Each summer in the 1950s, my grandfather, “Pappy,” picked us up at our home in Shaler in his Cadillac or friend’s 1940 Ford.
My mother, sister, brothers and I made the journey with him to his Westmoreland County home. After minutes in his car, overwhelmed from the heat and Pappy’s slowing down to discourage tailgaters, we watched the hills for a glimpse of his place in Unity.
The house sat in a cluster of trees at the peak of the hill on Meadow Avenue. It stood out like a mansion, three stories tall, white with black trim and two round pillars to the roof of the porch.
Each of the rooms, which Pappy kept immaculate, were painted in pastel shades. The living room had a fireplace and mantel, sink-in furniture, pocket doors and a burgundy carpet soft enough to sleep on. French doors in the dining room opened onto a small back patio with metal chairs and tables.
Pine trees and scattered gardens of four o’clocks, sunflowers and zinnias dotted the hillside behind his home. At the top of the hill were corn and vegetable gardens and wire fences bowed with grape and blackberry vines. A gravel driveway went up one side of the house, and the other had a lawn with a whitewashed wooden trellis covered in roses.
Pappy gave us rolls of pennies to spend at Delmonico’s Hardware store, and on our walks there, we visited his mother, Grandma Anderson. Grandma never had a cold, mowed her own yard, tended her garden and cut her hedges with wood-handled clippers.
Silver-rimmed glasses rested on her high cheekbones, and a bun held in place with tortoise shell combs sat on the back of her head. On wash days, she wore an apron with deep pockets filled with clothespins and yellow candies wrapped in cellophane.
We’d sit on her swing beside blue hydrangeas while eating butter cookies and drinking orange pekoe tea she brewed in a little pot.
When our visit was finished, she’d say, “Bye, sweeties — now you promise you’ll come back to see me again?”
“We promise with all our heart,” we chanted together.
Then she’d walk with us to the end of the yard and in her soft voice, call out, “I love you!” as we ran down the street.
Delmonico’s Hardware, with its musty wooden floors and a bell that tinkled when the door opened, offered all we needed. I would make my way to the Campbell’s Soup paper dolls knowing Pappy would give me a new cigar box to put them in. Pam would buy a movie magazine; David, comic books; and Larry, green army men.
Pappy and my mother would be talking and laughing in the kitchen by the time we made it back. Together they chopped vegetables from the garden and emptied bags of food from Kroger.
Silver casserole dishes of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf and potatoes or chicken and dumplings and bowls with green salad and bright red tomatoes were carried to the table. There was always shortcake with blackberries or strawberries from the garden, or cakes slipped gently from white bakery bags.
We spent hot summer evenings on Pappy’s porch, which was surrounded by bushes of purple rose of Sharon. Pappy handed Larry and me jelly jars with holes punched in the metal lids before sitting beside my mother on the wicker chairs below the window. Pam and David sat on the swing, and Larry and I waited on the steps for the first firefly to come out.
We raced around the yard catching one firefly after another until our jars were full of flickering beads of yellow light. If it was raining, we sat quietly or lay on the porch to watch the leaves bend from the weight of the raindrops.
Pappy’s porch was like stepping on an open path just as you come out of the woods. On that porch, I could feel my skin being painted by the gold or pink of the sun as it set across the valleys, the hills and the winding roads.
Even though our father wouldn’t come, my best friend, Trishi, wasn’t nearby, and our dog Roy was back home, something very much like magic was there. As if life were perfect.
Elizabeth Tamburri of Wilkinsburg, a consultant and former nonprofit administrator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The PG Portfolio welcomes reader essays, especially memories now of interesting educational experiences for our upcoming “Back to School” series. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.