“Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.” -Esperanza Cordero, The House on Mango Street
“The Passing Over”
“Change is a great and horrible thing, and people love it or hate it at the same time. Without change, however, you just don’t move.” -Marc Jacobs
For her, they said she was too young.
Simply far too young, that poor child.
In a way Dene understood what they meant, she didn’t know where her parents were and who these people are, but something told her that she wouldn’t be seeing her parents again. Yet all these strangers spared her were a basket of pity and a basket of goodies. In the blink of an eye, she went from sitting on the couch in her family’s modest apartment, a hand-knit blanket on her shoulders, to the inside of a car. In the blink of an eye, they went from a family of three to a person of one. They drove her far, far away from where she had lived to where she will live. With her grandfather, deep in the woods.
She wasn’t complaining, the scenes outside flashed by the window like little snapshots in time, ever-changing, and she was content to watch these little memories. Plus, the people who handled her were nice, and they stopped to get her a sandwich on the way out of town. It was an egg salad sandwich, with little bits of bright green salad sticking out of the sides of the bread. It was soft as she bit into it and oh so delicate. Coupled with the blanket that she had taken from the apartment, it felt like when her mother would make her lunch when she felt tired and sat to eat with her. She didn’t realize she was crying until one of the people in front reached back with far too wet eyes and handed her a tissue.
Oh, my dear. I’m sorry.
She fell asleep soon after. Things moved quickly like that.
When she woke up again, It was because of the car bumping over uneven dirt paths. It pulled into a stop soon after, and they got out at she remained in the backseat, waiting. Golden sunlight filtered through from far overhead.
The house was what some would call quaint, sloping brown-tiled roof and stairs leading up to a front porch decorated with a porch swing, all in earthen tones. Lush greenery painted a beautiful backdrop to the house. An air of tranquility hung over the area, over the green green forest. This was her grandfather’s house.
And, as the door opened to reveal an affable old man, that was her grandfather.
Dene saw the people talking to her grandfather, saw them handing off her suitcases, and then saw them turn to wave her over. Sounds of the forest greeted her as she opened the car door, accompanied by soft talking, then her footsteps. Her grandfather pulled her into his arms the moment she was within reach.
“I’m sorry, kid.”
His hug felt warm, different from the other ones she was given.
She wrapped her arms around her grandfather.
His hug felt like home
“Bed and Breakfast”
“My favorite feeling is the feeling of existing with another. A quiet moment in space together” -Me
Her grandfather was a man whom Dene had never met in person before. Of course, her parents had talked to her about him, nothing but praises heard from them. There were also phone calls between each other, but she had never met him in person. Her parents always did say that someday they would go to visit him all together as a family, but not right now dear he lives miles and miles and miles far, far, away.
Thus, she never learned much about him and she never got to meet him. Not until it was only her, and her mother and father had gone somewhere miles and miles and miles far, far, away.
But now that she was with him, she could see that he was nice. The bedroom she got last night was cozy and comfortable and there was a place just right at the foot of the bed for her to put the knit blanket on. And at night, it was warm, and the fairy lights strung up glowed softly over her head like small stars.
Morning at the dining table was a quiet affair, broken by the soft background noise of her grandfather cooking and his husky-sounding radio crooning away in the corner. It was starkly different from mornings with her parents.
Her mother rushing around, heels clacking on the floor. Her father heating something up in the microwave. The kettle bubbling away merrily in the corner.
“How do you like your eggs?”
Sunnyside up. Her dad lit the pan on fire once when he was making them for her.
“Funny, I like eggs the same way too. Bacon? How many? ”
Yes, please. Two.
“Coming right up.”
Bread was toasted golden, slathered with butter or jam of her choosing (she did one with butter, one with jam). He laughed as she put the two pieces together and ate it like a sandwich. When seeing her glare, he proceeded to do the same thing with his remaining bites of toast. In the quiet space elapsing them, she noticed that his plate was identical to hers.
“Grandpa and his House”
“Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” -Helen Rowland
Grandpa and his house were not like anything she had ever seen before. Grandpa was kind, always ready to tell her about the small nuances and facts he knew, and his house was very different from the place she used to live. Back in the place she used to live, it was modern and tidy and full of clean lines and sharp corners. Back in the place she used to live, it was always fast-moving and busy. The air conditioning would hum on sticky summer days, accompanied by ice cubes rattling down from the fridge chute. The place she used to live was also small, her parents prone to stepping on each other’s toes when getting ready in the morning.
Her grandpa said that his house wasn’t that big either, but she thought it plenty big.
There was her own room that she could set up a tent in, a chest of blankets at the foot of her bed, and the bookshelf squeezed next to the desk that sat underneath the window. When the days were good, she would open the window and see the curtains dance as the thoughts of leaves came through the window, phantoms carried by the winds.
There was the long hallway that got dark in the evenings. A closet at the end where grandpa showed her he stored more blankets and coats for the winter. It smelled like snow.
The garden out back, where her grandpa said he got the vegetables from yesterday’s salad and the apples from the tree in the corner. It was the time for butterflies, too, so they danced above the greenery in a waltz of jewels.
The sitting area, where soft couches sunk down as she sat there to watch the television with her grandpa as he talked about the latest revelation on the show he was watching.
Yes, she thought as she watched the sunlight filter through the gauzy curtains from where she laid on the sitting room’s floor, grandpa’s house was plenty big.
“Uncles One and Two”
“I’m just thankful I’m surrounded by good people.” -Jon Pardi
When she had long settled into being a presence at the cottage, this life becoming a new norm for her, two new figures came knocking. They came bearing gifts, books, and pretty trinkets to replace the one she left behind. Two men that were related to her grandfather, but not family to her by blood, and they were going to visit for a few days. She didn’t quite understand, but she still called them her uncles anyway.
Uncles One and Two.
Uncle One was like… snow glare. He was bright and loud, eyewateringly so. Enthusiastic, sweeping in like a gust of white-speckled winter gale does when opening the front door in winter. He swept her off her feet from under her arms and for a moment she felt like she was flying. The shift in gravity stunned her for a moment as he grinned and greeted her. She did not remember the last time someone picked her up and spun her in their arms. It was nice.
Uncle Two was golden sunlight falling through the slits in the beams of a garden veranda. Also bright, but a constant presence. He moved alongside Uncle One like a sentinel, steady and silent. Uncle Two immediately made his way to the kitchen, quietly urging her grandfather to take a break as he took over food preparations. When she went up to look at what he made, she saw fruits and sandwiches, arranged into artful patterns. He quietly gave her a piece of pineapple and she thanked him. Those were her favorite.
With the presence of two more people, the house came to life. Uncle One moved through the halls like he was dancing, fast and agile. The two’s coats were hung up in the closet that smelled like snow and when he saw her watching, he whispered to her, his voice like a breeze, “Did you know I built that closet? It took a while but I’m very proud of it. I made sure there were no monsters in there when I made it.”
He grinned at her and she cracked a smile back.
A call from down the hall heralded the arrival of lunch, and he quickly herded her to the table to accompany everyone for lunch.
They wanted to take her out, to a city that was close by to here. When she asked her grandfather if she was coming he told her that he wanted to stay home to finish some chores so it’d just be the three of them. She was unsure at first, but with gentle urging, she got ready to go.
So on went flower-printed shoes, on went her coat, and off they went. In Uncle One’s car, Uncle Two sitting in the passenger seat, her in the back. Greenery passed by her and Dene gorged her eyes on the scenery, drinking in the sights. They no longer looked as static as when she first arrived her so she gorged herself on the view.
The treescapes soon turned into clear roads, then tall buildings, and soon they were stopping to get out, Uncle One expanding his arms outwards saying, “Here we are! Welcome to the city!”
Uncle Two huffed, shaking his head. “She’s been to the city before.”
“Wellll. Just not this one.” He turned to her. “Right?”
Right. The city she came from was a good few hours from here. Far.
“Let us go then! There’s much to see and much to do!”
Then Uncle Two, the one that was like the liquid lights of evenings and the sunshine in the sky, took her hand and lead her forward.
She followed, safe with windswept snow and glades of light.
“Oh Birthday Green”
“Green is the fresh emblem of well-founded hopes. In blue the spirit can wander, but in green, it can rest.” –Mary Webb
Green was her favorite color.
She had told her grandfather that one night, babbling sleepily as he tucked her into bed. It was her favorite color because it reminded her of here. Of the areas around her home. Green was the verdant leaves of the apple tree, the viridescent reflection of grass, the growing moss on the side of the planter. She didn’t expect him to remember that, and she barely remembered herself.
At this point, she had been here long enough for her presence to soak into the halls of their home. Two cups in the sink (four if Uncles One and Two were coming, which was often). A smaller gardening trowel, new and shiny, next to a well-worn, well-used one. A blue coat haphazardly hung in the closet that smelled of snow. A stray stack of drawing paper here, a stray blanket there. The home that once housed one was now a place with sparks of life bursting through the seams. Alive. Joyous.
She had been there long enough that the months had turned and her birthday happened upon them. Uncle One came bearing a large colorful bag, wearing an egregiously fluffy feather boa and waving a bottle that he cheekily told her she couldn’t drink. Uncle Two held a covered circular platter, winking down at her with the smallest of smiles when he saw her looking. He had a small square box, a crisp bow tied primly on top.
The arrival of her two uncles filled it with even more life, rooms swelling with laughter and tromping footsteps. Uncle One picked her up and spun her through the air again and again in dizzying mimicry of helicopter rides. Uncle Two gave her bites of the food and let her watch the cookies bake, but never letting her see the covered cylinder. Her grandfather put a lopsided birthday hat on her head and pinned ribbon flowers onto her shirt. She fluttered among them, darting from one adult to another.
Food was finished, then she was ushered to the table, getting a seat at the head of it. Cookies, pasta, fresh garden salad. Uncle Two put the mysterious covered item on the middle of her table, uncovering it to reveal an opulent cake. Artfully decorated by a practiced hand, it was a labor of love. Draperies of frosting curled down the sides in smooth swoops. Small beads of silver sugar pearls clung to the top and twinkled back at her.
She didn’t even notice the awed grin stretching across her face until the shuttering of a camera caught her attention. Looking up, she saw Uncle one, phone in hand. He beamed back at her. “Do you like it? He spent a lot of time making it for you.” He slapped Uncle Two on his back, who looked at Uncle One with an eyebrow raised.
Uncle Two shook his head, looking back at her and saying, “It’s a new recipe I tried. I made it with pineapples.”
“Cake can come after the food,” her grandfather said. “You don’t want to spoil your appetite and not try all the good food made.”
Of course. She saw all the delicacies laid out and couldn’t wait to try everything.
Her grandfather chuckled at that but obliged. He began portioning a bit of everything onto her plate and she saw and watched restlessly. When he put it back down in front of her, the other adults began to grab their own food. It was only when her grandfather began eating that she dug into her own portion, savoring mouthfuls of the decadent food. The meal was passed with more talking and laughter, echoing that of nights when her parents would cook up a huge feast for a special occasion.
Then it was cake. Rich and sweet with the fresh bite of pineapple. She managed to fit an entire slice into her stomach despite the meal she just had. It was so, so good.
Instead of falling into a food-filled haze as she thought, the meal only energized her. And it seemed that it also energized her uncles, especially Uncle One. All four of them went to the back garden, Uncle One picking her up and running through the pathways like an errant airplane. Then he swapped out with Uncle Two, who put her on his shoulders and walked her more calmly underneath the apple tree. She picked out a few apples, passing it down to him. He took it with no pause.
It was decided, since the day was good, that she would open her gifts outside. Her grandfather took them out and everyone piled together onto the garden bench her grandfather built with his own two hands to watch her open her gifts. Gifts! They were beautiful.
Uncle Two’s was first. A single tug on the crisp bow and a lift of the lid made the whole box unfurl, paper butterflies fluttering out of layers of tissue paper. One gleaming silver bracelet sat at the center of the bloom. When she put it on, it fit her perfectly. Curling around her wrist like intertwined vines.
Then Uncle One’s. A modeling kit and a book. The kit, she saw, would make replication of her own mock terrarium. Complete with classifications of the model plants included in it. The book had beautiful pictures of a blend of scenery and animals. Snapshots of moments in time leaping through the pages at the edge of her fingertips.
Then her grandfather’s, opened last per his request. A beautiful bag held more bundles of tissue papers, and it smelled like lavender. The gift, she was told, was at the bottom of the bag. So she dug, gently, down. Down, down, down. In the folds of the gift tissue, carefully folded, was a daisy-patterned sweater, speckled with stitched on monarch butterflies.
It was green.
“The garden of love is green without limit and yields many fruits other than sorrow or joy. Love is beyond either condition: without spring, without autumn, it is always fresh.” -Rumi
When the grass grew in abundance and flowers bloomed in droves around her and the sun would be golden and the grass would sway, smelling like warm winds, she liked to sit out in the fields and make flower crowns.
Or at least… try to.
It never turned out quite right, the chains falling apart or just not even coming together at all. They were the drooping shapes of melted clocks lying in her hands like they were draped over tree branches. The failed tries frustrated her, but she could only try and try again, hoping one day they would come out right one day.
Obviously, with the abundance of sunny days and how often she would be out there, her family would bound to notice one day. And they would bound to help her. First her grandpa, then Uncle One and Uncle Two would all endeavor to help her. Her grandfather would help her first, sitting down next to her to try to help her even though he wasn’t sure of what he was doing either. Then Uncle One would drag Two with him to help her once he heard. Uncle Two would have the foresight to look it up beforehand and obtaining instructions to make them.
Since her uncles came in to look after her occasionally when her grandfather had to go out to deal with business, there never seemed to be a time when all four of them were together.
But then one day, their schedule all seemed to line up. And, finally, there they all were. Together. Out in sun and the swaying grass that smelled like warm winds and an umbrella overhead to help keep the heat away. Uncle One, caught up in the delight of having everyone in the same place at once, had obtained enough flowers to stock a florist. They laid, just beyond the edge of the patterned blanket Uncle Two had taken out of the closet that smelled like snow.
Of course, despite the instructions, Uncle Two brought, there were still some trial and errors. Droopy rings of blooming flowers laid among the blankets like rings of nebulas, what seemed like hours of trying passing by with laughter and showering of petals.
“I believe some water would do us good,” her grandfather announced, standing up. “You two stay with her. I’ll be right out.”
They spent the next few minutes trying, trying. Until Uncle One let out a victorious cry. He held up a flower crown. It held its shape, flowers pressed next to each other, intertwined. “Here it is!” He crowed. “Ta-da!”
He gently placed it on her head, the crown slipping down on one side. Dene pushed it up and grinned. Velvety flowers, the down-soft blanket, Uncle One’s laughter and Uncle Two’s quiet chuckles. Winds rustled through her hair and peace filled her heart.
This was her grandfather’s house. And, as the door opened to reveal an affable old man, that was her grandfather.
This was warm.
This felt like home.