I’ve written much about spending time with my maternal grandparents during the summers of my childhood, but almost never have I mentioned that I used to visit my father’s parents also.
It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, but rather, because of Aunt Betty, my mother’s sister. We were so close in age that it was almost like having a sister, which I didn’t. Betty and I had wonderful times – but I also have some great memories of the time I spent with my Toney grandparents.
Grandpa Toney was a coal miner. A foreman. A Company man. Right away that put him at odds with my maternal grandfather, who was a union man! They didn’t like each other much; a fact I didn’t know until I was grown.
As a foreman, Grandpa had things just one notch better than union men – a little more money, a larger house in a better location and the respect that comes with being “boss.” My grandmother was able to have help with her housework, cooking and laundry, which made her seem a trifle proud. Also brusque and a little scary to a child like me. Truthfully, I was afraid of her. She let nothing pass. She’d yell at me for the slightest infringement. I wasn’t used to being yelled at, and didn’t take it very well. She hurt my tender feelings almost daily.
But I had a satisfying way of salving my wounds.
In one corner of the dining room, there stood a coat rack. An unusual place for one, to be sure; nevertheless, that’s where it was. Many coats hung there year around; it occupied the entire corner. A small child, say... about 3ft. tall could easily position herself behind the coats and hide there for long periods if she chose to – and that’s exactly what I did. Always accompanying me was a nice soft-lead pencil that made very nice pictures on the walls behind the coats. There were drawings of cats, dogs, trees, rivers, the sun, the moon and the ocean. The corner was a virtual art gallery! And it was my secret.
Then one sunny April morning, my grandmother announced to the help, “It’s time for spring cleaning!” Everything was moved so the walls could be painted and my beautiful art collection was discovered! Luckily, I wasn’t there. But my grandmother had no doubt who the artist was.
At our next visit, the story was told in the presence of my parents. My mother took me to the bathroom and lectured me about how bad it was to mar my grandmother’s walls like that. “I’m sorry.” I said meekly. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “Go apologize to your grandmother." Opening the door, she gave me a little shove, and then closed the door, remaining there herself.
I’m sure I imagined it, but, as I walked slowly toward the living room, dreading what I had to do, I could have sworn I heard laughter coming from the bathroom.