As a young girl I would spend Saturday nights with my grandmother. She would microwave the Orville Redenbacher cheese popcorn for us to share, (My developed pallet preferred to pair the treat with a lovely Grape Crush soda) while we watched our shows on television. Saturday nights on NBC had a revolving lineup, but the two that stick out fairly consistently in my memory are Golden Girls and 227. We would laugh, but mostly I didn’t really get what was going on, while she found both programs quite comical. When nine o’clock chimed on her dining room clock, I would do one of two things- I would either stay with her and we would watch Hunter, (my grandmother LOVED Hunter!) or I would go into her bedroom and listen to the requests on the local radio station. I have always had a deep love of music, and this is why, when Hunter was over, my grandmother would change the channel to whichever one aired the 30 minute “recap” of the top music videos from the week. We would watch that, together, and then go to bed at ten thirty, like sensible folk because we had church the next morning.
That room was a significant location for my childhood, though I still don’t really understand why. There were days I played in there, dancing to the radio while admiring my “smooth moves and style” in her mirrored sliding closet doors. Sometimes I would sneak away to sit in front of her vanity mirror and pretend to smooth my hair with the gold antique brush decorating its surface, while staring at a photo of my mother from the time when I thought that she looked just like Elizabeth Montgomery, from Bewitched. Then there were moments, or days, (and some Saturday nights, even) when I was terrified to go into her room, afraid of whatever invisible monster awaited me. (Lastly, her bedroom was the setting for the only recurring nightmare I have ever had, and when I say recurring, I mean that the curse of this dream lasted years…)
I never knew when she woke in the morning, despite me sleeping in the twin bed opposite hers. She was always quick to drift to sleep, lulling me with the sound of her breathing. There were nights though, when I’d lay there and tell her random things which seemed only relevant in the dark. She was always patient, in those times, to answer questions and respond. She would never chide me, even though looking back I see that she was obviously tired. Once the room settled into quiet, I would pretend to make a phone call in my mind. I would ring God, up in heaven, and chat with him for a minute before asking that He put my grandfather on the line. Though it was in my imagination, my grandfather never said hello but I would talk to him anyway because I just knew that he was there. I needed to believe he could hear me. This was where all of my secrets went.
A few times, in my childhood years, my grandmother awoke from a nightmare of her own, around three in the morning. She would gasp and sit straight up, and this always startled me awake. She would encourage me to return to sleep after telling me that she’d dreamed she was falling off a cliff and woke herself up so she did not die. (Though a devout Christian, she was also a superstitious woman and this was a big one, though I wondered even then how we knew for sure that we would die if we landed, because obviously no one ever had.) Most Sunday mornings she was awake long before I would crawl out of the bed that once belonged to my grandfather, before cancer took him to the other end of that imaginary phone line. Usually I found her reading her Bible and praying. Once I was awake enough, she would butter hot Jiffy muffins and make me a hot cocoa with her Hot Shot machine. (which, if you didn’t know, was pretty much the Kuerig of the 80’s)
Between the time she’d spend with Jesus, quietly, at her dining room table, until we were filing into our small town church pew- everything was peaceful and routine. I loved those Saturday nights and Sunday mornings so deeply, though I wasn’t able to realize their immense value until they were a thing of the past.
Every once in a while I’ll see episodes of the Golden Girls on tv and I get it now, those countless things that were so funny. Honestly, I also cringe a little at the age I was when I watched it with my grandmother, while she painted my nails. The latter is my exact response when recalling some of the music videos we had seen as well… Samantha Fox, early Madonna… What must have been going through my Jesus loving grandmother’s mind as she quietly sat there, letting me love them?
On those Saturday nights, before it was time for our programs, I would blast the local radio station and imagine my own music videos in her drive way. I imagine that I was either a great source of entertainment for her neighbors, or they were sure I was severely special needs. At any rate, I was in my twenties before the reality that the entire street could have seen my hours of terrible dancing, smacked me like a dump truck. As embarrassing as that is, I am grateful that there, in her driveway, I was secure enough in my own skin, to just be me. Even more, I am grateful that she accepted it. She never teased me, she simply gave me that space to be free. I was too young to really grasp those things then, I didn’t even comprehend the darkness that was my childhood. Her patience for my odd-duck antics is amazing, plus I think she was probably grateful for the company. She had lived enough to know to cherish those fleeting moments, embarrassing dancing and all. (Also, during the week, other than her daily viewing of All My Children, she watched all of the Wheel of Fortune, Hee Haw, Gaither specials and Christian programming she could to arm her for the sinful Saturday Night scandals, or at least I imagine that is the reason because it makes sense, and it’s funny.)
Today I am traveling home, to the beautiful deserts of New Mexico. A beloved family member has passed away and I am going to be near family. Not only do I want to be there, but I need to. Though my grandmother’s home now belongs to my aunt, I need to sit in that kitchen on Sunday morning. I need to surround myself with the familiarity of family whose blood I share, but where I kinda-sorta don’t really belong. Even so, there, within the walls of what was once her house, something fits, and I need that. I need to drink in some desert sunsets and rememorize the mountain landscape which set the backdrop to my silly driveway escapades. I need to set flowers at each of my grandparents graves and be present in a world that will always be my home, though I have no lived there in a lifetime…