Following my grandmother's somewhat unexpected death in 2003, my aunt renovated her house and moved in. As the executor of the estate, she was supposed to have sold the house and split the profit four ways between she and her stupid siblings, but she decided that it was not an option to let the house go. I felt the same way. My dad criticised this action and rudely dismissed her desire to keep the house as "a shrine to mom." Not so. She tore everything out of the house, the original kitchen, the ugly 70s tile, the dark carpet, the ancient drapes, and she remade it into something that more or less resembles the Apple store.
But the backyard remains. The old radio flyer wagon is still there, which in my grandma's day was used to transport large bags of cat food from the door to a storage room. The ancient ferns still sit by the alley wall, one 100 years old, the other about 50, brought here from Iowa by my great-grandmother. The guest house (we called it the maid's quarters) which was full of moldering artifacts of mingled family pasts. Warped encyclopedias, medical texts from the 70s, discarded motorcycle parts, and spiders. So many spiders. Also rolls of carpet covered in cat pee, full disclosure.
This is the narrow sideyard. When I was small, my cousins told me that a witch lived there. It was overgrown with bushes at that time and they told me that she hid behind the last one. Even last month when I walked back there to take a picture, my brain recalled the slightest waft of apprehension.
The outdoor fireplace, never once used by my grandmother since 1964. This was another dark area of the yard for me as my cousins told me that this fireplace had been used by a very old woman to burn the bodies of the children she had killed. In my mind, the fairytale was a strange mix of Hansel & Gretel, and the Holocaust. Somehow, I already knew about the Holocaust then.
It was kind of a bitch being the youngest cousin. During summertime sleepovers, my cousin Angie would shove me out of the twin bed we were sharing, telling me that the ground was covered in so many roaches that they would carry me away. To hell, assumedly, where they came from. I would cling desperately to her so that she couldn't shove me out of bed, determined that I would take her with me if I failed.
They would also put dried locust skins in my hair in the summer, but this just feels like complaining now. And when my grandmother would find out, perhaps because I had failed to get one out and had returned to the house with a dead bug skin tangled in my hair which was immediately spotted, she would get the flyswatter out and slap their arms and legs with it a couple of times each, squawking at them comically that they were bad! I never got swatted. Not with a flyswatter, or a broom (her other weapon, mostly against cats), and never was I spanked. I was the total ass-kiss grandchild who did everything she told me to and asked for stories about the farm, which were her favorite ones to tell and my favorite ones to hear.