Sometimes the most unexpected places are the most familiar to you. June's #travellinkup explores what it felt like to visit my grandparent's home. This time after they both had passed away.
May 29th, 2015 marked the first time in 4 years that I had set foot in my grandparents’ home.
The home they built atop their grocery store in 1959.
The home where I sat on Oma’s lap as I rolled dough for an apfelstrudel.
The garden where Opa would teach me football and where I’d pick weeds for Oma.
The kitchen where the ticking clock would fill the comfortable silence as Oma peeled asparagus and Opa smoked his pipe, fingers drilling against his chair.
The table where we’d have Kaffee & Kuchen after Opa had showered and filed his nails.
The endless amount of flowers given for Names Days and birthdays when our home would fill with hundreds of people.
The aroma of meat, onions, cake, coffee and fresh bread intertwined with vanilla tobacco and hints of shampoo coming from the beauty salon below.
The swear words and sighs Oma would utter in a dying dialect to Opa as she lost her patience with his same old stories.
My laughter that would echo as I’d run up the stairs.
The pull of the rolladen (shades) I knew would keep the monsters and burglars at bay.
The bedroom where I’d snuggle in between my parents at the end of the day.
The paper thin walls where I’d listen to Oma & Opa whisper before bed.
The living room I’d never wanted to leave as a child now home to Oma’s hospital bed when she could no longer make it to the upstairs bedrooms.
Opa’s sad eyes as he looked at me, stoic posture now lost, asking where she was.
The bed Opa wouldn’t leave.
The phone that would nevermore ring. Nor the doorbell that’d been used at least 5 times a day.
The stench of disinfectant, expired tobacco and old upholstery.
Only a brown stained carpet.
May 29th, 2015 I walked into a house that hadn’t been lived in for three and a half years. Yet it had retained a smell I suppose will never leave (the one before disinfectant). I left my bag at the front door as I made my way through each room, opening each door flooding my mind with memories. The bad ones. The ones about my Oma which had left me angry. For years. Her stubbornness. Her refusal for any help. The strain my Mom and Opa bore on their faces, and not long after, their bodies. The state of the house for the two years she was bound to her wheelchair. The filth.
I grabbed a photo album before making my way up the stairs. Opening and closing each door, hard, like my Opa always had. I left the office for last, knowing I’d walk in and still smell the tobacco that will never leave the books. I closed the door behind me, looked at the wall of photographs and lineage that ends with me. Tears filled my eyes and I heaved a large breath to keep them from falling, mouth trembling. I stared right into my Oma’s eyes. Those of when she was a bride. Now it was my turn to be stubborn.
I sat in a large armchair and opened the album. It dated back to 1997 when I was 5 years old. The first page was my beaming face. So was every other page. It was an album from when Oma & Opa came to Chicago for 6 weeks. Opa would pick me up from school while Oma would wait for me on the balcony to listen to my day. They’d take me to Navy Pier and watch me go on the same ride twenty times. They’d allow me to drag them to McDonald’s for a “Happy Meal,” Oma complaining the entire time but happy to just be together. The horse and buggy rides that’d take us around the city of skyscrapers were a dream since I always wanted to ride. The cakes we’d bake together. And then the horrible feeling when they would pack their bags and leave me.
Ninety percent of what I remember of my childhood is time spent with Oma and Opa. Of how ridiculously happy they made me. The effort Oma put in to make the ocean that separated us feel like a pond. And how leaving this home that I once thought to be a palace was always so hard.
I closed the book and looked around the empty room. The house was dated. The carpet needed desperately to be removed. But this room I’d never change.
My resentment finally lifted. And disappeared.
April 27, 2016 I returned to the house. This time I was alone, my parents would come a month later. The smell when you walk in was still there. The furniture still in place but this time perched atop wood flooring. And I did the same thing. I walked around the house, opening and closing each door loudly.
This house that once bore so much life will somehow forever feel empty. There will always be a sadness, knowing it will never be like it was. That the people my grandparents knew will soon all be gone too. We’ll soon just be one other house in a small village. But somehow, I find myself never wanting to let it go. I want this house in the middle of nowhere. Maybe get married there like my parents did. Have my kids think the living room is bigger than it actually is because they’re so small. I guess I want a new generation of memories. I guess I still want this. After all the hatred I felt, I didn’t expect that.