A local landmark and one of the community’s oldest homes, at First and Ash, was unceremoniously dismantled in early 1964. Built about 1900 with lumber brought from Amarillo by horse-drawn wagons, the six-room structure served being used as an apartment house before it was razed.
My Plainsview, March 19, 2004 . . .
THE LONG coarse prairie grass lay in sweeping gold ropes at angles that ran up the shallow hillsides. Azure sky shined deep and hollow, then dropped in one dramatic horizontal line against the yellow of the mid-day horizon. The black train rocked in a gentle rhythm as I stared out the window especially at the grass, the long grasses of the plains. I felt safe and secure as I lay my head on her shoulder. Her arm went lovingly around me and with her other hand, she opened a little book that had been poised on her lap. There we had my little brown teddy bear, my blanket still with its pink satin bow safety pinned to the crocheted ecru stitches, and the books. She opened the new pages slowly and tenderly and with mystery and reverence in her voice, began “Once upon a time . . .”
WE arrived in my grandmother’s hometown of Plainsview, Texas after departing Union station in downtown Los Angeles. The uniformed concierge at the station, busily and very formally gathered our suitcases into a large square that sat on the hot, planked platform. “Yes Mrs. Holle. Here they are Mrs. Holle. I hope you enjoy your visit Mrs. Holle.” And then, “Thank you Mrs. Holle.” With a courteous little bow, head slightly turned in recognition of my statuesque, fashionable grandmother, draped in her mink stole with matching hat and eel skin gloves. My grandmother placed several large coins in his hand in a simple gesture that was barely noticeable. Her leathered fingers graced his palm and the coins momentarily appeared there, then mysteriously disappeared. The hot sun beat relentlessly down upon the simple landing, but my grandmother appeared elegant, resolute, and completely cool.
I wondered what it meant, the glitter, the bow. I didn’t ask because I couldn’t talk yet but my new mind had a way of recording things in great detail, especially the coins, and they way they sparkled, and, the look on the man’s face as she, my grandmother departed the platform, my hand in hers.
Soon enough we stood on the wide wooden front porch framed with slatted railing. Large chrystal windows rambled along the length of the home, and the roof’s overhang filled the porch with shade that cooled us in the searing late summer sun. A modest dirt road, right in front of the porch, meandered down aways to my right. I stood facing the road with my grandmother and saw the huge brown barn surrounded with the same tall coarse grass I had noticed earlier while on the train. Beyond the barn there were no trees, no real shrubbery, and the coarse yellow grass flowed over flat land, over small hills, and far away into the deep blue. The summer was 1949, and I was two years old.
“Cynthia”, my grandmother was now in a simple cotton summer dress and stylish ecru wedge open toed shoes. She took my hand, bent down and looked at me earnestly as we stood at the huge door.
“She’s old and cross sweetie. She doesn’t like children very much, so, just stay by me and hold my hand.” I wondered why a person could be cross, and how anyone could not like children. I wondered what very old meant. Then, my grandmother opened the large wooden front door and we walked solemnly into the house.
The entrance area was expansive with a big oak staircase descending down into it, or upwards into bright crevices, depending on how you’re looking at it. The big windows everywhere let all the light in which tumbled across the gleaming hardwood oak floors, sending rainbows on the walls and furniture. It bounced through the windows, and shown in long stretches of light yellow bars across the floor. If there was an absence of the overstuffed furniture of home, the draping crocheted and calicoes throws and slip covers made this room look open and welcoming.
At the end of the long refined but rustic room with the huge fireplace at the end of that, a gigantic rocking chair, sat among the rainbows and illumined bars. In the rocking chair sat a long, lanky shriveled lady. My grandmother held my hand tightly and with a pressure I was not used to. We walked swiftly and matter of factly up to the long old lady who not only sat in the enormous rocker, but who draped herself across it with her legs thrown over one arm, and her elbows resting on the other arm. She propped her head on her hands, palms pressed together which were under her right cheek. It was an awkward position at best, yet, the very old lady rocked back and forth contentedly, the rocker creeking to and fro, amidst the silence.
“Hello mother” the daughter said quietly and respectfully. The mother regarded her silently with a small quizzical smile, looking up at my grandmother and fixing her with an amused gaze. “Hello Anna.” Was her simple reply. Then she cooly observed me as I stood very close to my grandmother.
The very old lady regarded me wordlessly. There was no show of emotion. No happiness at seeing me. No particular scorn either. She simply looked me up and down. “This is?” Her voice crackled and trailed off into a question; then there was a long awkward pause. Her face was leathered and crinkled from eras in the harsh elements of the prairie, and the light blue eyes deep within the very brown skin peered up at my grandmother like two icy blue lights.“Cynthia. This is Cynthia, mother.”
“Oh yes, I see. Hello dear. Are you hungry? Do you want a cookie?” Her coolness immediately melted into warmth, as her thin lips turned up into a smile. “Children are always hungry aren’t they? Frank, oh, Frank –“ Her voice inflected upwards to a call.
At once a tall lanky man dressed in blue jeans, brown boots and red plaid shirt appeared through the open front doorway. When he took his straw hat off, I could see the salt and pepper gray hair and the same very light blue eyes of my grandmother, and her mother, that twinkled. When he saw my grandmother he laughed in recognition and their eyes met closely and held there for a moment. I stood between them, looking up.
“Anna. Anna, how are you?” His voice was low, confident and caring. Although he was old, even much older than my grandmother, he was agile, youthful, and his body moved quickly and flexibly across the floor as he reached for the plate of cookies. They stood there in the living room, in one of the bright squares.
“Yes. Good, thank you.” There were introductions, and the old lady who did’t like children seemed very friendly to me. “Frank, please take her out to see the cow and give her some milk to go with that cookie.” Mimi released my hand to Frank’s hard rough hand.
“Good Bye Cynthia” the mother said gently, and looked back up to her daughter, beaming. I looked after my grandmother as Frank led me out of the front entrance, across the porch and down the polished wooden steps of the family home. We walked along the road for a little while, and then crossed into the long grass as he told me about the cow I was about to meet. The grass was prickly and rough and tickled me up under my pink butterfly dress. “Let’s get some fresh milk from the cow,” Frank said jubilantly, blue eyes dancing.
We entered the dark cool barn from the bright blue goldenness of the prairie. Inside, the barn was cavernous and quiet. Small high windows allowed dusty rays of light to peek through high dark wood. I gazed up to see hay lofts stuffed with mountains of straw cascading to the floor, and above that loft, another one stretched, and above that, another one. I looked for the ceiling but could not see it, as the pungent odor of livestock manure mixed with the fragrance of freshly cut hay curing for the winter onslaught, and the feel of the soil under my feet, filled me with a knowing that this is from where I came.