I only remember visiting my Grandparent’s house four or five times when I was a kid. It was located in a dying coal mining town known as Bellaire next to the Ohio river, right next to West Virginia. Pulling up to the house the first thing I always noticed was how the sidewalk in front was new, unlike the cracked and crumbling sidewalks which surrounded it. After climbing a few steps one found themselves in a screened in porch which led to the door of the house.
Opening that door led to the living room where one had to make a quick left turn so as not to bump into end table next to the couch. In this room were, the previously mentioned couch, next to it my Grandfather’s recliner in which only Grandpa was allowed to sit, a T.V, an enormous grandfather clock, stairs leading up to the second floor and a gate which had to be unlocked and moved in order to enter the forbidden front room.
The front room always fascinated me since I was never allowed to set foot there. The furniture was covered in plastic and although I cannot remember exactly I believe there were some sort of collectibles that were fragile they did not want us kids to break. It was though this room was to only be used in the case of a visit from the Queen, or perhaps the President of the USA, should either of them happen to stop by, such as the massive grand doors of cathedrals in Europe are only opened for the King.
Every house contains a particular smell and the smell of my Grandparent’s house is something I’ll never forget. They were smokers but the smell of smoke did not overpower the other influences except for the kitchen where they usually smoked. The windows were always shut and this created a musty type of odor combined with a smell that I cannot accurately describe, but is one commonly found in homes of the elderly. It is a smell of times gone by and that this, at least for a kid, was an ancient, mysterious home which had always been since the dawn of time.
Adding to the sense of enchantment was the grandfather clock which would ring out deep, somber tones on the hour, every hour. These gongs, especially when chimed at night would transport the listener to another dimension where the living room had always existed, timeless, and in that moment shall remain unchanged for eternity. It was dark and silent, where only the continual tick tock of the clock was amplified.
When the clock struck 12 AM the living room became alive, conscious, and recorded the events, feelings and emotions of all that had passed through it in its voluminous book, never to be forgotten. It etched these memories into my mind as though it encouraged me to never forget, which I have not, and am recording in this post thirty years later. The room still exists, although with different inhabitants who have most likely changed the contents. But at midnight, the shadow of the clock most likely reappears with a faint, ghostly chime heard by only those who listen closely. Shadows of the past take form and the room of 1985 is once again, dark, silent, and eternal.
Proceeding up the stairs one looks directly into the bathroom where I still remember seeing my Grandmother without her wig for the first time. It came as quite a shock to see a mound of hair next to someone that only resembled my Grandma to a very slight degree. It was as though my Grandma had suddenly aged decades, hunched over the sink washing her face. I called out with hesitation and not a little fear “Grandma?” to see if it was truly her or if I should flee down the stairs. She did respond which gave me some relief although I found it more comforting to retreat back down, away from something that I didn’t think I should have seen.
At the top of the stairs and turning right with the bathroom on the left was the room we stayed in. There was nothing particularly interesting in it and I did not spend much time there except to sleep and never alone. For a bit further down the hallway were two more forbidden rooms.
The adjacent room was my Grandmothers and I believe the door was usually shut and I may have never seen inside. At the far end of the hall was my Grandfather’s room which was indeed a gateway to a room that existed outside of space and time. I was absolutely forbidden to even approach that room and the fear of angering my Grandpa resonated loudly in my mind.
But my curiosity won out one time as I just had to see what was inside. I listened to what was happening below to ensure that I wouldn’t be discovered and silently crept to his room where the door was always open. It was as though the room called to me, inviting me to see what mysteries lie within. I only remember a bed and a dark orb made of black stone on a stand which I now believe to be a false memory created by the room itself. This was indeed a somber place, full of its own energy. The window shades were open but even though it was light inside there was a heavy weight which pulled you in and was hard to escape. It was not a happy place and I feel that this room too, reappears as it was in 1985 when the grandfather clock strikes midnight.
Returning to the living room I have one memory where I opened the gate and encouraged my little sister to step inside. I then shut the gate and locked the latch which distressed my sister quite a bit. The person to the right is not my sister but Heather, the pretty girl who, much younger then, was very kind and opened the latch for my sister. She was like an angel who had the power to deliver my little sister from that forbidden place in which she was trapped.
I always hoped to see Heather every time we visited and was extremely disappointed when we didn’t. On one visit, her mother Paula informed me she couldn’t come because she was busy eating hot dogs back home which was just a few steps across the alley directly behind my Grandparent’s house. I imagined a plate of hot dogs all being consumed by Heather and wondered and why she would be eating so many of them? After all, I could only eat two, maybe two and a half, which would take approximately 10 minutes. So why was it that Heather still could not come play as surely eating hot dogs could not take all day? But being a young kid I wasn’t able to continually question this and express my desire that Heather promptly come over and play.
Heather only had her mother and there is speculation that she may be my cousin but this was never openly discussed. This makes Heather someone who I’d like to have coffee with one day and trade memories of our youth and that old house. From what I understand she is married, has moved from Bellaire and now lives in Tennessee.
Leaving the living room one passed into the kitchen in which there was a very large table. Grandma always sat at the top, closest to the sink and smoked her cigarettes. One time she had left a cigarette burning and while no one was in that room I picked it up and blew into it to see the tip glow a fierce red. I was terrified of being caught so it only lasted but a second. For dinner, the favorite meal was cabbage rolls which I didn’t entirely dislike, and certainly had to eat all that was given me for fear of making everyone angry.
In that kitchen there was a door leading downstairs which I was never allowed to venture down into. All I got to see were fishing poles and a tackle box which resided at the top of the stairs.
Passing through the kitchen one reached a door which led into the backyard. The most interesting thing there was a statue of the Virgin Mary which seemed as old to me as the Roman Coliseum does to me today. Mary stood there, in her protective enclosure watching over the happenings of the yard, the neighborhood and all of Bellaire. It remains in that yard to this very day although it has been moved to the side which was probably due to make the grass easier to cut.
Finally there was my Grandparent’s dog – Cuttles. Cuttles was a rambunctious little poodle that liked to hump things. One time he even tried humping my arm and I had no idea what he was doing – so I asked my Dad. My Dad scolded Cuttles and when I pressed the question he gruffly replied, “nothing.” Well, it was certainly not nothing as he was performing this action, which seemed unique on a regular basis. My Mom provided a better answer saying, “Cuttles needs a female dog.”
At night I was always upstairs and always awakened on the hour to the sound of the clock and that room etched itself into my dreams. If I close my eyes now at 38 years old I can be transported to that old room which shall always be attached in a forgotten corner in my mansion of memories in which I will reside in the afterlife. Some experiences are so strong that they are never forgotten, even if it is just an old dusty room, in a dead coal mining town, on the banks of the Ohio river, at midnight.
It is difficult to completely describe the thoughts, emotions and feelings that the gongs of the grandfather clock created in me. I did find a description by Edgar Allen Poe in his story “The Masque of the Red Death,” that illustrates something similar: it shows how the clang, while announcing the passage of time ironically stops the moment, creates its own space outside of our perception, outside of our reality and lasts forever.
“It was in this apartment also that there stood against the western wall a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang, and when the minute hand made the circuit of the face and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions, and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company – and while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.”Edgar Allen Poe