BY ZARIYAH GREENE
Every summer since I was ten, my family goes on a road trip from Massachusetts to Alabama to visit my Grandmother.
I remember feeling a rush of excitement as we started packing up the car early in the morning so that we could end up in Alabama the next day by noontime. My siblings and I ran out of the house towards the car like our parents were going to leave us; my father would yell at us saying we hadn’t gone anywhere yet and he could still leave us at home. He’d give the same threat each year, but one he would never carry out knowing my Grandmother would kill him if he showed up without us. As we started leaving, my siblings would be excited as I sat dreading being in the car for almost two days. We had stopped at Hampton Inns in between but for the most part, we were in the car. The songs, smell of cow manure, and farmland that would appear as we drove through the state of New Jersey was no surprise. The closer we got to Alabama, the hotter the weather became. The closer we got to the south, the faster everyone around us drove.
We were finally close to Grandma’s when we reached the old rusted train tracks. Near the tracks was an old grocery store that we’d stop in. I was treated to learning the adventures of my father's past life as a child as he showed me all of the things he used to eat back then and what they used to cost. As we’d walk around the store, he’d point every little thing he used to eat or drink or a memory that he had as a child. Whenever we saw something of interest, we would ask him about it and he would tell us his experience with it or his rating on the particular product. If deemed worthy, he would buy it for us and allow us to snack on it in the car as we approached my grandmother’s house.
We passed by an old hair salon with trees growing on the inside that looked like it hadn’t been open for decades. The wood that once helped it stand was rotted in such a way that it caved in, making you wonder what the story was around it. I was relieved when we finally reached my grandmother’s street. Rusted, cream-colored gates and tall, green grass that made us feel as if we were in a savannah, led to perfectly cut grass and flowers of all colors at the front of the house that was hidden by the forest that surrounded the area. We knew there were neighbors because we had met them before, but if we hadn’t we never would have known they existed. As we stood in front of the door waiting for her to answer, we were greeted by her unwanted hives of wasps that lived on the top of her porch (probably because she was too small to reach it). I always cowered in fear every time I saw them, afraid that I would get stung. As she opened the door, the smell of her perfume and mothballs wrapped around our noses. Her huge smile, gapped teeth and all, showed her approval of the fact that we surprised her by visiting (for what seemed like the 50th time).
While my parents had their long, debriefing conversation with my Grandmother, the rest of us would go exploring the house like it was our first time there. In the living room, her china cabinet full of antique dolls caught our eye first; I believe they were from a time even before my parents were born. Everywhere, I could see pictures of everyone in the family and scrapbooks sitting on the loveseat closest to the fireplace (she probably hadn’t sat on it for the longest time). Moving towards the kitchen, we were fascinated with her shiny brick floors and the vast amount of space inside the room. In her kitchen, there was another china cabinet; this time it was filled with china cups and plates. Near it were white, comfortable bar stools and her dishwasher that she never used along with her microwave; she refused to use that too. Near the kitchen were the stairs that led us to the rooms that we would be sleeping in. The first room had two huge windows, a red metal bunk bed that looked like it hopped out of the 70’s, a matching twin bed, and a couch with floral patterns on it that my grandmother always kept covered in a white sheet to protect it from dirt and other things she wasn’t willing to get on it.
I sat on the red twin bed -my designated bed every time we visited. I thought back to my 12th birthday party in the kitchen; all of my cousins came over to celebrate with me. I remembered the wigs that my grandmother had: all lined up in a row in her bedroom that my sister and I would try on while dancing around in front of her mirror. When we heard her footsteps coming closer to her bedroom, we quickly put them back on as she left it before she could notice.
When I walked towards the garage, the cookout during the summer when my sister Shaniah and I stayed in Alabama popped into my mind. It was the most stressful summer of my life. It was our first time being away from our parents as children; it was difficult by default. I remember my grandmother called me lazy because I didn’t want to help garden outside; but in reality, I was afraid of the bugs. I told her that. She didn’t care. She had three sons and no daughters; of course she thought I was being dramatic. We were different. I knew that.
I thought about the times we argued back and forth. She was raised in the deep south, while I was raised in the city. We had different lifestyles and different ideals, but the same stubbornness ran through our veins.
She wasn’t a terrible person; she was direct and had no filter; I wasn’t used to that. I can see many qualities from her in my father. The way they complain about snow on the mats in the car, and the way they tell stories of the past, their extroverted nature, their politically incorrectness; they were two sides of the same coin. They were both incredibly smart; more interesting than sitting in any classroom. While she was set in her ways, he was more openminded and open to change.
Whenever we decided to go visit other places while we were there, she would become standoffish, upset even. She didn’t want us to leave. She designed this large beautiful house from the ground up but had no one else to share it with.
She was lonely.
No one would dare say it to her, but she was. She would have conversations with herself sometimes; momentarily forgetting that we were there because we would be asleep. When we would leave, she would be sad but she wouldn’t say it. She knew my parents had to go back to work.