I have many fond memories of a big blue house. On an island off the coast of northern Maine, is a town called Deer Isle. There are less than 2,000 people who live there, two of which are my grandparents. Their house sits on a hill surrounded by several acres of land. It was the kind of place that required a John Deer tractor and many, many pets to fill the space. There was no shortage of cats and dogs to play with.
The drive to Deer Isle took a minimum of 6 hours. During these car rides my sisters and I would be coached on how to behave in front of our grandfather’s wife. Though my mom loved spending time with her dad, these visits always pushed her to the brink of a panic attack. There was no shortage of tears on these trips. My siblings and I often protested having to visit. We were too young to understand the dynamic of their relationship; it was the duration of the drive that we detested.
At the top of their long driveway we’d be greeted by my grandfather, always with a corn pipe in his mouth. There would be sandwiches awaiting our arrival, mine would be salami. My sisters and I would eat quickly and then fight over who got to use the tire swing first. Afterwards we’d toss our Vera Bradley duffle bags onto the bed of our choice. Each room had a numbered door that was painted a bright color.
When I was younger I was granted access to the cool attic hideout that belonged to one of my Mom’s adopted half-sisters. The steep stairs grew less desirable each time I woke up to use the bathroom. As I grew older I preferred the all white room with the lime green door instead. At night I would look through their high school yearbooks from the 90’s. Despite never knowing my mom’s half-sisters well, I felt a little bit closer by reading the notes from their friends. (In the shocking chance either one of you reads this, sorry about the invasion of privacy!)
My step grandmother had an affinity for Southwestern style, and she had impeccable taste. Their kitchen walls were covered with Gourd masks and brass fixtures. Just outside the kitchen sat a dog house that was nicer than my current NYC apartment. The bathrooms were decorated with mosaic tiles and each guest room had a jacuzzi tub. While reminiscing I can smell the scent of bubble bath and I can picture the rainbow striped towels (because they looked like Zebra stripe gum.)
If my grandparents knew how to turn on their computers, they could have been Pinterest famous. Every room in the house was an architectural masterpiece. Which makes sense, given my grandfather’s wife was an artist.
In the mornings we’d have cottage cheese with nectarines and plums. For dinner we’d help prepare top-notch macaroni and cheese. Or ham sweetened with Coca Cola. One night we’d go out for lobsters. Dessert would be some sort of cobbler or pie made from scratch, usually peach or strawberry rhubarb; with a side of Häagen-Dazs coconut icecream. We’d help pick the berries from their garden.
My favorite room in the house was the library. It was a mecca full of children’s books and VHS tapes.It was easy to spend hours here, with more books than one child could possibly read in a week. There was a door for the cats to come in from outside, so you were always guaranteed to at least one feline sighting. In retrospect we probably should have spent less time harassing their rescued animals.
Across the yard was a huge barn full of treasures and boxes of vintage toys. When I was very young I liked to play with a wooden Noah’s Ark set. As I got a little older, I was granted access to my mom and grandmother’s collectible dolls from their childhoods. A major upgrade from Barbie. My sisters and I would play with them in the piano room.
The house had direct access to a rocky private beach. It was rare for us to visit it, but when we did it was usually to ride on my grandfather’s boat. Even in the middle of the summer, the ocean in Maine feels like ice. Instead we’d climb trees and read books. If we were lucky, our dad would let us practice shooting coke cans with BB guns.
When I was in eighth grade we received an estrangement letter. Our family politics are blurry. At the time I thought nothing of an inheritance, and believe me, there was a lot to inherit. My grandfather was a big-deal within Coca Cola for decades. Instead I was fixated on the fact that someone would disown their own grandchildren. What did we do to deserve that? Why wouldn’t somebody want my Mom anymore?
When I was 13 I experienced what it was like to truly hate someone for the first time; for my heart to feel black every time someone entered my mind. Fortunately, as time has passed and forgiveness has been exchanged, I no longer feel any animosity for the first people to truly reject me. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Yet sometimes my apathy can be striking.
It’s a strange sensation, being on the other side of misplaced sympathy. If a great man died this week, it wasn’t someone I knew. When I first heard of my grandfather’s passing my instinct was to shed a tear for my Mom. I mourned the relationship she always wanted, but came so far from receiving. I do not grieve for myself. Though I am sad i’ll never have the opportunity to return to that beautiful blue house.
Writing this essay proved to be exceptionally challenging. Most of my fond moments have been buried for a decade, I have had little use for them. Families can often be complicated, but I love my Mom. Without my grandfather, there would be no Courtney.
(Shoutout to Heili and Papa who I love so much, if you’re reading this!)