When I was a little girl, we lived far from our grandparents. Long car trips to Savannah in the hot languid summer were our way of connecting to extended family. As a young girl, the first grandchild, I relished these rare visits. We often stayed with my Grandmother Lynch, who lived in a neat brick ranch with a large yard. It was a quiet well-kept home in an upper middle class neighborhood comprised of similar sturdy brick structures, lawns graced by large imposing trees laced with Spanish Moss. When our boisterous family of six invaded, the plastic covered furniture itself seemed to shrink from the steady drum roll of running feet. Grandmother Lynch was thrifty, a true child of the depression. I remember orderly mealtimes and how she would never throw anything out, even taking the moldy piece of fruit for herself. There was an odd smell that permeated her house which I later identified as mothballs. Here, I tried to be on my best behavior and resist touching anything I shouldn’t, as sorely tempted as I may be. I was not always successful.
By contrast, my Grandmother and Grandfather Sims lived in a small (approximately 800 square feet) wood home in an area of like structures. It was where they had raised six children, four sons and two daughters, including my mother. Later I found that these little boxes were hastily erected as temporary housing during World War II to house the shipyard workers, including my grandfather who moved his family to Savannah because of the work. Rather than being torn down after a couple of years as planned, they continued to stand to house future generations. I could differentiate my grandparents’ house by the neat miniature picket fence that bordered the front yard space. My grandfather loved to garden. There was a front porch with a swing, perfect for lounging in on hot summer afternoons while holding a cold glass of tea, the cold condensation drops running over your fingers as swiftly as the beads of sweat down your back. Inside, down the worn wood corridor, there were three tiny bedrooms, just large enough to hold a bed and a dresser. In the first bedroom there was a coveted window air conditioner; I can remember my grandfather in his white tank undershirt silhouetted against the laboring unit. The kitchen was small, but it was always busy. When I think of my grandmother, her 4 foot something frame is always standing in front of that stove, presiding over a never-ending stream of abundant delicious food, the air saturated with the fragrant aromas of bacon and smoked ham.
But it was my grandfather who really impressed me with his vast wealth. His riches were displayed on the back of a baby blue truck whose bed was outfitted with covered shelves. Early in the morning, while I was still fast asleep on the couch, he would leave to go to the Farmers’ Market and finish stocking the truck before driving it around the neighborhood where he would sell to his faithful customers. There was every precious thing imaginable — baked goods, candy, fruit, vegetables, Coca Cola, and even chocolate ex-lax. When he returned, I could choose anything I wanted (except for the chocolate ex-lax which I coveted for its unavailability) and enjoy my riches on the front porch swing. Chix Stix were my favorite, or was it the tri-colored coconut? Even more impressive was the shed in the back yard. When my grandfather unlocked the door and opened it, the light would reveal innumerable crates of Coke and other treasures that would be the envy of any other child. No other man I knew, not even my father, had that much.
I’ll always remember those precious visits — sitting on the front porch with my treats, listening attentively to my grandfather soberly extol the virtues of a life without smoking and drinking, lessons he had learned from hard experience. It was only later that I understood the pain and regret behind those words. My uncles and aunt were all perfect and beautiful. I wanted to be and look just like my Aunt Dianne, and had plans to marry my Uncle Mike. After all, he was the youngest, still in his teens, and the age difference would be just a little less. I was a practical child, after all.
Today, Savannah Gardens is being torn down to be replaced by more modern, useful, residential units. I am comforted to read that a company responsible for the demolition is finding new uses for the wood, structural elements, and even the possessions left behind by former residents. I don’t know what ever happened to my grandfather’s shed of treasure, but for me, it lives on as surely as my memories.