Where A Rainbow Once Lived: Colorful Memories Of My Grandma

An essay in which the writer recalls he family home where her Grandmother lived and died.

My grandma's house was #1...on Terry Avenue that is. It was right next to a highway although "highway" is a generous name for a two-lane road in a small, desolate town in Colorado.

The neighborhood didn't have paved roads although all the surrounding streets were paved.  It's as if the city ran out of money and then completely forgot about  finishing it.  Whenever anyone drove down Terry Avenue, a cloud of smoke would follow their car and you'd hear rocks flicking up from the tires and hitting the bumpers. It was impossible to be stealthy on that street.

Grandma's house was white and yellow, a ranch style home whose front door was preceded by a screen door that was metal and heavy and had a large "R" in the center, like a family crest that greeted visitors.  Upon entry you were immediately assaulted by your sense of sight and smell.  First you were hit by the over-powering smell of moth balls which mixed with a faint smell of Oil of Olay and drug store lipstick, combined to make Grandma's signature scent.

Then you'd immediately see a giant matador on the wall.  He hunched in a "come hither " stance, urging the giant bull next to it with his red cape.  I never asked the story about that matador.  Grandma wasn't a fan of either matadors or bulls. I wonder who has it now.  Did it end up in a tag sale, purchased by some young kid who looks at it everyday but doesn't know that it has a long history of greeting dozens of grandchildren as they came to visit their Grandma Rainbow?

We started calling her that after my cousin Tahnee was born.  Tahnee couldn't say Grandma's last name.  Her mangled pronunciation of "Roybal" came out sounding like "Rainbow" and a new name was born.  We also often referred to her as "Ermie Lou", an endearring nickname for her name, Erminda.

Rainbow's living room was homey and familiar. She had the same furniture for as long as I can remember; a terribly uncomfortable set of couches covered in pink flowers and a big, red, leather chair that seemed huge as a kid but seemed to shrink over the years. A large wooden knick knack holder hung on the wall filled with all sorts of things that taunted us kids; tiny Chinese figurines, colored shot glasses in the shape of root beer mugs, a novelty wave simulator that my cousin's and I sometimes shook violently and then screamed, "it's a tsunami, run!!!!"

There was a garage converted into a family room that housed her old singer sewing machine and a freezer where she stored her homemade canned fruit, vegetables and frozen green chile.  There were three bedrooms, one was hers.  It had an old, squeaky bed covered in a thin bed spread with fringe that dangled and gave endless hours of entertainment to Grandma's cat. 

The bed had a gold headboard where she draped her rosary.  Her bed pillows were always rolled up in the shape of a tootsie roll, an effect that I could never master when I helped her make beds. The only other furniture was an old dresser that was always topped with a lacy doily.  It held stacks of Grandma's "literature", dozens of books by the master of western fiction, Louie Lamour.

The hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathroom was covered in family pictures; grandchildren at various stages of growth, my aunts and uncles in their wedding pictures and my Grandpa. Grandma never kept pictures of herself anywhere.  She'd say, "why should I put my picture on the wall? Who am I, Zsa Zsa Gabor!?"

Like most homes, the heart of the house was the kitchen.  In it was a large table, always covered with a plastic tablecloth.  The kitchen itself was u-shaped and had a bright orange counter.  In the center of the U was the sink that overlooked the back yard, a large, flat space that looked perfect for playing but was in fact a death trap because it was covered in sticker grass. 

Woe was the child who ran through there without shoes or happened to fall.  They'd be picking out thorns out of their feet, knees and butts for hours while screaming in agony.  None of us kids ever went into the grass.  We stayed on a tiny cement patio next to the house.  Sometimes we'd venture over to the clothes line and hang from the posts like monkeys.

Grandma's kitchen was always bubbling, simmering, baking or frying. It was alive, and warm.  I imagine the walls soaked in the traditions, smells and flavors of our family, a happy family who sat around the table telling stories and drinking coffee or margaritas, a lucky family who stuck together and enjoyed each other.

I spent many hours sitting at the counter watching my Grandma cook in her kitchen. She'd waddle from the sink to the refrigerator and back to the stove, one bra strap hanging off her shoulder and rubbing against her bird tattoo that she always covered with a bandaid when we went to church. 

There at the counter, Grandma made sweet rice, tamales and green chile.  She nourished me with not only food but with the stories of her childhood, my mom's childhood and yes, sometimes even stories of General Hospital.

There, next to her pink rotary phone, with my elbows on the counter, I cradled my face in my hands and watched her work, taking in every wrinkle, every feature, every curve.  In that same place, I ate Christmas dinner, watched her wash dishes as she cried after my uncle Charlie died and where I sat to call my dad and tell him that my mom had died too.

That place where Rainbow lived was once full of color and sound.  The walls reverberated with laughter and Grandma's loud voice where she called out our names one by one until she finally remembered which one of us she was talking to.

It's empty now, a discarded shell where a family once thrived, now outgrown and un-used but where the smell of moth balls and love still hangs heavy in the stagnant air.

Grandma Rainbow lived in that house for over 50 years.  She died there too.  The end of the Rainbow is at #1 Terry Avenue and while within it's walls you won't find a pot of gold, it's value is priceless.

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