When I was little, some of the most magical trips I took were the ones where we packed up the car and drove six hours south through Indiana to my grandparents’ house. Everything about their home entranced me and made me feel warmth, curiosity, and joy.
It was a menagerie of unique sights for me, my siblings and my cousins. In the living room, floral upholstery mixed with stained glass lamps, old books, and dainty ceramic treasures tucked thoughtfully behind the glass doors of a china cabinet. In the kitchen, we’d pluck from the countertops squares of cold cheese and bologna wrapped in red wax on our way off to the next adventure. Downstairs, the finished basement held my wonder the most — toys that my mom and her sisters and brother once played with were prized playthings, the excitement sparked by them only reserved for items that possess the newness felt from being old and unfamiliar. A two-story dollhouse with white columns and little black shutters would entertain my sister, cousins and me for hours (and maybe even instigate a few tiffs over who had what miniature room for their doll first).
Illustration above by 12-year-old artist Viola Guerrero, @miyukuii
Image above: Me as a baby with my grandparents in their home, in 1986.
All of this splendor was wrapped up with the cohesiveness of a home decorated by people who simply gravitated toward what they loved, who they loved, and their life’s achievements. Embedded deeply in my memory is the presence of well-made, wooden furniture pieces, a result of my grandpa (“Papaw”) working for the Indiana-based furniture company Tell City Chair Company for many years. One of my favorite Tell City pieces (besides a dresser I’m lucky to have passed down to me from my parents) is a maple dry sink with punched metal pie safe-style doors. I couldn’t tell you where exactly this specific furniture piece was placed in their home in my childhood years, but I remember it strongly, its influence staying with me over time. Atop it, and other surfaces throughout “Papaw” and “Gaboo’s” home, you’d surely find glass jars filled with treats — chocolate soldiers wrapped in colorful foil, or in the springtime, a porcelain, lidded dish concealing pastel jelly beans. This magic, this feeling of being young and full of curiosity, still swirls inside me, laced with golden light (thank you, synesthesia); and it’s a feeling that sparks when I see these pieces of theirs grouped together so thoughtfully.
Image above: A scene in my grandparents’ present-day kitchen.
As such, my own That One Piece is a vignette I saw last summer in my grandparents’ home — not a singular item. My husband, children and I had made the trip from Southern California to Indiana to spend time with family, and, most importantly, give my grandparents time with my daughters Grace and Poppy (who were almost four and almost one last June). Stepping foot into my grandparents’ house — not the same one from my childhood memories — my nostalgia came rushing in like a joyful flood. The house is nothing like the one they lived in when when I visited in my early years, but it feels just the same. I could feel my heart swell in my chest as I led my daughters into the kitchen, my eyes landing on the dry sink — stationed below an old wooden bread board and a beautiful needlepoint made by my Aunt Cathy many years ago. On top of the dry sink, glass vessels containing treats and cookies beckoned, a pewter dish preciously clutched hydrangea my grandma had snipped from her garden outside. As I watched my grandparents lead the girls to the dining table and present them with snacks — cold squares of cheese and red wax-wrapped bologna — my eyes blurred with tears. The strength of my memories, and those memories being relived before my eyes through my own children, was almost more than I could bear.
I wanted to remember this feeling forever. Wiping my eyes, I quickly snapped a photo of this vignette: of my childhood’s magical memories. It was the closest tangible thing I had ever seen of an intangible memory come to life.
Soon enough, with Poppy playing on the floor, Grace was reaching, on tiptoes, up towards the glass jar of cookies on the dry sink. My grandpa chose a cookie for her, put it on a plate for my grandma to stud with a candle, which she then lit to celebrate Grace’s upcoming birthday, and the magic began again. —Kelli
Image above: My grandma lighting a candle to celebrate my daughter Grace’s fourth birthday, June 2018.
Image above: Four generations in one photo: My mom, me, my daughter Poppy and my grandma. My grandma is showing us a book that contains most of the family’s history.
Read more from our That One Piece series here.