No matter how many years back they go, we all have childhood memories. Some are sweet, some are sad. In this excerpt from the first chapter of her book Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, Diana M. Raab has a bit of both. The time is 1964. The place, New York.
I was ten years old the morning I found my grandmother dead. Our neighborhood in Queens was serene while many residents were out of town celebrating the last three-day weekend of the summer. My mother and father weren’t at home, and my grandfather was visiting his sister Rusza in Paris.
I knocked on Grandma’s bedroom door. She didn’t answer. I cracked the door open and got a whiff of her perfume (Evening in Paris). Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the sheer white curtains swaying in front of the open window overlooking the street. The air in her room was crisp, and the night’s dampness clung to the wooden floor. Grandma’s bed, one of two single beds pushed close together, was beside the window.
Grandma lay beneath her soft checkered Scandinavian wool blanket with fringed edges. She called it the warmest blanket in the world. On her headboard rested Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, a hairbrush, a box of Kleenex, and an open bottle of prescription pills.
“Grandma,” I called softly from the doorway, “can I go to Cindy’s?”
She didn’t answer. I glanced at my new watch. It was already ten o’clock in the morning. On most days Grandma was the first one into the maroon and pink-tiled bathroom that all five of us shared. I walked inside to see if her toothbrush was wet. It was still dry from the night before, but her towel, slung sideways on the towel rack, was still a little damp. The toilet cover was down, just the way she taught me to leave it. I didn’t remember hearing the sound of running water that morning, a sound often heard within the walls of our older house.
“Grandma,” I repeated, “can I please go swimming at Cindy’s? I’ll be back by lunchtime. Promise.” Still no answer. Grandma’s face looked pale and her eyes were loosely shut, as if she were almost ready to get up.
I sensed something was seriously wrong. I tiptoed out of the room, glancing over my shoulder in the hope that she’d wake up and answer me. Under the weight of my footsteps, the wooden floor made cracking sounds. Her closet door was closed and her makeup was spread out on her vanity. I trembled while scurrying to my parents’ room at the end of the hallway. They also had two single beds pushed together with one headboard and two pale pink electric blankets sprawled out on each bed.
The beds were unmade, and on my father’s bedside table was an empty plate with crumbs left from a sandwich he had eaten the night before. The oblong wooden bedside table had a glass covering it and a display of family photographs beneath. One photo caught my eye. My grandmother was leaning against a tree in our backyard. She had a broad smile and seemed playful, the way I will always remember her.
This excerpt from Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal was used by permission of the author. Published by Beaufort Books, September 2007.
Click here for Diana Raab’s Web site.