14 / 365 – The Museum

FINN TILLARY

After we came back, after my dad gave up on the farm and started leasing it out and there wasn’t so much to do, I used to come into town from time to time and visit my grandmother, just sit with her for awhile. When I was growing up her house always seemed warmer and cozier and safer. I loved coming out for the summer from Wisconsin and just running all over the place while my granddad worked, but I also loved when we drove out for Christmas and Thanksgiving. It was a lot of time in the back of the station wagon, and Christine would complain about it and want to stop everywhere. I remember my dad yelling at her that she needed to pee when we stopped for food or whatever it was she’d gotten him to stop for. It would get louder with him yelling and her complaining and then she’d start to cry and he’d stop and feel bad and so he had to pull over at whatever she had said. Just like they always did.

When we came back she lived for a few years, while she could. They kept the living room at the front of the house for her, the parlor she called it. It was the way it had always been, all that dark stuff, the old couch with the carved back that we could look at but never sit on, something someone in town had carved and her grandmother had upholstered with satin from the Chicago store. And the old clock that someone had brought over from the old country, not my forebears but someone else and my great granddad had swapped for it during the lean years. Someone who had almost nothing had carried it onto a boat and it had gotten wet and the cracked or smashed on the train out across Canada and then on the wagon down here, but somehow they had repaired it and refinished it and it looked like new, like it could go in a museum. That room was kind of like a museum. There was a story about everything in there and she often looked at things and told me stories about them, stories I heard five or six or ten times, sometimes a little different in the details the older she got but mostly the same. My dad hated that room, wouldn’t go in there at all. If he wanted to talk to her he’d holler at her and make her come out, come to the back of the house, the kitchen. My grandmother didn’t seem to mind. She’d smile this warm but weak way as she hefted herself up out of that old armchair with all the dark marooon and brown flowers entwined all over it, her favorite chair. I never sit in that chair, I always sit across from it, even now. Anyway, she’d get up and smile and say, “Ah, someone needs me,” like we didn’t know it was my dad losing his temper. Later when I got older and my dad and I were fighting all the time and I’d get so mad I’d want to scream at him or run away, I’d remember my grandmother — she was gone then — and I’d hear her voice and say to myself, “Ah, someone needs me.”

She had so many stories, she should have written a book. About my great-great-great grandfather walking out here from where the railroad stopped in Winnipeg — they came down from Canada, not Minneapolis. And walking through Spring snow to claim his homestead here. He had big plans, I guess. He was going to have ten children and eventually have ten sections and give one to each of them. And then his one son who survived at stayed, he didn’t have any boys and nobody really wanted the farm and so it went to the daughter Ingrid who married the man Tillary, Alexander Tillary, who wasn’t a Swede and he wasn’t a Norwegian — I guess the Swedes and the Norwegians didn’t get along but at least he wasn’t a German, who they got along with less. I guess he was a Scot, and you couldn’t really trust Scots, but here he gave me my name so probably you shouldn’t trust me, or anything my grandmother said either. She had this whole family history and it was like the history of Europe, all the wars I never heard of, playing out here on the prairie, sort of like how we played cowboys and Indians out in the fields and the windbreaks. And all of it remembered because of the things in that room, the sitting room, she called it. She was really the only one who ever sat there after we moved there. And even after she moved into town, into Prairie Oaks, that last year or so because my mother couldn’t take care of her, they left the room the same and just stayed out of it. And ever since. It’s like we kept that part of the house with all the history walled off in the front. We didn’t throw it out or auction it, but we didn’t go in there either. It even stayed that way after all of us had left the house and they started fixing it up, building that big family room with all the windows and the fireplace and the big TV. The sitting room was still the sitting room, dark and old.

When my grandmother came into town I still went to see her, every few days on the way home from school, or sometimes I’d ride my bike over. She went down fast. She didn’t remember the old stories so well. I think it was hard without her things. And then she didn’t really remember me. I still liked sitting with her. It was quiet, being with her. Sometimes I did homework there, after she couldn’t really remember me. She seemed to like it. I owed her that. And then it would get to be time to go home and I’d get up and say, “Well, I have to go. Someone needs me.” But really, she was right there.

 

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