a pipe and Penelope

After spending most of my day in the car I wouldn’t think that I would have much to write about except a foggy brain, sore muscles, and a lot of road construction. But since I also spent a few hours at my grandfather’s house sifting through and packing old, forgotten items… a few thoughts are left swishing about in my head.

That house has no life left inside except for what we bring in our bodies. The air and the home itself are dead and silent. But once the laughter and memories started flowing, we were drunk with them. It was a delight to encounter so many items I did not even realize were tucked away in my memories. The three dancing girls, the goose-go-round in the window, the plastic Uncle Sam piggy bank, the posters of Paris, the yellow plastic tableware…

The abundance of stuff was slightly overwhelming even though Grandpa now lives such a spartan lifestyle. Ever since Grandma died the home has fallen into different stages of disrepair–various levels of silence and stillness. I went downstairs to see if there were any tables I could use in my apartment niche, but what struck me the most was the thickness of the air… like no one had been down there since I was 10 years old. Dust hung in the sunshine strips that filtered through the spotted sliding door. When I walked through the room, it seemed as if even the sunshine was caught in a dream. Everything seemed to float in a wave after me, from one room to the next.

The basement used to be where all the grandkids would play. We’d record tapes of our talents, color on recycled newsprint, play with plastic barnyard animals, and let our thighs get red and stuck on the toilet seat as we tried to read all the words on the cartoon-like bathroom wallpaper (which, I’m disappointed to say, was replaced by beige stripes).

The rest of the house holds similar warmth in my mind. Grandpa would sit alone in the study, stiff in his brown office chair, always with his shoes on, smoking his pipe. He didn’t smoke for long, but the smell of pipe smoke is still one of the most comforting scents I can imagine. There is a sweetness to it that reminds me of those sweet memories, even of my silent grandfather sitting in his study. If I could have one thing of his, I would pick his pipe.

Grandma would read us the books she absolutely hated (The Perils of Penelope was our notorious favourite) and always finished them once she started. It may have annoyed Grandma to pieces, but I never knew that at the time. She was always soft, cuddling, allowing us to lean against her shoulders as she rested the book on her knee. Her knobby, leathery fingers would gently touch the pages and make a certain sound that only her dancer’s hands could make. What’s the significance about skin-on-paper contact? No true meaning in itself, I suppose… but to me it proves that she loved us sacrificially. She’d do things she hated just to see us smile. So if I could have anything of hers, it would be that book. Penelope is long out of print and is a rare find.

A pipe and Penelope. That’s all I want.

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