My grandmother had a way of welcoming you into her home and feeling comfortable. There were frames that hung in her house with smiling faces, stoic faces, familiar faces. Whether it was the doilies draped across any flat surface in the house or the figurines ornately placed on top of shelves, bookcases, cabinets, floor, wherever- you felt comfortable because she welcomed you. We always knew when company came over because company only used the front door. Everyone who was family used the back door. As a child, I remember scaling the staircase trying to race up to the top, avoiding the dog at the landing. I’d greet my grandma first kissing her as I counted- Uno, dos, tres, one, two, three.
My cousins, brother, and I were loud. Because of that we’d be silenced to the basement anytime company came by. Sometimes they’d be old family friends. Other times they’d be members of the church visiting. Even when there weren’t visitors we’d hang out in the basement regardless of company being there or not. It allowed my grandma to watch her novelas and knit, crotchet, or do her crossword puzzles. The basement window above the couch looked out to the side of the house by the driveway, where the back yard stretched upward toward the front yard. This was used as a lookout window when family would come home. Depending on the pants and shoes we could guess. Boots and dirty pants- grandpa finishing working in the yard, black or brown dress shoes and slacks or white women’s sneakers and jeans – my aunt depending on what school day it was, more trendy or modern style pants and shoes was a toss up of my youngest aunt or cousin- they were close in age and shared the basement dwellings that my other cousins and I would ransack with our toys while grandma watched us after school or on weekends.
I never knew what the older people would be talking about upstairs as the Spanish words rolled from their tongues but whenever that doorbell would ring (it became more of a clunk as years went on) I’d rush to the heavy dark brown door next to the front closet where all my grandma’s balls of yarn, spools of threads, and photo albums stayed crammed among the coats. Opening that heavy wooden door, I’d get a peek at the company who’d be standing on our landing. Next was the thin wooden screen door latched shut by a solid black hook. Pop, the latch flings off and I am now standing in the doorway of the small front porch and in between me and what normally would be a stranger was another thin screen door. This one aluminum and the last line of defense from all encounters foreign or domestic to our warm house.
The only time I could remember family using the front door was on holidays or right after going grocery shopping. I used to criticize and judge family by which door they came in. Only those closest to my grandma, most relevant used the back door. After I moved from Gary, Indiana my visits to my grandma’s house grew less frequent but the house still remained as familiar as the faces in the pictures, only a few new ones…babies or girlfriends/boyfriends/spouses had been added. Everything was still more or less the same. After high school, part of what I considered the dark ages of my life, I moved from Portage, Indiana to West Lafayette, IN for college. I no longer frequented my grandma’s house every Sunday. My aunt once told me that as I grew older I would forget to make my grandmother and family a priority. I denied that and swore I would always come by. She shook her head and told me that with age comes experience and in her experiences people forget about family. I swore over again that I’d visit every Sunday- or at least I’d call. That was the least I could do.
College moved fast. Weeks blurred into months and months blurred into years. I would still call home for the occasional birthdays that my mother or father would inform me of. If it wasn’t for those reminders I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue to do so. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always mandatory trips back home. I knew my roots. I couldn’t forget the traditions that were made those many years back. I’d find myself freezing cold in jeans and a nice dress shirt waiting at the front door. I’d hear a shuffling of slippers from the front hallway toward the big brown heavy door. Pushing past the light wooden screen door now standing in front of me, was my grandma. All that was separating her from me was the last screen door. But now this door wasn’t flimsy like the old one, it was heavy and black and felt like cast iron. Her look was solemn and her nasally voice always let out a shout, “Ay, que milagro. I thought you forgot about me.”
I’d smile, scream, “Bendicion! Open the door grandma, it’s cold!”
Making my way into the front door I’d see all my small cousins sitting on the couch. Everyone stopping what they were doing or not. Some would shout hey, how are you, what’s this miracle? As nice as it was to be back home, I couldn’t help but feel a certain way…different. I had become the stranger. I was the company. I’d look around and the faces in the frames would be mostly unfamiliar. The figurines changed. The doilies replaced. What remained the same was her embrace. A long warm hug and three kisses on her cheek. Until her dying day, she said I was one of the few, if not the only one of her grand kids that still greeted her that way. It warmed me. Sadly, it’s no longer a flimsy aluminum screen door, not even a black cast iron door that separates us. It’s something greater- life and death.
It took me a while to realize this but to my grandma, it didn’t matter what door someone used when entering her home. As true as it may have seemed, I was silly to think that the love she had for her family was based off what door they used. It didn’t matter how long it had been since she’d last seen you or heard from you, if you were a familiar face you were family. Even those who weren’t family felt the love as she entrusted her offspring with that judgement. That was the beauty to her and the best thing about her, regardless of her pains, sorrows, and experiences she always found time for love.