So much of my first memories involve one or more of our extended family members. Many of those memories took place at Grandma Witt's house. Grandma Witt had a sparkly popcorn textured ceiling, couch that were scratchy and toys hidden in her back rooms. Sunday after church we would gather at her house, which was right in Ripon, along with most everything else back then. We would burst in and expect her amazing chocolate chip cookies, which no one has ever replicated, and knowing exactly where to find the pick up sticks and lincoln logs. We'd eat our cookies and sit down to play a game, at her kitchen table, with the plastic table cloth. Grandma Witt's house had a special smell, it was like nothing else, like cookies and moth balls and just HER.
When we would play games, it was not often but sometimes that a quarrel would break out amongst us, if this did happen, we would get a look saying that we needed to "stop it" or a gentle hand on the main instigators back which was a reminder that we were to play nicely. The kitchen table was near the sliding glass doors to the outside. Just beyond those doors was an aviary, which sometimes had birds in it. The aviary was as tall as the porch ceiling, from floor to ceiling it had small perches and small birds filled the cage. Just a few, but I still am not sure where the birds came from or where they went once she moved to the Bethany home. Further out there was her back yard, sometimes it felt like a magical garden, with trees in the back corner and a lawn that wrapped around the back corner of the house. Funnily, we didn't spend as much time out there as we did in the front yard, which also had a tree and it shaded much of the yard. We always went trick or treating there, it was one of the few places we were allowed to go, but I remember walking up the driveway, dressed as a gypsy, waiting to say "trick or treat"
One of my favorite parts of Grandma Witt's house, was its closeness to the local park, we would walk down there and play on the swings and slide, it was a big park with a huge lawn expanse and just a few toys to play on. We had to use our imaginations to play there, but I think walking over was just as much fun as playing there. We would joke and run and pass the houses, some of them filled with people we knew who would wave as we passed, it's been many years since I've been there, but still now, I think back fondly on the times we had there. Often I have dreamed of the walk there and back and playing at the park, full of good memories and things that never happened but in my mind.
I also enjoyed the fact that Grandma Witt's house was open to all, this meant that other more distant family members would gather there as well, it was from some of them that I learned to not be closed off to new people, or men who had (as I mentioned earlier) scared me. Tim was always friendly, he actually was my mom's first cousin from her mother's side, he had a thunderbird, complete with the bird on the hood, that car always signalled that fun awaited us when we got there. He was a little younger than my aunts and uncles and would play or talk with us, which made us feel important, and he always had a smile. Years later when he married Robin, I was a little skeptical of her, mostly because I assumed that he wasn't going to grow up, he was part of the "kids" in a sense and bridged the gap between adult and child for us. Michael also would come by sometimes and if I remember correctly, had stayed at Grandma Witt's for awhile, he also bridged that gap for us, and made us feel important to the "adults". Most of all, it was a transition place, a place that we were all welcome and all part of the family, truly related or not.
Grandma Witt, whether at her house or when she was at the Bethany Home, we always seemed to gather there. After school we would go to the Bethany Home and visit Grandma, she would have Bingo on Thursdays and we would help with that and though sometimes we acted like we didn't want to go, we definitely did. It was good, we all got to be together and at the same time, have fun. She always cared, she always knew when your birthday was and no matter what, used proper grammar at all times.
A role model, in so many ways, but mostly she taught us to stick together.