Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nana's Home

I learned elegant homecaring from my grandmother.  Nana never had a house of her own and always lived on the streetcar line in Boston.  She and my grandfather rented a great old apartment in a pre-war apartment house.  I still smell the pine walls of the steep back staircase that led up to their two story home.  The kitchen had a darling pantry that was filled with china teacups hanging on hooks and a clear glass jar filled with peanut butter cookies, the kind with fork tine impressions on top.  Nana baked every Monday morning while she washed clothes.  Her refrigerator was called the ice box and inside were bottles of Moxie, a stick of bologna for sandwiches, cheeses, jars of pimentos, capers, olives, homemade picallilly and watermelon rind pickles.  The freezer had a quart of Brigham's French Vanilla ice cream, the only kind Nana bought.  We had it with cake and pies and scooped it with an ice cold aluminum paddle.  I remember everything on her kitchen table, including the sugar bowl, the small transistor radio, her bird watching guide, the minature wooden barrel filled with yellow pencils as sharp as needles for crossword puzzles and shopping lists.

Nana's bathroom had a claw foot tub and two taps, one for hot water and one for cold, marked on the enamel tops with a black "H" and "C". The rubber stopper dangled from a silver ball chain.  The towels were Turkish, textured and lush.  A small built in glassholder held a crystal tumbler.  There were always new toothbrushes in cellophane packages for her little guests and a box of sweet talcum powder, with it's own soft mitt inside.  Her bedroom was luxe and feminine with a floral toile wastepaper basket, a white doily at the bottom.  Her bureau was a trove of curiosities and she let us rifle through her drawers looking for treasures.  We often found books there with our names on them but I loved finding her jewelry, a choker of beads the color of peas, a silver pendant with a diamond chip which is mine now, and a pair of small screw-on pearl earrings.  Scent bottles lined up on the top and under them, a snowy cloth with ironed creases, crisp as crusted snow.

Every white panelled door had a transom over it, the place heated through scrolled rod iron registers built into the hardwood floors.  I remember going to the basement with her on winter mornings and watched as she fed the old furnace with coal and then I would run upstairs to stand over the register and feel the heat race up over my legs. Plants thrived in Nana's home on a squat marble table where 20 year old African violets blossomed all year.  One of the 80 inch sunlit windows had a hanging prism which made shimmering rainbows across the dining room. The windows rattled at times and were icy to the touch but her green thumb overcame all that and trails of ivy crept up over them and joined the curtain rods. 

Nana loved trays and a large black floral one held my own wee teapot and mug on mornings at breakfast. A buttermilk biscuit with a sugar cube drenched in orange juice and pressed into the top, hot from the oven, accompanied our tea.  We had slept under the eaves on the second floor in twin beds that were firm and mysteriously exuded a rose scent. Crisp white sheets and lace pillow cases lulled us to sleep along with wool blankets that had hems whipstitched with red yarn. The upstairs bedroom hinted at an Edwardian time as Nana's mother's large picture hat sat on top of an old floor lamp in the corner.  The walls were covered with striped sprigged wallpaper that looked like embroidered ribbons. It was Laura Ashley before Laura Ashley.  Nana's black enamel Singer stood ready in the corner and from it came voluminous party dresses, shifts for her, aprons, and linen drapes and curtains.  There was the slight scent of mothballs and a cavernous closet filled with photographs, old books, spare blankets. 

A famous decorator once remarked that although she could not sing or dance, she could turn a house into a living breathing thing.  Nana's home inhaled us deeply, every comfort was ours; every visit, magic.  When the heat was slow to ignite, a throw was suddenly dropped on our shoulders from seemingly nowhere.  If our feet were cold, handknit slippers were whisked from a drawer as if they had been waiting for us. I realize now - when I look back, that my grandmother was a painter of the everyday - her canvas was home, and just as writer Isak Dineson charmed and comforted Denys Finch Hatton with her Limoge and cyrstal in her faraway African home, the life we lived with Nana was unabashedly artful with fine and wonderous things. In our grandmother's enchanting home, love had a thread count.


  1. I so enjoyed reading this - you are a wonderful writer.

  2. I too enjoyed reading this post it was a lovely.


  3. What beautiful memories you have! I have started baking for my son, I hope he remembers it as well Elle

  4. Lovely story filled with loving memories.

  5. Wonderful and rich description of your memories. I feel like I was walking through her Boston apartment right bedside you!

  6. That is a lovely description. It's the little details that really personalize a home.