I Left My Heart at the Corner of Greenway Street
A writer reflects on happy days spent at her grandparents' house in the Cranston, Rhode Island, suburbs.
I was able to say goodbye to this place, gradually. On the morning of my Pop’s funeral in 2018, I knew my final farewell was imminent. At ninety-four, Gram would soon have to move out and be under full-time care in assisted living. We’d need the home sale to pay. Now in our late twenties to early thirties, the cousins were growing our own families, lives and homes in different states and cities. Buying the house just wasn’t in the cards. As we seven “kids” came together here, the same scene could have unfolded at any other point in our lives. The girls gathered in the dining room, asking Gram to borrow her opals, rifling through her recipe cards, the boys congregated in the corner, trading jokes. With Pop’s things still frozen in place, right where he left them days earlier, it felt as if he was about to return from the grocery store at any moment, his signature jar of pickled herring in hand, his dramatic and playful plea for just! one! of! his! grandkids! to have finally! acquired! a taste! for this delicacy!
Months later I would return to this house, for the first time in my life empty. I came directly from the airport after being evacuated from Charleston as a monster hurricane approached our coast. The house greeted me with the same comforts I enjoyed all those years before. The door slam, the somehow still lingering smell of home fries and sludgy coffee. I grabbed the keys to my Pop’s Jeep and borrowed the car for a few days. He taught me to drive on a similar model and from this driveway. I slept there just this past summer, visiting Cranston to celebrate my dad’s retirement. This time, my cousin and her boyfriend inhabited the space, a perfect in-between as they prepared to buy a home of their own in Coventry. I laid in bed on my final morning there, basking in the familiar, dappled sunlight through the branches of the birch tree right outside of the window, soaking up all the gifts this house had given us.
The final goodbye happened in the days following Christmas 2019. The house had gone up for sale. The real estate agent said she could feel the heartbeat of the home when she first walked in. Those who extended their multiple offers on the house within hours of it being listed — they must have felt the pulse of our family thrumming through, too. It would close in January, marking the very end of our legacy, of this place belonging to us. My mind raced.
This new owner: Do they know there was a grape arbor just outside, from which my great-grandmother made jelly? Do they understand how monumental a moment it was when Gram let me rollerblade through the linoleum floor of her kitchen and its tiny hallway? Will they one day discover the height chart in the doorway of the dining room, documenting the growth of the most recent batch of cousins? Will they ever figure out how not to track mulberries into the house during the height of summer? Should we advise on where to plant the tomatoes for the best sunlight, and tell them that, if you’re not careful, chives will overpower the yard? Make sure they know the living room used to be a porch, where Pop would sleep in the summer, hoping for less humid air? Would they ever understand how much it meant to me, that even at twenty-something, I could sneak over in the night to sit and watch TV with my grandparents, big bowls of ice cream on our laps? Did they notice the “H” on the sidewalk, leading to the house? Though it stands for “Hogberg,” as a kid, Mom thought it stood for “home.”
We held onto this place so tightly. How strange it feels to lose our grip. It was an anchor, a refuge. It was safety, it was joy. What I’m coming to embrace is the sense that it will always be ours, it will always belong to us. And the values imprinted on us while inside — of humble hospitality, fierce loyalty, charity, community, faith and belief in the unknown — they will find themselves in our own houses, through the next generation and onward. To call it home for the centuries we did, how lucky we were.