To Grandmother’s House We Go!

Standard

Ambivalent, Raccoon, Generation.

Malevolent yellow eyes followed me when ever I walked through the living room. Their gaze skittered off of my shoulders and shivered down my back making my five-year old legs weak. I hid behind my mother when going upstairs; otherwise I pushed my back to the wall and scraped past as quickly as I could. The old stuffed owl on the newel was terrifying. The first time I saw it I touched the tip of the beak and got a nasty cut that became infected, I knew for sure it had bitten me. Hey I was little, what did I know?

Didn’t everyone’s grandmother have animal skins lying around the garage? Didn’t they all have a bunch of glass eyeballs in a drawer in the kitchen? All I had to do was sneak a couple of eyeballs out of that drawer and I was king of the playground back home all day long. Show and Tell was always interesting; my grandmother stuffs dead animals, what does yours do?

My dad grew up in that house. A carpenter, he worked outside year round, even in the cold. I figured he stayed outside now because he spent his childhood shut away in that old New Hampshire house all winter long, staring at stuffed raccoons and deer heads. Wouldn’t that get old fast. I wonder if he was as ambivalent about it as I was when he was young and didn’t know that the owl couldn’t come get him in his sleep. Drawn to those claws of death each time I entered the room, I was unable to look away. I knew it wouldn’t move but somehow that never meant that it couldn’t.

There was a nearly vertical flight of stairs back in the kitchen that led to the end of the hallway upstairs. When I was big enough my parents let me use it and after that I hardly went near the front room.  I could go for entire visits and never see the owl if I gave up watching television while I was there. Small price to pay, if you asked 12 yr old me. I went less and less in the later years.  As burgeoning youth are wont I had other things to do and other friends to visit.  The last time I was there I was in college and the house was deeded to my father. That was years ago now.

I recently brought my family cross-country to see the old house for the first time. Before we came I asked my parents to put the owl away, no need to terrorize the next generation of offspring right? Mom said she would put it in the study while we were there and then promptly forgot all about it.

They welcomed us on the front lawn when we pulled up. My son Ian jumped down and ran into his grandpa’s arms, nearly knocking him over. After all the hugging Mom took my wife upstairs to show her our rooms while Dad took the kids to show them the chickens. Left on my own, I began to unload the car.

I walked into the living room and immediately my eyes went to the staircase. Sure enough my old enemy was there – talons ready, beak sharp and hooked, eyes staring. One look at that contorted beak was all it took, one glance at those crooked talons. For a moment I was five again and swallowing hard. The eyes gleamed in the fading afternoon light; having caught a ray from the dying sun.

The room seemed to draw in around me as the old fears came rushing back. A light sweat broke out on my upper lip, my face felt hot and prickly. I shifted the bag in my hand to the other and wiped a damp palm on my pants. The owl tracked my progress across the room until I stood in front of it. The wicked talons still looked needle-sharp. The beak, though yellowed with age still gave me pause. A breeze from the open door wound its way in, ruffling the feathers on its way by. Good Lord it was finally coming to get me.

I jumped when my son came around from behind me. He stood at my side and when I looked down I saw that the owl had found him too. His mouth formed a perfect “O” and he stopped dead in his tracks. “What is that?”

I would not make a big deal out of it. “It’s an owl Ian. Go help your mother.”
“Whoa,” he said as he stepped toward it. No Ian, I thought, don’t do it son. Many, many sleepless nights await you if you touch that creature. I’d hated birds ever since touching Grandma’s smelly, feathered horror. I put out a hand to stop Ian but he was past me in a second.

“Dad,” he said as he turned to me, “this is sick! Can I play with it?” I shook my head.

Ian put his hand on the newel below the bird and stepped up beside it. He gave it a thorough examination and, the little boy in him winning out, reached up and touched it. “Euwwww,” he said, but I could tell he really thought it was cool. “Wait till I tell Peter!” With that he bounded up the stairs to go find his mother. That was it.  That was the extent of his reaction.

I set my bag down and took another look at the owl. Humph. It was missing a few feathers and looked kind of shabby and pathetic. There were small scratches on the talons and beak. The eyes were dull, their surface no longer shiny. Afraid of this? What a girlie boy. What a wuss. I reached out to touch the decrepit old beak and promptly cut myself on the tip of it.

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4 responses »

  1. A quick comment, I want to get down before it gets lost. The first paragraph, as inviting an intriguing as most of your stories begin, takes me back to when I was three. The owl, well without a doubt in my mind, is my grandfather; my father’s father. He was a large man. Sat in old chair just inside the front door near the stove. I don’t recall him saying much. Turned out he was a monster laying in wait for little boys to send tumbling forward with a hard smack from behind with a weeks worth of tightly rolled news print. Getting safely past him meant hugging the wall till the kitchen table was between you an him. Once on his right side the rolled up paper was plain sight, where agile feet could dart in an out of arms way just to tease the ‘old owl’ in the chair. This was the routine every other Sunday during the cold months as the whole family would pile into the car so my dad could take coal to his parents to keep them warm. My older brother and sister (by ten years) we’re so scared of him they would not go into the house choosing to stay in the car or play around the barn.

    Funny how this instantly came to mind when I read the first paragraph, the other day. I’ll be back to comment further.

    I had an many owls Hudson, one was a man dressed in a gorilla suit that sat on the porch on Halloween night (this in the late 60′s). He had a bowl of candy in his lap and sat in a lawn chair. When kids walked up to his steps he jumped up growling and let’s just say he never gave out much candy – I never had the nerve to walk up to him, he was loud and terrifying. Only those who did got candy.

  2. I love how much history is in this house, Neeks. And it all flows so organically. At first, I thought it was a memoir piece, it’s so personal! :D Very nice touch, to have the contrast of generations, especially there at the end. Well done!

    I hadn’t even noticed that Mayumi, about the house and the generations. It’s traditional here in the south, that is the Roberts’ house, her father lived there and her grandfather before, etc. The fear though, that is personal to us all. We all had something, as a child, that caused quiet fear or dread – the thing that made you go still with fear. I’m not talking about being a ninja when covered in spiderwebs – the thing that made your eyes go wide and mouth hang open. When you took a breath and held it in the top of your chest…maybe your cheeks burned too. That thing.

  3. First of all stuffed animals, creep me out -no matter if duck, owl or an antelope trophy hanging on a wall. But I get over it quickly, as the uneasiness will always fade into sadness, a bear skin will tear me up, yet as I child I was not fond of even a Teddy Bear. When I was younger, I hunted. Hunting was I suppose part of evolving into manhood, partly it was what one did stemming six degrees from the family I was born into (my mother’s side were the hunters and gathers as it put food on the table -a lingering need stemming from the dirty thirties which was really not all that far back in history). By the 1980, the thought of killing an animal when there was no need to, held little appeal on a number of levels. Probably the deciding factor, an most important, I discovered my hate of ‘guns’. A gun represented ‘finality’ and at twenty with a pretty good chunk of living a head ‘finality’ just seemed wrong. Pulling a trigger just to easy, felt unnatural, It felt better to side with life, to side with nature, to let the wild be wild.

    Now what does this have to do with your story. Facing ‘fear’. It is part of growing up, part of the discovery of just living. We all, I think, are shaped into who we are by the fears we have, more so then the good and fond memories we had growing up. Having fear is good, an natural. It is as much an influence on our conscience as intellect.

    I liked this story very much. The ‘story’ had a alluring cleverness to it that appeals to me; good writing will get you everytime. Everyone who reads would I suspect relate on some level -if not then they’re a harder individual then. It was hard for me not to fall into this.

    Thank you Hudson for, as always, going straight to the heart of things. Our childhood fears do exactly shape who we will become, harbingers of the fears that will imprison us as adults. You see much my friend. I agree with you on the guns thing too, by the way. Nature has nobility, and to see it on the floor or hanging on the wall lessens it beyond words. Need for food is something else entirely, I guess I would to feed my family, but only then. Only then.

  4. Nicely done, Neeks. Great dialogue — perfect use of ‘sick’! I still can’t get accustomed to how that word is meant to be a compliment these days. :)

    Thank you Kathryn, and I know what you mean, to me things are still “wicked” – yes I’m from the north. Hehehe. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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