Over the bridge and through the city to Grandma’s house we go. Riding along in my pajamas, eyes peeled for the magical house on Fourth Avenue, my seat belt attempts to control my excitement. “Hey Mommy, are we almost there?” my little sister, Taylor, questions, revealing her own anticipation for today. Dressed for business, my mom steals a quick glance back, allowing just enough time for a slight nod and a smile to match. By now we have pulled into Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway, my hand is already prepared to whip open the mini-van’s heavy sliding door as soon as Mommy brings us to a complete stop. By the time Taylor’s stubby fingers begin to yank on her car-seat straps, my seven-year-old legs had jumped out of the car and taken me straight up the single front step. The twinkling blue eyes of a sweet little lady, aged with love, greet me as my small fingers fumble to open the door to adventure. Once secured in Grandma’s warm embrace, I recognize two harmonious giggles coming from Grandpa’s reclining chair. Jade and Logan, practically my “other” siblings, welcome me to squeeze between them and watch an episode of Arthur. Creak…bang! The front door swings shut as Taylor drops on her bottom to pull off her shoes before she waddles over to nestle in next to Logan. Before she leaves for work, my mom gives each of us a kiss, marking us with red tattoos of her love. Watching Arthur, snuggling with my cousins, and inhaling the smell of pancakes, I think to myself, “I wonder what Grandma’s house has in store for us today?”
Jade, Logan, Taylor, and I spent every weekday at Grandma Del’s house of excitement up until each of us started preschool. As we grew up and each entered elementary school, our days spent at Grandma’s were limited to weekdays during the summer. Our little feet would scamper around the mystical mansion, exploring the occult closets and hidden corners, each filled with a new surprise. In the toy room, a secret message tunnel linked us to the spy center in the basement. The bathroom held the beloved witch’s cauldron, where Jade and I would create a variety of potions that could cure the hiccups or put the younger siblings into a deep sleep. In a corner of the living room, sat the hair salon where Grandpa Eddie occasionally had his hair styled. But, the basement held each day’s main event. Here, the four of us climbed Mount Everest, orchestrated a symphony, and constructed the Eiffel Tower. On our best days we fought off fire-breathing dragons with steel swords, planned evening balls for Cinderella and her prince, and played as a team of four in the World Series with Grandpa as our coach. Each day promised a new adventure filled with suspense and joy and excitement and love. In the midst of our excitement, Grandma would occasionally check in on us, asking if we needed any assistance slaying the next dragon. Assuring her that we held enough strength to take on a million dragons, she would wholeheartedly agree and smile her way back to her knitting needles.
The summer after finishing fourth grade, Grandma Del’s “mystical mansion” began to seem more like a small old house with a single computer and a TV that didn’t have cable. The days felt longer after watching The Berenstain Bears four times in a row and putting together the ninety-piece puzzle that we finished last week. It did not take long for me to realize Grandma’s house had lost its magic. But where had it gone?
Now we needed to leave the house, go swimming or biking or shopping, to find the same joy that a few years ago appeared within seconds of mentioning the word “dragon.” I understood that playing pretend could not elicit the same feelings we once felt, but now it seemed as if nothing had the ability to take us back to those days. The secret message tunnel, a laundry shoot, was merely a hole in the wall covered by a small metal door. The witch’s cauldron became an old toilet that occasionally clogged with squirts of shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath, and Listerine. The family-owned hair salon revealed itself as simply a chair, a bowl of water, and a plastic comb. Not to mention, the dreaded Mount Everest, a looming stack of cardboard boxes filled with memories from the past, could no longer quench our thirst for adventure. I now understood our miraculous symphonies consisted of forty fingers simultaneously bashing on an out-of-tune piano, covered in cobwebs and dust. Our Eiffel Tower, throughout the years, emerged as a jumble of worn Lego pieces stacked so high that it began to tilt. Steel swords; broomsticks. World Series home-runs; hitting a plastic ball with a plastic bat at least two feet. Dragons; air. Just old, musty, basement air.
As years flew by and I grew older, I saw Grandma’s house less and less. Eight months. Over half of a year had passed since my last visit. My grown, fifteen-year-old hand opened the creaking, worn door to the warm embrace of a sweet little lady, aged with love. Years of memories came flooding back, surrounding me like the warmth of Grandma’s hug. Contrary to my previous glances back at the past, this time revealed years of laughter passed around like a ball in the front yard, of lessons taught molding us like handfuls of clay, of tears wiped away by Grandma’s steady hand, of bonds created so strong that nothing could ever possibly break through. I didn’t see how things had changed. I saw how they hadn’t. It did not matter that Grandpa’s reclining chair had long since been replaced, or that Jade and I used to find joy in mixing liquids in a toilet bowl. I attempted to hold back the tears of relief. I had found the magic. No matter which house, city, state, or country I was in, Grandma Del, Jade, Logan, Taylor, and I would always have the relationships we built in Grandma’s house.
Proof revealed itself during spring break in 2013. My parents invited Grandma Del, Grandpa Eddie, Jade, and Logan to vacation with us in California. Although spending a summer’s day at Grandma’s house seemed like an ancient memory, I felt the same peace and joy from the past, now in California. Of course some things had changed. Jade and I were both in high school now, Logan in middle school, and Taylor finishing off her last year in elementary school. Now in their seventies, I realized Grandma and Grandpa had aged as well. Grandpa had hearing aids, but his sharp humor remained in mint condition. Grandma did her best to keep up with us at Universal Studios, but a few moments to recharge on a bench were always beneficial. These changes no longer hold much value to me. The aspects of life that possess the strength to never falter hold my focus now.
Love and family remind me of diamonds. Stronger than almost any other substance on this earth, they can remain intact in some of the most destructive environments. Found in a wide variety of places from in the dirt to on a crown, the location of the diamond doesn’t alter its value or strength or beauty. Once carbon becomes a diamond, it stays a diamond. No matter where it goes. Whether shared or hidden, its impressive resilience will never change. My grandma’s house may not match the size of a mansion, but from it, a diamond-like relationship grew. Unfortunately, it took me many years to understand the concept of love, something not measured by the size of a house, or the number of toys, or the amount of money received in a birthday card. The little things, a smile, a hug, a “Have a great day” text, hold the greatest value. Love comes in all different shapes and sizes. For me, it comes in a small house on Fourth Avenue.