Updated: Apr 10
| The Grist Mill
Ivy is based on a fictional character. She is telling her story as a mature adult and recalls from her youth while reflecting on her life now.
When my Mother's parents visited us, they often brought Turkish delights and books for all of us. I still have my Kate Greenaway's Mother Goose Grandma Edna gave me. Inside, she wrote, To Ivy, with love from Grandma Edna and Lovely Paps 1978. I don't know why we all called my Grandfather Lovely Paps. The strongest memories I have of my Mother's parents were after we returned from Iran.
My childhood memories are a dream, a foggy movie playing back in my mind. I have a cup of tea, put on my headphones while listening to forest nature sounds, bringing on a mindful mediation oasis. Our four children are always dashing around the house with individual missions. I get lost in the childhood memories that lead me down all sorts of roads. I am writing so my children can have a history starting with me. To make sense of my conception, the words I would use; shock, confusion, fear, relief, and pure joy. It was not going to deter me from coming to earth. My parents received me with pure joy, and I felt so much love when I was placed in their arms to be taken home to my brother. My brother could now have a sister, I had parents, and my teenage Mother could graduate high school and go off to college. It was a happy ending and beginning—a familiar story.
At age eight or nine, I began exploring more on my own, especially when we visited my Grandparents at their 20-acre Grist Mill home in Lambertville Depot, New Jersey. I loved their chilly old stone house. The mill's wheel across the beautifully landscaped garden was not working anymore. I have a hard time remembering if the river that flowed past their home was flowing. It seemed mostly dry but for the small fountain pond surrounded by a maze of antique flowers, much like I have seen in England. The fountain had a young, elegant naked lady statue in the middle twirling her arms to the heavens. I was enchanted by the fountain goddess and thought she was the most exquisite piece of sculpture. I loved sitting and listening to the water flow and imagining she was watching me too. — I think my Aunt Lou, Edna's youngest daughter, has her now. She lives tucked away in the mountains with her outdoor tree sculptures. When visiting my aunt, who studied the Dryads in Greek mythology, which believed spirits lived in the trees. My Aunt Lou would create casts of faces and beautiful figures made of concrete and place them on the trees. I especially liked the eyes, mouths and noses she created, giving the trees' faces.
Grandma Edna had the best old kitchen with a Dutch oven stove. I dreamed I would have a kitchen like her someday. The Grist Mill was built in the early 1800s or maybe late 1700s. I would try to watch her cook using impressive cookware that we did not have in our home. The bowls were hefty and the pots and pans were a workout and, if dropped, would break your foot or a toe. Off the kitchen, I remember the living room, which lead to the giant staircase. The steps were adorned with Grandma Edna's hook rug designs of animals and landscapes.
I would crawl up the stairs, one tread at a time, imagining each image as a place I could visit or a pet I could have. I think I talked to the stair treads, and it must have looked like I needed therapy. Many years later, when I was an adult and grieving from my family of pets sudden departure, my Mother gave me one of the stair treads. It was a Dalmation, just like my grandparents Dalmation Lucifer; he was standing on a lawn next to the bay. There is one long jetty and a gray cat and black dog floating above a dog bowl. I loved it so much. My conversation with this stair tread was, "I am going to have a Dalmation someday and he will have a cat brother and a black dog sister just like you!" My childhood fantasy became a reality when I was in my late 20's and early 30's. I had a Dalmatian named Bill, a cat named Toonce, and a small black dog named Spanky. Later Spanky got run over at age two by a pot-smoking, ATV drunk driving man on my 20-acre Vermont farm; soon after, Bill the Dalmation developed lumps and seizures, and Toonce the cat threw-up constantly from old age. For Bill and Toonce I felt it was kind to help them shed their old, broken bodies, so I had to say goodbye.
I think our pets keep coming back to us if we are brave enough to keep adopting. But it was a sad time to lose my childhood stair-tread family. Soon it would be time to focus on building my human family. Living my life without children and not knowing my origins, I found a peaceful purpose when I met my children on their arrival.
Lovely Paps often wore trousers and an oxford shirt with a sweater vest, tennis sneakers, and never matched socks. Grandma Enda would say to him repeatedly, "You're not paying attention, for heaven's sake!" If Lovely Paps were not reading or writing his novel in the library, I would see him working outdoors, pruning the berry bushes, or tinkering about the old carriage house outbuildings or even cutting wood, which I loved watching him do! One time I saw him with one dress shoe and one tennis shoe. I said, "Paps, Grandma is going to notice your shoes." He explained to me he had misplaced both matching pairs but thought Lucifer had taken them. He did not seem to mind wearing his winter hat with a small feather and a turtle neck, even if it was summertime. Lovely Paps also had a nice mustache. But he didn't want to be seen as a hippy, so he kept it very short with no 70's sideburns. His silver hair was combed perfectly to one side, but not the way balding men comb their hair; he had just enough.
I don't remember Lovely Paps saying much throughout my childhood, but when he did speak, he was always kind, smiled and seemed to recognize me as being a bit over the top but pleasant. He said politely, "Ivy, it is time for me to read." When he had had enough of my questions about why he wore his socks folded down or used a holder for his cigarette when smoking, he quietly retired into his cozy smoking library. The shelves had many books I would never have the opportunity to read. I remember the antique sofa in front of the stone fireplace. I want to imagine I heard crackling while my Lovely Paps was deciding on a cigarette or if it was time to smoke a pipe. He liked to think of himself as Ernest Hemmingway, mostly because he would hide away in his library reading books for hours, forgetting about the time, but mostly he did not care what other people thought of him. I'm sure I was a bit annoying and would follow Lovely Paps to his library, saying, "just passing through. I'm on my way to the secret staircase to see if I can find any ghosts!" He smiled and said, "OK, see you later, Ivy."
There was a secret servant's staircase from the library to the upstairs, where my sisters and I swore we heard the voices of servants stuck there for all time. We were not scared. It seemed they were going about their business. I do remember hearing a child in the staircase once, and it was not my sisters. That night I had a dream. I was sleeping in a bedroom that walked out to a rooftop terrace overlooking Paris or another European city. There were French doors to the roof patio leading outside, but I did not see a doorway to leave my bedroom into the main house. My room had changed from Early American furniture to antique European style. From the servant's staircase, heading to the step-down area where my bed was, a young girl appeared in her nightgown. She did not notice me but was looking for something under an antique side table. The ghost girl said nothing but stood still as if trying to figure out if I was a ghost before quickly running back down the staircase. I think I scared her, or maybe she used to live in my Grandparent's home, and she changed the look of The Grist Mill and its location. Perhaps she was trying to tell me I would someday travel to England and meet my future husband.
The next day, I found myself strolling down a long dirt road, spotting a chicken and cow farm. I was always drawn to farm animals. The farmland was so beautiful, with rolling hills and old outbuildings. When I found the chicken coop, I decided too many chickens cooped up was causing them to panic. I thought I was saving the chickens by opening the door. They were so noisy, unhappy, and maybe hungry. So I let them all run free and watched them scatter everywhere. They began pecking at the ground all around me. I loved it at first but was not paying attention to what was heading towards me. My intentions were good. After realizing I made a bad decision, the farmer grabbed me. I was trying to round up the chickens, but it was too late. Shouting, he asked me where I lived. I said, "just passing through. I'm from somewhere else." I then broke free and ran! I have never forgotten the man chasing me as I ran faster than I had ever before. My heart raced because I was not a bad person. But I had a strange feeling he was not a good person either and would lock me up in the chicken coop or a barn stall where no one would ever find me again. I never told my parents.
Grandma Edna had superpowers and could read your mind as a living lie detector. When I came back to my Grandparent's Grist Mill home, after being chased by the angry chicken farmer, heart beating fastly, my Grandmother said with an all-knowing, "You were gone a long time. Your Mother is looking for you." I replied, "I just forgot the time while collecting raspberries. I'm sorry." I was sorry I had not been picking raspberries but instead was almost captured. But it did not stop me from future repeat offenses.
Lovely Paps and Grandma Edna had a magical, almost Secret Garden house. I wish I could have known both my grandparents as an adult. I would have enjoyed their stories and believe they would have liked me more as an adult. I sometimes hear both of them talking to me, mostly giving me advice and telling me they are listening. As my mind deteriorates with age, I am sure I will not forget The Grist Mill and my grandparents who lived there.
The author and her Grandmother, The Stair Tread, Bill, Spanky and Toonce the cat.
*This fictional story is based on actual events, written by The Stymied Optimist. Please make contact if you see any grammatical errors or an overall opinion.
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