My Grandmother's Attic

Mommy and I at the beach
Mommy and I at the beach

When I was a little girl, my mother got polio.

It was a terrible fear in those days, an epidemic. Public swimming pools were closed and Life Magazine featured pictures of people in iron lungs - huge machines that kept them alive. Did those poor souls have to live out the rest of their lives like that? I was horrified and mesmerized. And when they whisked Mommy away to that Gothic hospital in the city - I wondered if she'd wind up on one of those things, like a casket for the living. I wondered if she'd die.

I heard them talking. They thought I was asleep. But how could I sleep when Mommy was gone, when Mommy had polio? I heard about the live virus vaccine that I had received. My mother refused to be inoculated. Because it was a live virus, my mother caught polio from me.

So, I went to stay at my grandparent's huge, Victorian house with a wrap around porch, a carriage house, giant trees and rhododendrons. French windows, a pantry, and a pond. Next door, an abandoned house with a crumbling chimney and vines growing in through the windows.

My grandmother didn't know what to do with me. She never had any children and seemed almost uncomfortable around them. She wasn't my biological grandmother but married my grandfather after my mother's mother died before I was born. My mother, in some grief derived spite, had me call my grandfather's wife, Miss Katherine.

She was a pleasant woman, Miss Katherine, pretty with soft cheeks. She wore flowered dresses and kept a rose garden and went to club meetings with other ladies. And as she didn't know what to do with me, she let me wander around the house, and the yard, and eventually the attic.


My father stopped by to see me. In his suit and tie, coming home from work or on his way to the hospital to see Mommy. He'd sit distracted and nervous, Daddy, who in normal times, took me on long walks in the woods and helped me build a bird house. Poor Daddy, so wild eyed with anguish, I could smell the terror on him.

"Go be with Mommy," I said. His presence only underscored her absence. It seemed like, if he was with her, Mommy wouldn't die.

My grandparent's house
My grandparent's house

Alfred Cookman Leach and Family

Alfred Cookman Leach and family. The little one is Katherine.
Alfred Cookman Leach and family. The little one is Katherine.

Into the Attic

Miss Katherine's attic took me away from the world. Several rooms with angled ceilings held treasures like in a museum but I could touch everything! I pawed through boxes of old dresses and steamer trunks packed with photographs. I found an old Victrola and discovered that if I wound it up, I could play music - tinny old music and songs sung by long ago voices in the heat of the summer attic.

There were pictures of people in old time clothes and big hats, photos with faces that blurred and faded like a distant memory. I found a painting of a dirt road and a man herding sheep. Brass beds and folded quilts that smelled like mothballs. Porcelain tea sets printed with tiny violets. I was just a little girl but I knew that most of the people in the pictures were dead. Whoever painted that picture with the funny trees was dead. It was like a cemetery for dead people's things.

When I fingered the old lace, tried on the old glasses, paged through delicate old books, for those quiet moments in the corner of the attic, in the dry dusty heat, I almost forgot about my mother.


One afternoon, I heard the stairs creak. Miss Katherine's soft grey curls appeared first, then her soft round face.

"Dolores, it's so hot up here! Maybe you should come downstairs where it's cooler," she said.

"There are so many things...I."

I never told Miss Katherine what I thought or felt. It wasn't like that with us. No hugs or songs, no baking cookies together, no snuggling up with a book, just a dry pleasantness, polite chit-chat.

I started to cry. I felt guilty, forgetting about my mother. How could I forget her, kept in a Gothic hospital in an iron lung or some other mysterious contraption, my father weeping as she slept.

"Your mother is going to get better," she said in her matter-of-fact way. "She's very sick but she will get better."

She came all the way up the stairs and blinked in the dim heat. "I hardly ever come up here," she said.

She moved slowly around the room beneath the slanty ceiling, touching things.

"What do you do up here all day?" she asked. Sweat beaded on her pale forehead.

I sniffed. "I'm just looking at things."

I showed her the painting. She told me that her father painted it just like he painted the picture downstairs in the dining room, the one with the big sailing ship. He'd been an architect she said. A lot of the stuff up in the attic belonged to him, from the old house, from long ago.

"These are his glasses," she held the delicate old glasses up in the dusty light."My father liked to read books. These are some of his books."

She handled them gently, turned the pages carefully with respect.

"He was a quiet man. Very gentle and strong and kind." She smiled a little.

It seemed funny to think of her as a little girl with bows in her hair. She'd sit there while he painted with a little paint box of her own.

"I was a terrible artist," she chuckled.

I stared at the painting of that gone world, the twisty trees and the flock of sheep. "It's beautiful," I said.

"You like that?" She seemed confused.

"Why is it up here? Your father painted it. You should - " I stopped. Who was I to tell her what to do.

She straightened up and took the picture out of my hands. "It's time to go downstairs. It's too hot up here. Let's go."

We walked down the warped narrow steps. I could feel the sweep of cooler air brush my face. She held onto the banister with one hand, the painting clutched under her other arm.

"Are you going to hang the picture downstairs?" I asked.

She stopped. "Oh, no. I've got enough pictures and things. I'm giving it to you. I guess it's a silly thing to give a little girl."

Old Landscape Painting by Alfred Cookman Leach

Painting by Alfred Cookman Leach, photo by Dolores Monet
Painting by Alfred Cookman Leach, photo by Dolores Monet
Grandmom
Grandmom

My mother recovered. She could walk and talk and was perfectly normal, just the same as before. And some time later, she had another baby. I had a sister!

Sometimes, when we visited my grandparents, I took my father up into the attic. It was the kind of thing he liked to do, to wander off away from everybody and find something interesting to look at. So, everything went back like it was. Almost.

Lurking deep in the attic, I found a world that had disappeared, the faded artifacts of tenderness and love. That stuff once touched people I never knew. I could handle their things, I could peek into their world blurred at the edges, the way it looked through those old glasses, soft edged ghosts, whose spirits exuded tenderness.

I never knew my mother's mother. I had a grandmother. I never called Grandmom 'Miss Katherine' again.

Old Sailboat Painting by Alfred Cookman Leach

Sailing ship by Alfred Cookman Leach, photo by Dolores Monet
Sailing ship by Alfred Cookman Leach, photo by Dolores Monet

Comments 59 comments

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Dolores, this is absolutely beautiful! How wonderful that you had the attic to escape to while your mother was in the hospital, and equally wonderful that the attic turned "Miss Katherine" into "Grandmom". One of my dad's cousins had a huge house with an attic like you describe, full of castoffs that were treasures to her daughter and me when we'd go up there to poke around.


Hawkesdream profile image

Hawkesdream 7 years ago from Cornwall

Dolores, this is beautiful, it was so interesting wondering around that attic with you,Pleased that your mother recovered.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Thanks, Jama. Yes, everybody can't be the way we expect them to be and not everyone is full of warm fuzzies, but she was there when I needed her alright and I treasure her father's paintings. My grandparents sold the house during the last energy crisis in the 1970's, what a shame.

Thank you, Alison. I sure miss that old house and the attic, well they're all gone now but it is nice to remember and so lucky my mother recovered and was full of spunk in no time!


C.Ferreira profile image

C.Ferreira 7 years ago from Rutland, VT

I often wished that my grandparent's attic was this way. Instead, they had a little door in the corner of a room that connected to another little door in the corner of another room. As a little kid I could walk through, but there wasn't anything cool in there.

I know this is not the point to the Hub, but I am jealous that you had such an attic. For some reason I am fascinated with old stuff hiding in attics and basements around the world!


pgrundy 7 years ago

What a beautiful story. I love the painting too, thank you so much for sharing it with us. Polio is so close, so recent, and yet most people today never think about it. Lots of people are still living who were harmed by it--I do know some. You are a fantastic writer. I enjoyed this immensely, thank you.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Touching and lovely family portrait in words.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

C - Well, it was part of the point of the story, the way people keep old things, the way I keep old things because they maintian something of the people that owned them. It's like touching a part of the past, these things that remain while the people are gone.

Pam, I so appreciate your kind words, your appreciation means a lot to me because I admire your work - you're the best! And polio is still with us. A lot of people suffer post-polio symdrome, a debilitating condition. I think my mother may have had it when she got older but there was a communication problem with her doctor.

Thank you, Jerilee, I am glad you enjoyed it.


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

This is really special Hub, I could not stop read it - it was such pleasure. Thanks for that.

Brrr, your Mum caught polio because of your vaccination - vaccination is even worse then we can percieve.

Paintings are really great - I like them very much.

Thumbs up - this Hub is so interesting on many levels.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Tatjana - thank you so much. I know how you feel about vaccines because I read a lot of your writing. I am so mixed on this. Vaccines have prevented my children from getting measles, mumps, and so many diseases that were once prevelant. But, then again, many vaccines have caused terrible problems. I knew one little girl (with Down Syndrome) who died during the swine flu panic in the 1970's after being vaccinated.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

I read, at first expecting the worse. When I got to "Miss Katherine's attic took me away from the world" I noted the victrolas. I pressed play and read on. The two together of course got me a little choked up and totally into to it like a favorite book in the summer, know what I mean? And then when I found out your mom had made it I burst out in tears. Holy cow this was a whopper of a story. Two, well, three happy endings. I am so thankful you wrote this and I got to read it. Magnificent, Dolores.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Frieda, your apprciative words bring tears to my eyes. I am so glad this story moved people because, except for the victrola which I added for backup music, it is all complety true.

Some of us who write occasionally wonder what to write about, and think our lives were (thankfully, quite ordinary). But all lives contain wonderful stories with lessons, love, and redemption.


reggieTull profile image

reggieTull 7 years ago from Virtual Space

Thank you Dolores for responding to the request. I am sitting here early in the morning with a coffee and your words just transported me to that attic. It was a beautiful hub and a wonderful moment of sharing. The photographs enhanced the article nicely. Thanks again.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

reggieTull - thank you so much. I have never responded to a request and I enjoyed it immensly, it just took me back because it is a true story. I am glad not to dissapoint because I thought maybe you were looking for something spooky. :)


Frieda Babbley 7 years ago

You're so right about that Dolores, we think our lives are so ordinary, yet in someone elses eyes our lives hold pieces of treasure. It's hard to remember that. Thanks again for sharing yours. I'll be back to read again, I know I will.


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 7 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Wow I REMEMBER when they believed that letting the children run in the water from a hose was the cause...and I remember when we all got the vaccination the first time...back when doctors seemed to doctors and not pushers of chemicals...Womderful story hun...Thanks for sharing...G-Ma :O) Hugs

"Lurking deep in the attic, I found a world that had disappeared, the faded artifacts of tenderness and love. That stuff once touched people I never knew. I could handle their things, I could peek into their world blurred at the edges, the way it looked through those old glasses, soft edged ghosts, whose spirits exuded tenderness."

this was my favorite part from the heart it is...


Iphigenia 7 years ago

Exquisite - that's all I can say really, thank you for sharing, I enjoyed htis hub so much.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Frieda, I guess it means we should open our eyes and appreciate what we have now at the moment, because someday it will be a treasured thing. Maybe it's also why my house is chock full of dead people's stuff.

Thank you, Gma. Maybe the doctors seemed different then because they weren't ruled by business men. I looked around for the old glasses, I know they're around somewhere, I wanted to take a photo of them sitting on top of the old books (Dickens) but couldn't find them. One can become obessed with these hubs, mmm?

Thank you so much Iphigenia. It's so wonderful to hear such lovely praise from such as yourself. It makes me glad to leave comments. A lot of these comments are so heart felt and kind. It's really wonderful.


Olive P 7 years ago

Dolores What a wonderful hub! Reminds me of rummaging around in my grandparents attic. Lots of good stuff that dissappeared when they moved because no one thought a young girl wanted it. I was a lucky girl. My grandparents and I were so close. Pop would pick me up after school on Friday and take me to spend the weekend at my grandparents' house. My grandmother always made my favorite dishes, and she'd let me stay up late and watch Johnny Carson with her. Good memories.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Olive, I hope when I have grandchildren, they find some magic here. And love of course, too.


Sage Williams profile image

Sage Williams 6 years ago

What a beautiful story and so well written. I'm fairly new to hub pages and am just starting to get around to reading some other hubs. This is simply, touching. Almost to hard to put into words. Love the music on the old victrola.

I admire your lifestyle.

Sage


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Thank you, Sage. I am glad that you enjoyed the story which is, but for a tiny tweak here and there, true.


lovelypaper profile image

lovelypaper 6 years ago from Virginia

Very touching and wonderfully written!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Thank you, lovelypaper. I enjoyed writing it and shed a few tears while doing so.


bonny2010 profile image

bonny2010 6 years ago from outback queensland

Wow I would have loved to wander through that attic with you, .what a different world it must have presented to you, and how fortunate you could stay with some one like your Grandmon while your mother was ill I am so glad you were so receptive to such a gift , I loved your hub it really turned my read into a small adventure thank you,


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Thanks, bonny. Actually, my Grandmother wasn't real good with kids, never had any of her own, she was my step-grandma. But we had our moments and she really influenced me in a lot of ways. She was a good woman. Not long ago, I rode past that house and was so thrilled to see it in great shape, well tended. The attic was so wonderful and I think of that house and the garden there quite often. It's great to be able to share the story and the place.


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

Hello! I'm so glad I found you. I'll be back again and again to read more of your wonderful stories.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Sheila, thank you so much. Actually, so far, I have not put any of my fictional stories on HP, just the real stuff.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Really enjoyed this hub. Made me melancholy. Great writing.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

elayne, thank you! I just looked at the ads on here, and it's funny because they are all about attic insulation. Not that I wrote this one to make any money...


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Dolores, this is such a beautifully written story. It was wonderful that your mother recovered but it must have been a scary time for you as a young child. The attic sounds like the perfect escape from reality for periods of time. Excellent hub.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Pamela, lucky for me, I think I was too young to realize how really horrible polio was - I knew my mom was sick and that polio was scary. Thank you so much.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

This is a wonderful story, Dolores. I, too have a reverence for things of the past, and I am so glad your comment has led me here. The paintings are quite, quite lovely. You are most fortunate to have such an artistic inheritance.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Red Elf - when you think of some of the wonderful things that just 'disappear' in families; things that get shuffled off or sold, it's sad. I love those paintings so much. Sometimes things can have so much meaning. Thank you!


Meri Alis profile image

Meri Alis 6 years ago from Upstate New York

What a lovely hub! Thanks for sharing these special pictures and stories.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Thank you, Meri. Every once in a while it's nice not to write advise or be trying to sell something or how to make stuff. Glad you liked it!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

What a lovely description of those special memories.

I would have loved that attic, too! :)

And lovely pictures!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Trish - you don't realize how interesting your childhood is until you are grown. What with the mother with polio, the old house, and attic, and the pictures that still hang on the wall, it sounds almost southern gothic. Glad you enjoyed!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I LOVED this story of your rummaging through your grandparent's attic. I also had a great one...although it was usually spent with my grandmother telling me about the things we were handling and who wore the clothes she let me try on, etc. Most all of that got passed on to others and disappeared from our lives when my grandparents and parents moved from Wisconsin to McAllen, Texas. No basements and no usable attics...so most of it had to go. Too bad. At least I have memories as do you of those times.

The paintings are wonderful! And so glad to know your mother survived with no lasting effects of the polio.

Voting this up and beautiful! Thanks!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Peggy - thank you so much. You must have had a wonderful time with your grandmother, delving into family history like that. Actually, my grandmother was not the warm and fuzzy type. It was just the way that she was. But, in her own way, she has influenced me all my life and I was glad that we were able to connect (as some members of the family were not).


imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 5 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

I LOVE this story! While my Grandmother didn't have an attic, she allowed me to rummage through her possessions, all of which were so dear to me, and most of which she said had no meaning to her...but she kept them anyway. My Grandmother was born in 1904 and passed in 2004. More than anything she had a history that I found fascinating...and still do!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

imatellmuva - (I love your name) It's wonderful to look at grandma's stuff, or your parents stuff. I remember going through my father's 'junk' drawer and asking him about the different things that he had. It was family history in that drawer, and we had wonderful times talking about my father's family. Each object had a story. Thank you!


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

Delores, how wonderful for you that you gained a Grandmother even though it was in part due to your mother's illness. How terrified you must have been. How understanding your grandmother was. I loved your story. Voted up and beautiful.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Koffee - thank you so much. What with the new Google slap, I feel like I ought to trash this one (though it's one of my personal favorites) and put it up on my (almost forgotten) blog.


writer20 profile image

writer20 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

Thank goodness I've found you. I loved this touching

story and the paintings are fabulous.

You guessed it I'm going to follow you.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

writer - thank you. I loved writing this one up, though it gets little traffic. Glad you enjoyed!


Ania L profile image

Ania L 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Great, enchanting story, taking the reader (that's me) into a very special place - the world of childhood memories. Thank you.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Ania - thank you. I love childhood stories and thought of a real memory but tweaked it a teeny bit.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Oh how I love everything about this story. The house is my dream and all of those hot days spent in a musty attic bring back so many lovely memories. I am thrilled that Kathrine became beloved. This is a gorgeous Hub.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Hypenbird - thank you. But now I feel like this sounds very materialistic. My grandmother gave me a painting and so I decided to start liking her. I was just thinking about that wonderful attic, the twin brass beds, the boxes of mysterious stuff. My poor grandmother had to figure out what to do with a couple little idiots, me and my weird sister, it must have been hard for her.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

It wasn't just the painting. It was her spirit of generosity and your awakening to know she was more than whom you had perceived her to be. It might have been difficult for her to project maternal coziness but she had love. I can tell.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

Hyphenbird - you are so kind. If my grandmother came to visit me today, she would be very comfortable in my home. Maybe because it's full of her stuff. But she influenced me on how to create a home environment, and that's not really too materialistic.


DIMIR profile image

DIMIR 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, United States

This was a beautiful write! What a great connection!


suzzycue profile image

suzzycue 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

This is a beautiful written tale of a sad little girl. I could feel her bewilderment in your words. The paintings are awesome, I love boats so that painting really touched me. I enjoyed the read.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

suzzycue - thank you. Most of this one is real. Recently my brother-in-law found one of those old wind up phonographs at a yard sale, along with some records. It was so cool to listen to it, like reaching back into the past.


annart profile image

annart 4 years ago from SW England

What a lovely story! It accentuates the importance of relationships across the generations. I think grandparents can do lots for their grandchildren - about life in general and of course, telling them about history. My granddaughter (and daughters) loves looking at pictures and photos and asking me all about the people in them. Voted up, beautiful and interesting.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

annnart - thank you! I checked out the old house online one day and found that the people who now own the house have painted it blue and installed a large pool in the yard. I was so glad to see the place well kept.


annart profile image

annart 4 years ago from SW England

That's good. Going back can be a shock and upsetting but it can be great too! I often revisit the places where I was happy; fortunately they haven't changed too much. My children and grandchildren know where they are too!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

I can see this had been here awhile, but such a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing that piece of your life.


Ruth Pieterse 4 years ago

I so enjoyed reading this and am very pleased to have found it amongst your work.

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    Under another name, Dolores has had short fiction published in several small, literary magazines.



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