teacup on top of the table, eased into an armchair, nestled her head against the velvet back and closed her eyes.
I imagine she noticed the light; it shone brighter than ever. She followed it, shielded her eyes from the brilliance that blinded. A familiar hand reached forth to grasp hers. She saw her sister. They walked on through time and space.
Later that afternoon I took one item from her home. I carried my newborn child into the cold porch room and stood still within the silence. I asked for forgiveness for not being there to hold her hand before she left. Tin cans and clay pots of cacti lined the wooden shelves, an altar’s offering. The air was cool and the room shadowed. I lifted one cactus from the shelf, walked out through the back porch door, shut it behind me. I could not look back.
For the first two winters the lone cactus baffled and bloomed. The first year, the reddish pink petals that burst from the ends of the segments delighted, like the joy felt when handed an impromptu gift. On the winter anniversary of the third year the cactus stopped blooming.
Twenty-nine years have passed since the day I stood in my grandmother’s cold porch room and lifted an unsuspecting cactus from the shelf. The newborn babe I held in my arms that midmorning has grown to adulthood. This simple cactus sits high, atop a painted wooden hutch. Its segments catch the slivers of midmorning sunlight. It isn’t much, our cactus, yet it bears witness to the stories of us, the cherished bits and bobs. Sometimes as I sit writing these stories from a life, I imagine my grandmother’s presence in the room. I sense the brush of her touch on my hair. I sense the cactus rustle as her spirit passes by and I know that love grows if we nurture it.