11:20 a.m. - July 29, 2005
Ladoga was where my grandmother and grandfather lived for many years, until my grandfather died and my grandmother moved to an apartment in Crawfordsville – nearby where my parents lived. She lived until 1994, dying peacefully at age 94. Liz just met her once, around Christmas in 1993 – before we were engaged. (We got engaged just a week before she died).
Ladoga isn’t that far from Crawfordsville, just 10 miles or so southeast. But it’s really not on the way to anything. You have to want to go to Ladoga to get there (well, OK, it’s between Parkersburg and Jamestown, and it’s a quick shortcut to Roachdale, but again you really have to want to go there to get there). I’ve passed through it a few times since Mamaw moved to her apartment but again was just on my way somewhere else.
However, during this detour excursion through Ladoga, something compelled me to make a side trip. Ever since she moved away from her house, I had never been by it. From what I remembered, it was a small house with a large for the house’s size back yard, near some railroad tracks (the tracks are behind the houses across the street, but the railroad is hardly used anymore) and an alley.
It was a cozy house, full of love. It was always Mamaw’s house to me.
I didn’t really know my Papaw that well – he died when I was eight. I do remember that he was gruff and grouchy on the outside, but cared about us in his own way. He also “broke my plate” in 1972 when I cast a mock ballot for George McGovern for President (thus cementing my role as the political black sheep of the family for years – and it still continues) and I was worried that I couldn’t eat there anymore. Silly me!
It was Mamaw’s house because that’s where I sat on the rocking chair with her looking at maps and atlases incessantly. That’s where I ate her world famous fried chicken (complete with all the leftover crispy fried things that she always saved, somehow) and some concoction called ‘scrap pie’ that no one has even attempted to duplicate. ‘Scrap pie’ was a custardy thing that had breadcrumbs and other such things, but it was sooo delicious. I think it was a depression-era no-wasting allowed type of recipe. She also made the best chocolate meringue pie ever.
There were just two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, and a kitchen that also had some laundry area to it (an old fashioned machine with an actual wringer) and one bathroom. There was no front porch, and a little concrete pad in the back (where, of course, I dropped a large glass bowl that we were giving her for a birthday present and I cried all night when it smashed to pieces – later finding out it was just a garage sale bowl that cost little – but when you’re nine do you care about that?)
I went down there as often as I could, which, since I couldn’t drive or really ride a bike down there – was as often as I could convince my parents to go visit Mamaw. One time, when I was five or so, I did convince my brother to take me down there. Well, when he picked me up I guess I was a snotty, talkative five year old and about halfway home he made me get out of the car. He drove about 10 feet away, stopped, and let me back in – but the message was clear that I should shut the heck up. And so I did. (No, that technique probably doesn’t work today – much to everyone’s chagrin).
So that old house, small as it was, had a lot of memories. And as I was driving through Ladoga I wondered if what that old house looked like. So I took a detour (a small detour, mind you Ladoga isn’t a booming metropolis) and drove by the house.
I don’t think I should have.
The house full of love, joy, and good food was empty, with a “for rent” sign out front and an unkempt lawn. It looked creaky and rickety, not like it would fall down at any time, but just a bit old and unloved.
I hung my head. I didn’t want to see the house like that.
There were so many fond memories that I should have let it just go as it was, but something compelled me to take another look at it.
My hope is that someone buys or rents that house and really fixes it up nice, makes it all charming and picturesque – a house to match the memories that I still have of what went on in the inside.
But I won’t hold my breath – Ladoga’s not on a fast track for economic development, and any rental property probably will just have the minimum maintenance done to ensure its inhabitability.
So Mamaw’s house will live on in my memories. I will see it forever when I look back at those times. Today, when I plan a trip or go for an atlas to study parts of the world that come up on the news, I remember Mamaw and me looking at her ancient atlas (pre World War II) and the new atlas she got me and noticing the changes to the world in that time frame. I remember her showing me a road map and telling me the route they took to get to Arizona, and me trying to find a faster way that also had all the scenery she wanted to see.
I remember the fried chicken (the Colonel had nothing on that stuff) – the pies, the biscuits, the food.
Mostly I remember her. And that’s a better memory to have than any old house.