My Grandmother’s House

I would like to walk into my grandmother’s house and be greeted by the scent of her tomato sauce bubbling on the stove in a tall metal stock pot. I’d like to see her standing over the stove with her apron caked with splashes of crushed tomatoes. I’d like to be able to hug her, have her cup my face in her hands and kiss me on the cheek, her lips dry and pencil thin. I’d like to sit down with her at the kitchen table with seating for four. The windows would be open to the street noise; a soft summer breeze would blow the sun-faded curtains that hang above the sink. The black and white TV on her counter would be tuned in to The Young & the Restless. She would bring me a plate of her homemade chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and a tall glass of cold whole milk, never watery skim like at home. Whole milk was always a special treat. She would ask me about my love life, and I’d share with her the heavy thoughts that have been weighing me down. She’d hold my hand and tell me everything will be OK. I could feel her veins in the palm of my hand, purple and blue, raised like rivers on a map. She always made me feel better.


My grandma, me and braces on the night of my first semi-formal.

When I think of my grandmother, I remember her hands the most, pushing and pulling dough across her kitchen table with a wooden rolling pin that looked like a stick of salami. Flour dusted her hands like powder. Ravioli, cappelletti, macaroni. She made the best pasta.

I still keep her olive green leather rain coat and winter swing coat—the one with the green and gold plastic buttons—in my coat closet. I shove my hands in the pockets from time to time hoping I’ll find a memento of hers left behind, something else to cling to. I bury my nose in her coats and breathe in the memory of her. It still smells like my Nonne, a mix of makeup, Aqua Net, Kleenex and her kitchen. It’s been 14 years since she passed, and each year that passes, I pray that the scent will not fade from her coats. I don’t ever want to forget what she smelled like. Scents are powerful; they can bring us back to our childhood, the nostalgia, the longing to return to what was before I had to grow up and life got harder. Life was easier as a kid. Wasn’t it? There was always grandma’s house, where all was right in the world the moment you passed through the door. I felt safe there, but most of all, loved.

Sometimes, on warm nights, the earthy smell of the air, the humid breeze, take me back to my grandmother’s TV room, where I’d sit with her for hours watching Golden Girls and The Lawrence Welk Show. We’d sit side-by-side on the couch holding hands; hers felt fragile like a bird. It was so hot you could smell the metal of the screen in the only window in the room and hear the sound of the traffic on the street, passing under the amber glow of the street lights.

Right now, I’m thinking of summer days on my grandmother’s porch and the metal glider that smelled like a box of staples. I can still picture her there in her favorite chair rocking, waiting for someone to pull into the driveway and lift her spirits.

I remember the two-liter bottle of red soda she kept in the house—Crystal Club’s Cherokee Red. It tasted like a carbonated cherry popsicle, and I loved it. She still offered it to me when I was older and outgrew the taste of liquid sugar in a glass, but I never refused it, and nostalgia made it still taste good.

My grandmother has been appearing in my dreams a lot lately. I never remember what happened in the dream, but I do remember her presence and her sweet face smiling at me. Her entire body glows like a white aura. I always feel so good when I wake up from those dreams. Is she visiting me to tell me everything is going to be OK? In the moments when I feel lost, I still talk out loud to her, asking her to guide me, send down some good stuff from wherever she is.


My beautiful grandma.

I realized just the other day that the anniversary of her death is coming up. She died on Oct. 21, 2002. I was 22. On Sept. 18, 2002 I wrote her a letter from the Midwest during the summer I graduated from college. I told her about my first visit to Chicago—grown up and all by myself—and how I was waiting back to hear on two newspaper jobs: one in Indiana, the other in Michigan. I wrote:

Just think, in about two weeks I could be living in a brand new state, my own apartment filled with my own things, my furniture, my pictures!!! How exciting! …

It is such a beautiful day today. I wish I could share this day with you. The sky is this amazing bright blue filled with feathery white clouds. It rained this morning and made the afternoon cool and breezy. … I wish I were there with you so that I could give you tons of kisses and hugs and watch the afternoon soap operas with you.

I week or so later, I moved to Michigan. My life as an adult was just beginning, and hers was ending. I never did get to see her again.

Yesterday my mom sent a link to an online listing of my grandma’s old house. My mom warned us that it was a mess, but curiosity made me swipe through the photos anyway. From the outside, the house looked tired and worn, the porch sunken. Inside, the walls were painted hideous colors of watermelon pink and lime green—very bad combo. It was kind of heartbreaking to see this house, that brought me so much comfort, take on a new identity. But then I reached the photo of my grandma’s kitchen and it was just as I had remembered it. The linoleum floors that looked like a mosaic of mustard yellows, olive greens and various shades of white. The original glossy, wooden cabinets and hardware, and the old-fashioned white ceramic sink. I could almost smell the containers of flour. In the photo, a ray of sunlight is shining through the kitchen windows above the sink, the only thing occupying the hollowness of the room, no sign of life.

Nothing remains the same. Not even houses. But the memory, the feeling it gave you, that doesn’t fade.


This is one of my favorite photos of my grandmother taken at Christmas. She is holding up VHS tapes of the Three Tenors and Andrea Bocelli.


Home is where your heart is



That’s how many times I’ve moved in the last nine years. And in 15 days, it will be five.

This was not necessarily a plan for me to move five times in the same city. It just sort of happened. The twists and turns of my life dictated it. I rented, I owned, I returned to renting.

It sounds exhausting when you think of it – five moves in nine years – but as odd as it may sound, when I look back on those years, I don’t think about the days spent duct-taping my life in cardboard boxes; I think about the memories made in each of the homes I lived.

Each house was special. I will forever feel nostalgic about the quaint, white bungalow I lived in when I first moved to Greensboro in 2005 – mostly because it was my “first.” It only had two closets the size of a cigar box, but the amazing front porch made up for its lack of storage space. I passed many hours on that porch with my dog Yoshi at my side and a cold beer in my hand during the hot summer months and a steaming cup of coffee when the leaves began to turn then spiral to the ground like pinwheels.

Every home I move from I cry on the last day. I get attached to things – even to inanimate objects. But to me, a house is more than a house; it’s a home. It has an energy to it, a heart and a soul that comes from the people who dwell under its roof, making memories.

IMG_6021Every house I lived in represented a chapter in my life and each was significant for different reasons. My bungalow signified my bachelorette days. I traded it for a split-level with my soon-to-be husband who later became my ex-husband. And despite all the tears I shed in that home, I loved that house. I thought I’d grow old in it. I remember the last walk-through I did in the house and how I paused in every room one last time and then shut the door behind me. It marked a beginning and an ending.

I downsized after that and moved into an adorable townhome. Life had come full circle and I was back to living single. It was a difficult transition. At age 31, I was starting over, and it scared me to death. I cried a lot those first few months – out of frustration, confusion, grief. That townhouse became my place for healing. It’s where I found renewal.

And then I met Andrew; the love of my life. He eventually gave up his bachelor pad downtown and moved in with me. Quarters were tight – but square footage doesn’t seem to matter when you’re in love. We lasted five months before we mutually decided to start casually looking for a new place that we could both call home. It was important to both of us to live somewhere new, not a home that was his or mine but one we could build together.

And that’s how we got to here.

We found this house simply by chance. On a day in February, my realtor friend Jim sent me an email that set everything in motion.

“GIRL!! I found you a house.”

My jaw fell open when I pulled up to the house the next day. It looked like a giant, mint green doll house with white trim and shutters. It was like a mini-mansion.

“Wait until you see the kitchen,” Jim said with wide, silver-dollar eyes as he ushered me inside. The kitchen was bathed in sunlight that shined through a pair of skylights and a wall of windows that looked out to a wooded area in the backyard. I already started to envision what the trees would look like with the change of seasons. Honey, I’m home.

We knew the house was way too big for just the two of us, but neither of us wanted to pass up the opportunity – or the walk-in closet. It seemed meant to be. And now here we are, a year and six months later, filling out change of address forms and hoarding cardboard boxes. Our lease is up, and the owners have sold the house. We didn’t anticipate this. I suppose we got spoiled and thought we could continue to extend our lease until we were ready to leave our fantasy home and buy our own house – maybe in six months, maybe in a year.

This week, I started feeling the first pangs of sadness about leaving our house. It started when I came home from work on Wednesday and saw my husband, waving to me from the front yard as he was walking to get the mail. Then, as I pulled into our half-moon driveway, our dog, Molly, ran up to the driver-side door and chased my car all the way to the garage, anxious to greet me.

Later on, at dusk, I stepped out onto the back deck and walked down into the yard to re-pot a houseplant. When I turned around and looked behind me, I was struck by the beauty of our house at twilight. I stood there for a moment in the chorus of cicadas and gazed at our home with its warm, golden glow emanating from its kitchen windows. And I thought to myself, “I’m going to miss this house.”

IMG_2316We’ve made good memories here – Andrew and me. This house was our first home together as a couple, and our first home as husband and wife. For that reason alone, it will always be special to us.

I remember sitting on the deck the night we got married. It was well past midnight. I was barefoot and still wearing my wedding dress. Andrew shed his tie and dress shirt and was wearing only a white undershirt and pants. We sat on our wooden bench on the deck and sipped beers and held hands and shared stories in the dark. Whenever I ask Andrew what his favorite moment was about our wedding day, he always describes this one.

It’s easy to get used to a place, comfortable. By the end of the month, we’ll be in our new home unpacking boxes again, deciding where to hang artwork, place furniture. And just like the four homes before this one, I will fall in love with it, get attached to it, make beautiful memories in it and then cry when it’s time to leave.


One of the first photos of Molly and me in the new house - March 2013.

One of the first photos of Molly and me in the new house – March 2013.


Our deck.


Yard work break with Molly.


New IKEA rug for the dining room. Molly approves.


Our first washer and dryer. This was an exciting day.

Our first washer and dryer. This was an exciting day.

First Thanksgiving dinner.

First Thanksgiving dinner.

First Christmas.

First Christmas.

Molly's stoop.

Molly’s stoop.

The kitchen in winter.

The kitchen in winter.


Baking in my favorite room in the house.

First family wedding photo in the backyard.

First family wedding photo in the backyard.