The little house my grandpa built in 1949 nestled into the Hollywood hills when the sign read HOLLYWOODLAND. It was made into a home by a lady most people towered over, even with her ubiquitous heels that clickety-clacked on the linoleum floor of the tiny kitchen.
Moving from a small town in Washington to attend college in big, bright Los Angeles, I am like a lost little girl. As I navigate the angst and confusion of cultural adjustment, my retreat and my refuge is this house. It is safe and quiet and familiar.
The scent of star jasmine welcomes me as I step out of my car in front of their home. I lug my overflowing laundry bag to the back door that opens into the kitchen, and walk into the warmth from the oven. Grandma rushes in from the living room, arms wide open.
“Little Laura is home!” she laughs, and reaches up to hug me. I’m enveloped in a cloud of old Chloe perfume too long on her vanity. I walk through the house to find Grandpa sitting in his olive green recliner, feet up, a crossword puzzle in hand, lips pursed in concentration.
“HI GRANDPA.” I kiss his forehead and he startles. He adjusts his hearing aid and pats my hand.
“Hi sweet girl. I didn’t hear you come in.”
Grandma walks through the room like the Energizer Bunny. “I’ll get your warsh going and you go take a nap.” (Wash, with an r.) It’s 11:00 in the morning. I postpone the nap and help her with the bag that is nearly as tall as her and weighs twice as much.
The smell of oatmeal cookies and her signature German chocolate cake lingers in the air. There’s a pot roast in the old white oven and spiced peaches simmering in sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks on the stove. After the laundry, Grandma makes me a cup of tea and we settle into easy conversation across the formica kitchen table. Strains of violin waft through the open window as her neighbor teaches a music lesson. I tell Grandma about classes and boys and she tells me about my cousins and her friends and every story she tells involves what they ate.
The day moves along slowly, quietly, like a passing shadow. She makes tuna sandwiches with butter and pickles for lunch. We hang my laundry to dry on the patio (“Who needs a dryer when we’ve got one outside for free?”) as the smell of fabric softener mingles with her rose bushes. Her arthritic but perfectly manicured hands heft wet jeans and sweatshirts onto the line and pin them securely with clothespins from the hanging bag.
We take a walk up steep hills around her home—she is still in heels—and she greets every dog and neighbor along the way, introducing me proudly.
Before dinner, Grandpa rises from his favorite chair and creates the nightly martinis, to which my young taste buds haven’t grown accustomed. When we sit down to dinner in the heavy wood chairs my dad sat in as a child, I ask Grandpa to tell me a story about his days in radio. He is not impressed with celebrity, but tells about a joke of his that Bing Crosby laughed at, or the time Jonathan Winters was late, or when Bob Hope needed his help with a microphone. He tells these stories I’ve heard before like they were just another day at the office.
We clear the table and wash the dishes by hand (“Who needs a dishwasher when you have two good hands?”) and adjourn to the TV room to watch Lawrence Welk. Grandma sits in her miniature version of Grandpa’s recliner. She props her stockinged feet on Grandpa’s lap so he can tickle them as he’s done every night for 75 years and she twists her hair expertly into Dippety-Do’d pincurls. We take turns commenting on the performers: Grandma loves Bobby’s tap dancing, I envy Anacani’s mahogany curls cascading over her shoulders. Grandpa’s hearing aids are turned down (or he’s tuning us out) as he continues his crossword puzzle.
Time has stopped for me. I am only a few miles, but light years away from my college campus. I feel like I am inside parentheses amid the pressure of school, loud dorm, and fraternity parties. This day, this space, is a reminder that I am seen and known and loved.