The house with a backwards h for a driveway

Posted By on September 26, 2010

.: I had just received my security deposit back in full. I was worried they’d dock a few hundred dollars for scratches on the walls or crumbs under the stove, but they seemed pretty understanding when I explained why I would be moving out. Jersey doesn’t have any branches of my bank, so I mail my checks to my grandfather for him to deposit. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t mind this burden and probably encourages it.

.: My grandfather likes being in the know, so I rung him up and told him to expect a check for $2,000 to arrive soon. “Put it in savings, not checkings,” I instructed him, adultly. “That’s great news, Cody,” he said, adding shortly thereafter, “Listen I’ll just go ahead and tell you: your grandmother and I just had a home invasion.”

.: They were just leaving the house when he accosted them. He told my grandparents to get on the ground. My grandfather didn’t have his hearing aid, so he did not hear him.

“He slapped me around a few times to make me go down faster.”

.: My grandmother injured her foot in the ordeal. He took her jewelry and some other replaceable valuables. The house had an ADT system, but it didn’t help. He wore gloves, a mask, and long sleeves and had clearly done this before.

.: My grandfather finished telling me what happened and mentioned they were driving to my dad’s clinic for treatment. I knew what my dad was going to say, and I knew they would listen to him because he’s a doctor: “Move out of that nasty neighborhood and come live up here next to me.”

.: Thirty years ago, every adult in the neighborhood knew who my grandfather was. He had been the superintendent of the school district, and he was just starting up a new community bank (the same bank I use today, even though the closest branch is in Pennsylvania). Nowadays, thanks to a middle school named after him, the younger generation knows he exists even if they don’t know who he is.

.: They had lived in that house for 39 years, which they had built themselves. Their backyard was a forest, and the neighbors were spaced reasonably apart. Now their backyard is fenced in and bordered by several neighbors, one of which has a shed that my cousin and I shot with a BB gun severals years ago (this episode ranks even today among my stupidest moments, a rather encouraging thought). They’ve resisted all urges to move, long after the rest of the neighborhood started its slow, miserable decline.

.: Christmas is always a difficult time for most families — especially divorced ones — but Christmas Eve was always perfect because my grandparents made sure it was perfect. The lights were the same every year, the tree had the best decorations (miniature baskets filled with miniature chocolates!), and everybody devised new and clever ways to be the quickest to shout, upon first meeting one another that day, “Christmas Eve Gift!

.: As my parents moved from house to house every couple of years, and as I concurrently accrued more and more billable services for which a steady mailbox was required, I started using my grandparents’ home address. Important letters from schools or departments of motor vehicles might have gotten lost or ignored at my dad and mom’s, and moving to a new apartment every year made it a hassle to update every profile and account for every service I used. My grandparents’ home was the only reliably permanent address I had.

.: And now they’ve moved. I found out when iTunes didn’t recognize the ZIP code I had entered for my bank card. My bank account is tied with my grandfather’s, so when he updated his information it updated mine as well. I didn’t know what was going on and it was confusing, but now that I do know what’s going on I don’t feel any less confused. That address is supposed to be there. They’re supposed to be there. It doesn’t make any sense.

.: That burglar stole more than he realized. He stole my grandparents’ security. He stole my childhood. The doorframe my sister and I used to climb when we were small enough to fit. The linen closet I hid in to scare my grandmother. The toaster oven with the worn dials that only my grandmother could make sense of. The deep freezer that always had ice cream in it.

.: Ours isn’t the only family affected, either. As my grandmother got older, housework got more difficult, so she hired a maid. Irma could barely speak English, but she was a hard worker and did the best she could as a single mother to raise her kids. She and my grandmother had the most delightful skirmishes, too. “She doesn’t understand subtlety!” my grandmother would bemoan after returning a small statue of a fairy, once more, to its partially hidden position near the fireplace. And every week Irma would move it back to the center of the ledge — so you could, you know, see it.

.: Now Irma has one less house to clean. And since my grandfather was easily the wealthiest person in the neighborhood, any replacement will be considerably less remunerative. I’m sure he will see to it that she’s taken care of and employed by someone considerate and worthwhile — he’s already guaranteed her children’s college education — but she didn’t deserve to lose this job under these circumstances. But, whatever, right? That man wanted jewelry and he didn’t care how he got it.

.: My grandfather turned 81 in January and my grandmother turned 80 in July. I couldn’t make it to her birthday party, but I did show up a month later to introduce them to my girlfriend. Despite her earlier decree to “stay away from those Jersey girls”, my grandmother found her to be smart and charming. In her turn, she found it endlessly amusing that my grandmother uses words like “hootenanny” regularly and without irony.

.: As we were saying our goodbyes, my girlfriend couldn’t decide if it were appropriate to hug my grandmother or not. I don’t know why she didn’t, but I do know she regretted not doing so. I called my grandmother later to tell her about this confession, and she laughed it off. “You tell her to not be so shy next time.” I realized just now that I still haven’t told my girlfriend that she can relax. I also realized that that was the last time I’ll see my grandmother standing in that doorway.

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6 Responses to “The house with a backwards h for a driveway”

  1. pero says:

    I am sorry that your grandparents had to move from their family home. It makes me sad to drive through an old neighborhood, which was once loved and full of happy families, only to decline into such a bad area.

    … glad you’re back up and running, I’ve been checking periodically and was happy to see you got the site back up again.

  2. Susan says:

    I’m really sorry about what happened to your grandparents. I remember the one time I went to that house, I ended up putting one of their cooking pots on the back porch after you threw up in it. Which, thinking back, might be why I was never invited back.

    At any rate, I am glad to see you’re back up and running. And with new backgrounds and optimistic subheading to boot! I’ve missed your storytelling and t’will be nice to have updates in more than 17 syllable increments!

  3. Caulimovirus says:

    Thanks you guys. One stupid thing you can do when running a blog on your own server and not on, say, wordpress or blogspot’s, is to do so while not knowing a damn thing about webhosting. Little problems and little hacks got the best of me for a while, but I figured it out eventually (I think).

    That neighborhood really is a sad story now. Just a few months ago their longtime neighbor Larry died. We used to swim in his pool when we were little while his wife would constantly be watering something in the yard. I can’t even remember her name now.

    And don’t worry about that pot. All it did was make me a little apprehensive whenever they served meatloaf.

  4. Cassidy says:


    This brings tears to my eyes! I’m so glad there was no serious physical harm. I hate to hear that they had to move. I was actually just pondering the idea of feelings for a house,or a home so to speak. All of us have so many childhood memories but they are all spread from physicl place to place. I will always picture that house and neighborhood when thinking of my memories involving Grand Daddy and Grand Bobbie.

  5. Kaia says:

    I only hope I can make consistent memories so wonderful for my grandchildren.

  6. Christi says:

    This makes me so sad, I loved that house!!! I loved to climb up that doorway and shoot a BB gun at all of Grandaddy’s coke cans! Our holidays aren’t the same :(

    Pam is Larry’s wife, she would always let us borrow disney movies! I remember the garden swing in the backyard that you and I both loved to swing on! Man that house has so many wonderful memories there. Thanks for posting this, it’s making me nostalgic!

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