A boy never had a better friend than his grandma. Especially when that grandma liked to tell stories and the boy loved to listen.
I lived with my grandmother, Trula Hamm, for the first year of my life in her flat-roofed house on 44th Street in Moline, Illinois. My grandfather built that house years before I was born. I heard of how the house was built in stages. At one stage it had a basement, then two bedrooms on the main level, and eventually it reached the final stage of development that I knew. That final stage included the basement, two bedrooms with connecting closets, a kitchen, and a living room.
Eventually we moved out of Grandma's house and into our own. I was too young to remember moving out of Grandma's house, but I remember all the visits we made to Grandma's in the years that followed.
Some of my most vivid memories of those visits involved the sleeping arrangements. A large, brown couch in the living room converted to a full-sized bed. The excitement of seeing that couch transformed into a soft, enticing heap of sheets and blankets was too much for any kid to resist. After a brief romp in the tangle of sheets, however, it was time for bed. Hopping off the couch-bed, I would march out of the living room and down the hall, toward my own sleeping quarters. As desirable as that cozy couch-bed seemed, my destination was even more coveted.
I was permitted to bunk with Grandma. And that meant one thing above all.
I would hear stories about the house, from those days when the kitchen and living room didn't yet exist. About how cold it was on gray winter mornings, about how Grandma and her two girls would bundle up and walk through the bone-chilling air to the warm kitchen located several blocks away.
Mostly, though, I heard stories about "The Mountains."
I didn't really know where "The Mountains" were located. All I knew is that they were a wonderful, magical place. You reached them after taking a boat ride up a very long lake near some place named Chelan. I never tired of hearing about the tent-house on the shore of the lake, a place where Grandma and her girls lived for a time, waiting for Grandfather to build a more permanent home higher in the mountains. And then came the stories about life in the mountains, life in that house high above the lake, in a place called Holden. Grandma told of deer and other animals that came right up to the house. She told of snow lighter than a fairy's breath, snow so deep that walking down the front walk was like traveling through a white maze, with snow banks taller than her head.
Grandma knew how to tell a story, knew how to include all the right details, and knew how to captivate a boy's imagination. She would tell the stories in exquisite detail, bringing the stories to a perfect conclusion. Then, before she could drift to sleep, she would hear my small, drowsy voice saying "tell me about the mountains, again, Grandma."
Then, like the patient grandmother that she was, Grandma would start over, repeating the stories, again and again, while I drifted into a deep slumber.
Eventually, that day came when I was considered too old to bunk with Grandma anymore. I was assigned to other sleeping quarters. Occasionally, I would even get to sleep on that big, inviting couch-bed in the living room. However, the days of drifting off to sleep to the sound of Grandma's stories were over. A new chapter of my life was beginning.
Years later, after I was married with kids of my own, we moved away. Not to "The Mountains", but to a city near some other mountains. Eventually, my wife, kids, and I did visit "The Mountains." We took the boat ride up the long lake, stopping along the lake shore where the tent-house had once stood, and then traveled up the steep, mountainous road into the village of Holden.
I could still hear Grandma's stories.
written October 2001