Kelli J Gavin: The House in Maine

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The House In Maine

By: Kelli J Gavin

My husband asked if I wanted to take one last look. One last look at the house, the remaining contents, everything I was leaving behind. I wasn’t sure I could. Could I walk back into the home where I grew up and not be blasted by every beautiful, every breathtaking, every heartbreaking occurrence that took place within those walls?

The trailer was packed, and so was the car. Only enough room left for the two of us in the front seat. I sifted through everything in the house as quickly as I could, leaving donate piles, garbage piles and clear instructions of what furniture should be sold and what should be loaded onto the trailer that would return to my home. I carefully packed keepsakes and treasures myself. I located the wooden crate in the back closet next to the fireplace in the living room, which contained my grandmother’s journals which she had begun keeping at the age of ten. That crate would be loaded into the car. I found her beautiful costume jewelry and scarves and handbags, and pulled a special few to be packed away for me. Treasures of which I had used as a child when I liked to play dress up. Such a simple time. When all that mattered was that my diamond earrings sparkled and that my handbag matched my shoes.

My mother and I moved in with my grandmother when I was seven. Mom said cancer in her bones would take her within the year, and she wanted to make sure that I was well taken care of. Where would this cancer in her bones take her? I didn’t understand but also didn’t ask any questions. I had never met my grandmother before. She lived in Maine. What was Maine? I was told it was a state very far away from Chicago where we lived. My mother never spoke of my grandmother and only mentioned her name when I asked my mother if she had a mother. She smirked at me, “Vera, everyone has a mother. Some are just better than others.”

We arrived at the worn-down home in this odd place called Maine that smelled of fish and mold. Everything seemed dirty, and boots were needed just to walk outside as the rains had turned the ground to thick mud that you would sink into if you didn’t keep putting one foot in front of the other. Grandma, or Gran as she requested to be called, was short and thin with beautiful white hair. She wore sweater sets with matching shoes and brooches and pearls. Gran looked exactly like what my seven-year-old mind thought a grandmother should look like.

We were welcomed quickly, ushered in swiftly and tucked into our quarters immediately. I do not believe that Gran was slow at anything. Everything was done in haste as if there were bigger and better things to do next. Always something to be done. Something to be accomplished. Gran never sat still. She polished silver, she organized the china hutch, she folded and re-folded linen napkins. She applied lipstick and smoothed her skirt that didn’t need smoothing. She smiled larger than necessary and poured more tea even when it wasn’t requested or had already been refused. Gran was a nervous force to be reckoned with.

My mother slowed down quickly after we moved in. She began to request meals on a tray be brought to her room two weeks after we arrived in Maine. Gran and I were happy to oblige. Constance, the housekeeper, arrived every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. sharp. She cleaned and cooked and did the laundry and often left me Butter Rum Life Savers if I helped hang the laundry on the lines. She was kind and sweet to my mother and hummed hymns as she worked.

Mom died six weeks after we arrived in Maine. She passed quietly in her sleep. I lay next to her for half a day before going with Gran to the kitchen. My grandmother arranged everything with her local church and funeral home. The funeral would be in a couple days. I sat with tears in my eyes looking at Gran as Constance poured us both a cup of tea. “What happened with you and my mother? Why didn’t I know about you until now? Why have I never met you?”

“Vera. I loved your mother very much. She was my only daughter. I hurt your mother a number of years ago and she was never able to forgive me. I told her last night that I loved her and how sorry I am that we wasted all of these years away. I told her how enchanting you are and how I was learning to quite enjoy being a Gran. Vera, I am sorry. I will love you like you are my own daughter. You can live here as long as you like. When it is time to go to college, everything will be taken care of. This is where you can call home.” Gran leaned over and gave me an awkward kiss on my forehead.

My young mind couldn’t figure out how Gran had hurt Mom years ago. I thought about it for a number of years but then I eventually stopped caring. Gran and I developed a great relationship. She enrolled me in school, helped with my homework, and encouraged me to get involved with extracurricular activities. She had Constance drop me off at church on Wednesday nights for Youth Group, and a local mom brought me home. I made friends, I enjoyed school, and I learned to like living in Maine.

I always missed my mother. Nothing could fill that void in my heart. I started writing and found that stories of my mother and Gran were what I enjoyed the most. I went to the local college and majored in Creative Writing. I received my Masters in English with a focus in Literature. Gran couldn’t have been more proud. She began to decline in her later years and Constance had passed away when I was an undergrad. Lucille came to clean our home and take care of Gran. I would go home on weekends. To visit and smile and read to Gran. Our time together was nothing short of magical.

When Gran passed, I found it difficult to return home. I should have rented the home out. But I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else living there. I married the love my life and we enjoyed living in New York City. My husband told me it was time to sell the home as it had fallen into ill repair. We hired a team and it took us three days. The project was complete. And the final clear-out enabled the home to be put on the market as is. I prayed for some amazing home improvement lover of broken homes to come along and restore the home to its original glory.

After walking the perimeter of the home, I went in for one last look. “Are you leaving that chair, ma’am?” one of the movers asked as I was startled.

“Oh yes, just for a few minutes please.” I approached the chair next to the fireplace and gently sat down in Gran’s chair. Gran had always liked this chair. It wasn’t particularly comfortable. But I came to find out it had been her father’s chair. Gran said she felt close to him when she sat in it. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I could swear that the house still smelled like Gran’s perfume and Constance’s chocolate chip cookies. I savored these smells, these memories, and wasn’t sure I was going to be able to remove myself from the chair anytime soon.

I heard a heavy shuffle of feet behind me and a gentle placement of hands on my shoulders. “I have made a mistake. I need this chair to come with us, honey. Can you find some rope and figure out a way to strap it to the top of the car? This chair can’t be left behind.”

My dear husband. After I finished making my rounds of each room of the house, I found him outside with rope in hand securing Gran’s chair in place on top of our car. I smiled as tears poked the corners of my eyes. Yes. Now I had everything I needed from the house in Maine.

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Write the Story: February 2019 Collection