Friday, April 28, 2006

part of growing up

The first time I saw my grandparents' house after it had been renovated, it had been flooded with four feet of water.

They'd moved into that house when my dad was eight years old. It was brand new. They were still living there when I was born twenty years later, and my sister and I grew up spending nearly every weekend there.

We would play on the swing in the backyard, watch my PawPaw work in his shop, buy homemade popsicles from the next door neighbor and stop to pet Mr. Pittman's dog, Freckles, on the short walk to the park. Mr. Pittman told my sister and I that he had fairies in his shop behind his workbench, but when I asked if I could see them he said they would hide when I came in because they were shy. Back at the house, my sister and I would fight over who got to hold the remote, even though we only ever watched Nickelodeon (a special treat given that we didn't have cable at home), and cook ourselves up all kinds of random things. My parents NEVER let us cook at that age, but my grandparents would help us cook whatever we wanted. And they always had all of our favorite snacks: bananas, Sprite, tomato soup, sausage biscuits, ice cream, hershey's syrup, eggs, chicken pot pies.

As we got older, we inevitably spent less and less time there, but I learned to see my grandparents in a different light, especially my grandma, whom we called "Nanny". She was such a good listener, and she was always so proud of everything I did. My sister and I could talk to her about boys and friends, even the ones our parents hated, and she would always understand and sympathize.

To make a long story short, my Nanny died when I was 19, my PawPaw remarried a year later and moved to Texas, and I wasn't happy about any of it. I was okay with nanny's death, although I missed her deeply, because she had been in a great deal of pain for some time before she passed away. I knew that my PawPaw was terribly lonely after she was gone, but I was selfishly unhappy with his new life. I wasn't ready to let go of that bit of my childhood just yet. I refused to discuss it with anybody, especially other members of my family.

My parents spent several months renovating that house, the entire time telling me that I just had to come see how great it looked, but I adamantly declined their unyielding requests. Seeing it meant having to accept that things were changing. As long as I stayed in Baton Rouge, I could pretend PawPaw was still back where I'd left him. Eventually they rented it out, and with the presence of the new tenants their comments subsided.

The next August Katrina hit, and I was suddenly overwhelmingly grateful that my PawPaw had moved to Texas, because he has never once in his life evacuated for a hurricane. I can't even imagine what he would have done if he'd been in the house when the water came in. It was then that I saw their house for the first time since it had ceased to be the place where my grandparents live. The tenants' belongings were strewn about haphazardly, casting shadows without the benefit of electricity and beginning to grow mold. The carpet was still wet, its spongy consistency squishing under my feet. And at that moment I knew, that everything happens for a reason, and change happens, and I have to learn to cope with it like an adult. Nothing ever stays the same forever. Kids move away, grandparents die, hometowns flood and people fall out of love. That's life, and it's tragic and it's beautiful, and I'm just here to get all that I can out of it.

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