granny's weird house

Granny is on the right

While pregnant, my friend Samantha Reynolds (founder of collected stories from friends and family into a book to read to her child, including this piece from me (PDF version of the book pages).


Lake Village, Arkansas, USA

I think of my Granny often. She had a great name – Gladys Ariel Akenhead Dunn. When she was young, she was skinny, like I am, and she had a funny, sticky-out mouth, like I do. My mom looks like that, too. It makes me happy to look like people I love so much.

When I was a kid, Granny and Granddad lived in a beautiful, weird house that Granddad built. The house was in the very center of a gigantic land with no cities or big towns anywhere nearby. There were only farms and tiny, tiny towns, and cotton fields as far as the eye could see. Heat waves rose up from the fields and the narrow roads. People fanned themselves to get a little breeze and they drank iced tea in the evenings as they sat in their gardens to cool off.

Granny’s house was across the road from a big, skinny lake shaped like the letter C. A little further away was the immense Mississippi River. Long, long ago, the lake had been a big curve of the Mississippi River, but the lake got separated from the river. Rivers are living things that wiggle around over time and once, when the river wiggled to the right, it left one of its bends behind as a lake. My twin uncles swam across that lake every day.

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If you saw Granny and Granddad’s house from the road by the lake as you drove by, you’d probably think it was a sad, poor person’s shack. It’s true that they didn’t have much money and they had seven children, but if you belonged in that house, like I did, you knew it was a house packed with love and that made it magical.

My mom grew up in that house. When she was growing up, her dad – my Granddad – worked for the dairy next door. His job was to deliver fresh milk to people in the town and in the countryside nearby. When the great Mississippi River flooded, he delivered the milk by rowboat.

I loved being in the house my mom grew up in. The house felt like a part of me and I felt like a part of it. It felt like a safe nest. Lots of great things I remember happened there. For instance, one night, Granny and Granddad and my mom and dad and brother all sat around in the living room. My brother and I were king and queen of the pillow pile in the middle of the floor. It was July 20th, 1969, one day before my eighth birthday, and we all stared at the television with our mouths open as we watched the very first person take the very first step on the moon.

I didn’t live in Granny’s house, but I lived close enough to go there often. My mom would drop me off there in the morning and I’d spend the day with Granny. Just before dinnertime, when mom would come to pick me up, I’d stand at the back door with my hands on my hips and say, “What are you doing here? I’m not ready to go yet.”

In fact, I was never ready to leave Granny’s house. There was too much wonderfulness to explore and look at and do there. The house itself was sort of a little crooked and handmade, which made it feel alive. There was a steep, narrow, dark staircase. There were odd paintings on the wall that Granny had painted herself. There was a gigantic tin full of crayons. Everywhere, there were funny things to look at, odd collections of strangely beautiful things.

In Granny’s kitchen there were always delicious smells rising up from the marvellous food she cooked. It was easy to help Granny cook because the kitchen counters were lower than usual, more my size. She was short and Granddad had built the kitchen counters only as tall as she needed them. When we cooked together (or did anything together), she was always kind and patient. Granny always made food I loved. Or maybe I always loved the food she made because she made it with so much love.

The thing about Granny’s house is that it didn’t stop with the house. Granny had a green thumb that went all the way up her arm. Her garden, all around and behind the house, was much bigger than the house. It took up all the wide space between the house and the pecan orchard, where tall, tall, skinny pecan trees stretched up higher than you could see unless you lay down on your back in the grass and looked up. The pecan trees that were closest dropped their pecans into Granny’s yard and we ate them and ate them, in pies or toasted a little in the oven or in a dozen other ways. We’d sit cross-legged by the orchard fence and eat the pecans right out of their hard shells that we’d crack open with a nut-cracker shaped like a silver jaw.

You would have loved Granny’s garden. It had a pool she’d made herself, and a croquet yard, and a fig tree, and there was always a striped canvass hammock somewhere. Her garden had rooms, just like in a house. There was a special garden room for playing games, and a room for having tea with guests, and all sorts of other rooms, too. They were separated from each other by blooming bushes and wildly growing thickets of a hundred different kinds of plants. The hot, damp air of the great river valley made the smells of all the different flowers and plants rise up and blend into a secret perfume you could only smell at Granny’s house.

Granny treated the plants in her garden like furniture that she could move around. Whenever she had a new idea about how the garden could be better, she’d move something. She’d move a flowering, sweet-smelling bush from here to there. She’d dig up these pretty flowers and put them next to that blooming vine, because the colours all looked so nice together. She’d even make the garden rooms bigger or smaller. No matter what she did, everything grew and grew. And she was always adding new plants, too, always bringing home cuttings from others peoples’ gardens, or giving away cuttings from her own garden so someone else could have beautiful plants of their own.

In my memory, I can see Granny bending over the trunk of our car, taking care to wrap up the tender, white roots of a cutting so they’d be safe on the drive until we could get the little plant back to our house and my mom could put it into our yard so we’d could have our own piece of Granny’s garden.

All of that, all of those stories, are from a long, long time ago. I still miss Granny every day. She was born in 1897 and she died about twenty years ago, when she was 94. And yet, every time I remember her, I can feel that she’s still alive as a part of me. She still makes me smile and she still makes me feel loved, in a way only she could make me feel loved.

My beautiful, weird Granny is actually my secret magic potion. Whenever someone treats me like I’m weird in a way they don’t understand, whenever someone doesn’t like me or doesn’t seem to like the way I look, I remember Granny and the magic of her weirdness and the way I look like her and then I’m proud to be who I am, perfectly myself. Granny smiles at me then, from inside me, and I feel very glad to be exactly me.

And now I’m very glad you’re exactly you. Love made you the way you are. Many, many people made you, including your mom and dad. You carry them all with you, just like I still carry my Granny inside me. Remember that I love you, too, just exactly, perfectly as you are.

Related reading: Dying Words

5 comments to granny’s weird house

  • David


    What a fantastic story! That brings back so many memories. And your memories are sharper than mine in many respects. But I remember the pecan orchard, and the house, and watching the moon landing – although up to now I didn’t know where we were then. And that humid, humid air, so full of life. And Granny. Thank you.

    Your little brother

    • I’m grinning like mad here, Dave. I’d forgotten about the humid air — so close to the lake and the river. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. Love and a hug, Grace

  • jan

    Grace, I love your story!! The picture is, of course, of Granny and her younger sister. By just barely a year. And they were very close. Moreso than with her younger sister Caley. But I learned thru the years that the cousins always wanted to come to her house rather than any of the other relatives. You say”OF COURSE they would!!!!” Love, Aunt Janie

    • Thanks, Aunt Janie. And also for more information about that photo. I wish we were close enough that I could take all my family photos over to your house and you’d spend the afternoon (and late into the night, knowing us!) telling me stories. (Sigh) … I love you back, Grace

  • […] look like my mother and my grandmother, to a degree that causes alarm at family reunions, where people who knew my grandmother gaze at me […]