I wonder what she thought about while she sat at the narrow table attached to the wall in her galley style kitchen. Every morning she boiled water in a glass kettle on the stove and made coffee through a single serve pouch that hung in her cup. Wrapped in her bathrobe with slippers on her feet, she smoked a cigarette and drank her coffee while staring out the window of the door to the third floor porch.
I think of her often these days as I sit in my apartment alone and talking to no one. I don’t stare out any windows but I do sit and think. Lately about her. She had been independent for much of her life since her husband passed away when she was around 40 years old. My mother was only 11 years old then. They had house, a big yard, and a cemetery to care for when he was still alive. After he passed, my grandmother and mom moved to the city, to this third floor apartment where so many of my most precious childhood memories were made. Boci is what we called her, it’s Polish for grandmother.
My earliest memories of Boci were when I was about 7. We just moved to RI from Chicago and lived just a few streets away from her. When I would sleep over her house she would hug me tight while she slept. I felt so loved and yet spent every night trying to figure out how to escape her tight embrace.
Eventually we moved into the same house she raised my mom in and my parents became caretakers of the same cemetery. My memories of childhood are filled with both terrible and wonderful experiences. Boci was always one hundred percent wonderful. I miss her.
I wish I knew then to ask her what she was thinking about. I was so fascinated with the way she lived that every time I visited her or slept over all I wanted to do was learn how to be her. She had everything in its place. She had routines and never complained about how hard it was to do them. For instance, she lived on the third floor so she had to carry everything up and down by herself: groceries, trash, laundry, gifts, etc.
In her apartment there were unfinished rooms off to one side. The roof was slanted so these rooms were used for storage but not really because the beams were exposed and there was no lighting in them. In the room off her dining room was a narrow space she used to hang hand washed laundry to dry. She had buckets and shallow pans lined up in a row on the floor to catch the drips. I imagine she found it less burdensome to hand wash and hang to dry than to carry the laundry up and down the stairs.
She also used to sit in various places in her apartment throughout the day. After her coffee in the kitchen she would move to the wooden rocking chair in the dining room next to the phone. There she read the newspaper and kept in touch with her sisters and friends through phone conversations. Ah yes, she had a classic black rotary dialed phone. One phone in one spot of the house. I often think of this when I see people talking while multitasking out in public. I wonder if they even know what it’s like to just sit and talk to one person and focus solely on the one conversation.
In the evenings she sat in a rocking chair in the living room and either read a book or watched tv. Sometimes I would see her just rocking and staring out the window. I wonder what she was thinking about. She never complained or talked about things that may have bothered her. She always had compassion and understanding towards people. I remember asking her why so and so was acting a certain way. My heart begging to understand why people do bad things and she very calmly said things like “that’s just how they are.” She accepted people for who they were and loved them no matter what. I’ve always found that astounding.
Since I’m back in 1981 in my mind, I’m going to continue with these memories of Boci. In the evenings she would run a bath in her very tall claw foot tub. She had a space heater in the bathroom and used to set her pajamas on the hamper while she bathed. Ivory soap sat in a metal holder near the faucet clipped over the edge of the tub. She had her routines and this was no different. Before going to bed, she would lay out her clothes for the next day on a chair next to her bed. In the morning she would switch out her purse to match her outfit. She wore slippers in the house and only put on her shoes as she was heading out the door.
I’m glad I’m a writer because if anyone ever wants to know what I think about it’s here or in my books. It’s my gift to those who come after me. I can’t go back and ask Boci anything but I sure do wish I could ask her what she was thinking about when she was looking out the windows.