I grew up in a house overflowing with love and people and a revolving menagerie of pets. My mother, my father, my sister and I moved into the big old run down house in Idyllwild when I was 10 years old. We brought along three cats named Mama, Priscilla, and Kitty; a turtle named Guy; an aquarium filled with guppies and a budgie parakeet known as Mr. Earl. Since I was 10 my sister would have been about 13. The house was Victorian, of the Queen Anne Revival School (sans tower). A steep gabled roof covered 4 bedrooms and a single bath upstairs. Downstairs there were two more bathrooms, a kitchen, a parlor, a dining room and a mystery room that my dad called the den and my mother called the library. There were also three additional bedrooms.
A deep porch dominated the front of the house. The entire abode was surrounded by unkempt lawn and gardens. We pretty much lived downstairs in the house and seldom ventured up. When I was 11 my grandfather, Papa Frank, came to live with us. Papa Frank was my father’s father. He walked with a cane so my sister got to move up stairs. I was so jealous. She effectively had half of the house and a bathroom all to herself. Mom and Dad had their own bathroom but I had to share with Papa Frank and any visitors who might need to avail themselves of the facilities. Papa Frank always kept a plug of tobacco on the back of the toilet.
About that time my sister brought home a puppy. A Cock-a-poo that she named Snickers. That dog was a mess. A wrecking crew with four legs, she chewed clothes, shoes, and furniture. She stole food from the kitchen counters and she peed on everything. Everything. But my sister loved that dog and my mother and father seemed oblivious to the destruction that she wreaked. Papa Frank and I kept our doors shut. A balance was eventually achieved and life moved on for about a year when Grandma Anita moved in. Grandma Anita was my mom’s mother. She was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 110 lbs. She moved into my parent’s room and they moved upstairs. The downstairs was now inhabited by me and my two widowed grandparents. Not a bad situation for a 12 year old boy. Sometimes after Mom and Dad went up to bed, Papa Frank and Grandma would tap on my door and I would get to go into the kitchen, drink hot chocolate and listen to my grandparents tell stories late into the night. Those nights were magic. I learned a lot about life and family in those days.
Grandma Anita was a Whirling Dervish, a human dynamo, unable to sit still. She took it upon herself assume the duties of maid, cook gardener, and handyman. It was not uncommon for me to come home from school and find her on a ladder painting the eaves, or cleaning the basement, or rewiring the chandelier in the dining room while at the same time roasting a chicken and overcooking a head of cauliflower. I mentioned that she had become our cook but I did not say she was a good cook. Grandma Anita had a soft spot for Snickers, the dog. Snickers almost doubled her weight eating table scraps provided by Grandma in the first year that she lived with us.
My sister’s 16th birthday was approaching and Mom, Dad, Papa Frank and Grandma Anita were probably more excited about it than she was but, it was a big deal. On her birthday I got home from school almost an hour before my sister did. When I got home, the house was spotless and the aroma of dinner cooking filled the air. It smelled great. Grandma Anita might have done well with dinner that day. I peeked in the pot on the stove and inhaled the wonderful aroma of a stew that had probably been simmering all day long. I eyeballed the birthday cake on the counter but, Grandma gave me two cookies and a glass of milk then chased me out of the kitchen to do my homework at the dining room table.
I was almost done when my sister waltzed in. As she headed towards the kitchen she hollered to me, “Smells great. What’s for dinner?”
“Stew” I replied to her back as she pushed through the double acting swing door into the kitchen. She came back out almost immediately with a handful of Vanilla Wafers and a glass of milk. “Hey” I said, and she slipped two of the cookies in front of me. “Thanks.”
The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful. I think we might have watched some TV, “Sea Hunt” and whatever girly show she wanted to watch. When my dad came home my sister and I cleared and set the dining room table.
Grandma Anita ladled stew into bowls in the kitchen. The rest of us brought out bread and glasses of water. When everything was ready and we were all seated Dad mumbled something incoherent in the way of grace. We picked up our spoons and watched as he took the first taste. He closed his eyes and smiled. “Damn, Anita…This is really good,” He said. We all dug in voraciously and conversation was limited while we ate.
After we all had cake we were lingering over the table, you know the time of the meal when the eating is done but the dishes have not been cleared, when Grandma Anita said, “Makes the term ‘Dog Food’ take on a whole new meaning doesn’t it? Not too shabby.”
“Where’s Snickers?” my sister asked.
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