The Visit

As far back as I can remember, I had a very happy childhood. As I was an only child, my parents gave me almost everything I wanted. Well, that is how it seemed to me. And it was my life I was living, so I must be right. So by the time I was about six, my little world had become a paradise.

But situations change, and fate tweaks the string of chance. My grandfather died when I was very young. I had little memory of him, apart from his size. I can remember that he was very tall, but my strongest memory of him was of his hands. I remember that he had large hands, but I can’t remember anything else about him. He died, leaving my grandmother alone in the big house in Rose Park. The moment the door closed behind her on the day of the funeral, Grandmother never left the house again. Her duty, she felt, was to keep alive the memory of the old man. And the only way she could see to it was to make the house a museum to his memory. She made herself a part of that memory by never wearing any other style of clothes than those in which he had known her.

So obsessed did she become with this idea, that soon she was wearing the exact dress, or its replica, in which she had watched the doctor as he had struggled to keep alive her husband on that last night.

When the old man had been alive, he had employed a series of housemaids to help his wife in the running of the household. These girls never stayed more than a few weeks; their mistress dispensed with their services at the slightest provocation. I don’t know whether she was particularly mean spirited, but I seem to remember that she was quite fastidious. No matter what the girls; the housemaids, did, it wasn’t good enough for my grandmother. So, when her husband died, she resolved never to have another maid in the house. Maids would have interrupted her routine; would have put something out of place; would not have understood the importance of the placement of old treasures.

The fact that she lived alone did not inter­est me until my seventh birthday. When my parents and I had finished lunch on that day, the day of my birthday, my father brought the car around to the front door. My mother helped me to get dressed and then we went down to the car.

In my favourite seat between my parents, I tried to collect my thoughts, and remember where we were going. But my mind was in too much of a happy haze. Wasn’t it my birthday, and hadn’t I had a wealth of presents? I was the centre of my world; I knew it; my parents helped me to know it.

When we arrived at the house in Rose Park, the fact that we were visiting Grandmother was still far from my thoughts. As far as I was concerned, she was just another very small part of a wonderful birthday; a part that could be placed in the same category as brushing my teeth, or getting the paper for Daddy. I hardly knew her. I remember seeing her and, of course I could recognise her from a photograph my mother had beside her bed. She never visited us; keeping her own self-imposed isolation. I had not been anywhere near the house in Rose Park for as long as I could remember. Grandmother was someone my mother, and occasionally my father, visited, but never with me.

As the door opened, my whole happy day collapsed around me. There before us stood a very old, wrinkled woman in a rust-brown woollen dress. She looked like grandmother; she was grandmother. But she wasn’t like the smiling, lady in my mother’s photograph. Something was very, very different; she looked so old. She kissed my mother, and then led the way, through the darkened hall, into the drawing room. As we entered the room, a wall of dry sweet smelling air hit me in the face. It was not the sweet smell that was my mother though; it was the sweet smell of medi­cine and old people. The curtains were drawn; although it was early afternoon and two small lamps gave a feeble light to the room. I looked around, and wherever I looked, I could see little tables and faded carpets, dried flowers in vases and photographs of a man who looked like Grandfather: on the mantelpiece; on the tables; on the wall. In some of the photographs the man was young and in others he looked old, but it certainly looked like Grandfather.

We sat in the drawing room for what seemed to be hours. Mother and Father drank tea and I had milk and a piece of cake. There wasn’t any real cake, with fruit and cherries in it; the cake was yellow and sort of hard and dry, and took a lot of chewing before I could swallow it. All the while, Grandmother flitted around the room, being a good hostess, and talking, talking, talking; not about herself, not about the things my father and mother used to talk about, but about Grandfather.

I almost said to my mother, “Is Granddad still here, or on holiday?” but my mother knew me well and she saw I was going to ask a question, so she put her hand to her lips in the way that she has, and I knew I had to wait till later to ask.

Eventually, Daddy looked at the clock on the mantelpiece and then at his watch and he said, in a voice that didn’t sound very much like Daddy’s voice at all, “Is that the time? Goodness, it’s getting late”. And then he said that we had to leave, and I felt like clapping my hands. We were leaving. At last we were leaving the musty old house. And we were going to leave the old lady in the woollen dress.

But no. Not yet. Grandmother said I would have to come upstairs with her as she had some­thing for me. I looked first to Mother and then to Father, but they just smiled and told me to go with the old lady. There was no escape.

I followed her upstairs but my parents stayed in the drawing room and waited. At the door to her room, she took me by the hand to lead me inside. The curtains were closed and when she switched on the light, I looked inside. There was nothing in the room that I can remember now, except that it was full of little china ornaments and lots of bottles on the dressing table and a big picture of the man who looked like Grandfather over the end of her bed. Grandmother kept hold of my hand and drew me further into the room.

On the bed was a parcel; a parcel wrapped in brown paper. The parcel was my present. The present was for me. My birthday present; wrapped in brown paper. Grandmother picked it up and thrust it into my hands. Then she bent down and kissed me on the mouth, and her kiss was horrible. An old lady’s kiss…soft, wet, horrible.

Then we came downstairs again. “You go first,” said Grandmother, “I take a long time. Hold on tight. We wouldn’t want to fall, would we?” And then, at last, I was at the front door, and everyone was saying, “Good ­bye! Good bye! Good bye!”

On the way home, I sat in the back seat by myself. I put the brown paper parcel on the seat beside me.

I never found out what that present was. I didn’t even try to open it.

I dropped the brown paper package out of the window before we left Rose Park.

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Comments 31 comments

ltfawkes profile image

ltfawkes 5 years ago from NE Ohio

Wow, Twilight - I expected a twist, but I didn't see that one coming. You pulled the rug out from under me. Nice job.

L.T.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thank you. And from you, L.T. that is a double bonus


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I thought your parents were going to leave you behind. Isn't it sad how children view old people, even relatives?

I remember those unpalatable experiences, especially "the wet horrible kisses..."


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thanks for reading it, Svetlana. Unfortunately I was a very pretty little boy, and gangs of old ladies would lie in wait, simply to kiss me. Poor me. Thanks for your visit.


Shil1978 profile image

Shil1978 5 years ago

Poor you, Twilight - I know the feeling :) It is interesting how children view old people. I think they feel the way they do because they don't quite have an understanding of why old people look the way they do. The wear and tear, the wrinkles, the smells, etc.

I remember being afraid of visiting my great grandmother. She was confined to this room that I dreaded visiting. She was very old and frail. I did feel very close to my grandmother, however. She wasn't as old or wrinkly then.

It was painful to see her grow older. She died a couple of years ago - I miss her terribly. One of the things that I dread the most is having my mom and dad go through that - you know, getting old. Inevitable though it is, it is painful to see someone deteriorate physically and mentally as they get older!!

Oh and have I mentioned how well you write? Time for more blushing :) Seriously though, I really meant it. You do write so well. It is such a pleasure reading your hubs!!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thank you ever so much, Shil. I still blush, and I hope I never take lovely compliments, like yours, for granted. The growing old bit, I can take, but to lose the powers of speech and intellect and all the rest that frequently goes with old age, I hope I never have to go through.

I think that then I would like to be beaten to death with a stick, and left to feed some poor third world hyena who has missed his breakfast.

Oops! Too cynical...

But thanks again for reading my stuff; it is ALWAYS appreciated by me.


Guru-C profile image

Guru-C 5 years ago

Great writing. More! More!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thank you. Thank you. You are most welcome. Please call back any time... I will do my best to give you what you ask for.


donna bamford profile image

donna bamford 5 years ago from Canada

Interesting little story. i too remember those visits to grandparents and the peculiar smells and noises in the houses. Did you really throw the parcel out the window. Nicely written.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

No, I didn't throw the parcel out of the window. It's fiction. I just like writing in the first person singular. Thanks for stopping by and the appreciative comment.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Oh Thank you. What a lovely thing to say. I can assure you that that comment will encourage me to "try even harder". as my teachers were wont to say to me. Thank you again; that makes it all worth while.


Reflecting Pool profile image

Reflecting Pool 5 years ago from The other side of the coop

Well that's not the ending I was anticipating.. you tossed it out the window? Did your parents know? Did they comment? Wow! I'm speechless!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Pure fiction, Candie, based on observation, but not on experience. I can hardly think of any parallels between the little boy in the picture... but in essence it was me. Thanks for stopping by to read and experience.


Reflecting Pool profile image

Reflecting Pool 5 years ago from The other side of the coop

You have one incredible imagination.. it felt so real I could smell the menthol ointment! Hahaha! You are soooo good!!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Candie, you are so lovely. But that's how I feel when I read your writings. I have told you... you are such a clever observer of the minutest things.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Oh, my! Ian! This is an amazing, intimate story of a little boy's rude introduction into the lair of an elderly grandparent. Wow. That house pictured looks quite charming from the outside, but I can just imagine how terrible it must have been to enter it, after your joyous birthday amid your loving parents and bright and happy thoughts and expectations. To find yourself in what must have been almost tomb-like - wow. It must have been indelible in your memory-trove for you to remember it all in such vivid detail. That brown paper wrapped present really tells the tale! I almost trembled for you at your trek upstairs to fetch it with her - and enduring that awful kiss!

I swear I can tell when an old lady is behind me at the grocery store. There is an odor of stale perfume, probably mixed with her own chemistry, which hangs in the air and is unmistakeable. I'm never surprised to look back and see that it is so.

I love fragrance but am very cautious about using perfume myself, with some firm guidelines to assure it will not become stale before or after I use it and then, only on a very clean wrist immediately after showering. I don't refresh it after that till the next shower and new beginning. The scents are critical too; - must be natural, rather than chemical. The others give me a headache, so I can imagine how they must accost others' senses when in their presence being worn by others. I prefer men especially to smell like fresh air and sunshine! It's a good choice for anyone, I think!

I loved old folks as a child, but most of those I knew were good natured and lived with their children in bright, happy homes in the neighborhood. Old Granny Reese across the way loved me and saved her pretty perfume and even medicine bottles for me for my bottle collection. She told me fascinating stories and admired my curls. I loved to visit with her. My own parents were "older" when I was born - in their forties, so my perspective on what was "old" was a little distorted, perhaps.

I knew only one grandparent. Both my granddads died when my parents were young and my maternal grandmother died a month before I was born. My paternal grandmother lived with us when I was born and until I was a few years old. I barely remember her though she seemed to like me well enough. But she was a stiff, straight-laced Mennonite, wore only dark colors with NO ornamentation and thought my mother was entirely too frivolous. She'd really wanted Daddy to marry Nellie Yoder! ;-> I was named for Mother's half-sister Nellie and Dad's half-sister, Anna, but occasionally Mother "threw Nellie Yoder up to" Dad. But perhaps my being named Nellie gave me a slight advantage in Grandma's eyes. At least she didn't hold my being born against me.

Probably Grandmother Holdeman was responsible for my being born, but that is a whole 'nuttier story. I knew that she disapproved of Mother and Mother sometimes explained Grandma Holdeman to her friends. She would mimic a long face and say in a drawn-out voice "I - agree - with - AL- BERT!" She was not a southerner - but one might have thought so, so many extra syllables she put into the name! Albert was my Dad, his Mother's firstborn and favorite of her four boys. She went back up north to live with another son and his family when I was still very young. I wrote to her, though, and she liked to hear from me. I have one of my letters I wrote to her at about 9, which my Dad saved from her keepsakes after she died.

Her picture - and the contrast with my mother - can be seen in one of my "Attic" pages on my website: http://nellieanna.com/attic2b.html


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

It's strange, Nellie, but most of the stuff that I have posted on HP is pure fantasy. Apart from 'Krishna in the Morning', and only half of that was personal history. I never had a posh old grandmother in a large house in "Rose Park". My Welsh grandmother lived in one of the largest houses in the village, but we lived with her when we returned to the UK during the War and I never saw her out of the large rocking chair that stood beside the big black kitchen range, all black leaded and sparkling chrome. I loved cuddling up into her lap. She was big and cuddly and my mother was small, elegant and slim. A very fashionable lady!!!

It is all fantasy. I am just good at empathising. I've never thrown away brown paper parcels; never heard a little dog being squidged in the street outside a coffee shop; hardly ever drowned irritating vacant females at beaches (unless there was an official cull). Sorry. I just tend to live vicariously.

Your reminiscences, though, i hope they are part of a well constructed novelette, novella or novel.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Alas. I should have known, I suppose! I must be more aware of your tendency to make the imaginary sound so true! I have a vivid imagination, myself, but it is not so well honed for making a story come alive as yours. Few, if any, "facts" I have related on here are anything BUT actual facts, which have been inspired by others' similar personal reminiscesm, much as one might respond in a verbal discussion. I'm not terribly "tamed", you see.

The one totally fictitious story I have posted on HB, "The House on the Hill" was taken seriously and attributed to my personal experience by several readers, much to my surprise! It is 100% "made-up". I think that series of hubs may be suffering some sort of jinx or publishing error, though. Guess I need to look into that.

Also - I glean from some of your replies to commnents that you more value the brief kind. I shall attempt to be less effusive in my comments here. I cannot promise, though.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Don't you dare! I like reading your comments. I can be as short and as sweet when commenting, but when I get the bit between my teeth, there is no stopping me.

I am actually in the middle of writing my story I have referred to before... it's nice to stop and see what the rest of the world has been getting up to while I have been away, and then plunging back.

My goodness, though. I just wrote a little passage of about 150 - 200 words, and it reduced me to tears. I get totally immersed in my writing sometimes.

What a softy!!!!!!!


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Believe it or not, I CAN write brief, concise prose, as I do almost trim words always when writing poetry, though it is not really deliberate, but my style, partly generated by a need to be a bit obscure when I wrote a lot of them. They were just shorthand for my own memory.

But I have laughed at myself saying that I can tell which is which by the length or brevity. Usually my prose is lengthy and nearly always my poetry is brief. It's just the way I'm wired or something. I like to please folks, but not as much as I like to be authentic. And what I DO is rattle on when I'm into a prosaic subject of interest to me. In a way it's sort of a good way to separate the real fans from those who just want to collect return follows, too. LOL.

I look forward to the story you're writing! I understand about getting misty-eyed over something one's written oneself, if it touches deep emotions or memories. I do it too. I admire folks with the courage to express all their feelings unashamedly. Besides I figure I'll get to know them longer since they are probably less likely to get sick and die of a stroke.

Hugs.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I will share some of this "story" with you if I may... eventually. I wrote a small section some time back, and my next door neighbour, a member of writers' groups herself commented, "I wish I had written every word myself" or something of the sort. I was thrilled.

This was a bit upsetting, my friend "Besides I figure I'll get to know them longer since they are probably less likely to get sick and die of a stroke".


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

oh my. I will welcome whatever you choose to share with me!!! When, where?

About that statement I made which was upsetting - my apologies! The meaning was that expressing one's feelings (appropriately, of course) rather than "stuffing" them or bottling them up is healthier and promotes longevity! The stuffing tends to lead to high blood pressure which tends to overtax the arteries leading to the heart and brain and can too easily result in heart attacks and strokes.

I was awkwardly trying to say what a joy and privilege it is to enjoy knowing nice people all the longer if they are able to express genuine emotions in healthy ways, so as to promote better health and longevity. Nothing sinister intended!!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I'm going to send you the smallest section from my novella (Pretensions wording, but there you go) to show you that i used your cantaloupe .. though heavily in disguise.


Sunnie Day 5 years ago

This hit home to me..I had one set of grandparents I adored and were warm, smelled good, and full of laughter, had the best hugs. I had one grandmother with big bosoms, that if she tried could throw them over her shoulder, smelled like onions, and had a moustache...so...well...that’s it! Ian...I do understand. Good story... :)

Sunnie


Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Well Ian I read some comments and I guess you did not really have a posh grandmother..See what a good writer you are..you had me going..but I did have a grandmother with big bosoms and a moustache..humm...may have to write about it..lol

Sunnie


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Hi Sunnie, that was a real compliment: "Well Ian I read some comments and I guess you did not really have a posh grandmother..See what a good writer you are..you had me going" My paternal Grandmother, I never met, and have only three photographs of her... One of which is on the hub about my "ethnicity" or lack of it. The other, I knew and used to like to cuddle. She, as far as I can remember, spoke no English, and wasn't even called Grandmother... I called her Mamgu (pronounced: mam gee (with the g as in Maggy) the accent on the second syllable. Mamgu is Welsh for Grandmother.

Thanks for dropping by and sitting so attentively in that little lesson on language. Ha ha!


Sunnie Day 5 years ago

I love it!Thank you for the lesson. I have four grandchildren that call me two different names. One calls me MEME and the other calls me GRAMMIE I heard them one day arguing over which one was right.lol..

They can call me what ever they want just not...GRANNY!

haha


KKalmes profile image

KKalmes 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Hello Ian, I think I love your reminiscing best, although I do cherish your poetry. You are without a doubt the most circumspect and interesting man I have never met, but it helps to have been the most deliberate and unpretentious child.

When you have finished your memoirs in total, please allow me to read from beginning to end!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I have written so much since we last "spoke" and yet I haven't finished anything. I am in the middle of four bits of scribbling; some reminiscences; some a little allegorical, and a bit of Twilight Lawns plc, but I just don't seem to be able to put a big full stop at the end of any of them.

One of them is coming up to 25,000 words (a Novella, no less) but do you think it will let me put it to bed?

Nope.


KKalmes profile image

KKalmes 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Don't limit its grace... you are the father and it is the child... you can give it boundaries which it will push, but in the end you will only be able to give it wings to be itself.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I have never planned anything I have written until recently. I usually start writing and it takes the bit between its teeth and gallops away (or canters or whatever), and carries on until it comes to a natural ending.

But these last four pieces, I sort of planned, and I just don't think it suits my writing capabilities.

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