Dream Quest One First Writing Prize Winner
Deanna K. Klingel
of Sapphire, North
There were a lot of things I liked about my grandma’s house. I liked
that it was the biggest house I’d ever been in. It had a kitchen, a dining room, a front room, a parlor, a sick room,
and a bathroom. It had two stairways to get to the upstairs where there was a maze of four bedrooms, no bathroom or hall.
You walked through one bedroom to get to the next. It had great hiding places where I could stay huddled until a cousin called,
“Ollie ollie oxen free!”
I liked how Grandma’s house smelled. The kitchen smelled like spices and the basement smelled like burlap
bags, walnuts, and 3-in-One oil. Any one of those aromas today takes me immediately back to Granddad’s side, hammering
walnuts in that basement.
I also liked
the location. Grandma’s house was two straight blocks down the sidewalk from my house. My school was two blocks from
my house and two blocks from Grandma’s. The sidewalks made a triangle that I mostly lived within. The thing I liked
best about the location was that my aunts, uncles, and dozens of cousins inhabited many of the houses within that triangle.
The two safe blocks down the sidewalk meant I could walk, run, skip, ride my scooter, peddle my bike, skip rope, or roller
skate all the way, back and forth, at will, since about age five.
There were a lot of unique things in Grandma’s house that I liked. She had a big piano, a TV, and an
attic. She also had a Montgomery Ward fan that sat on the kitchen counter spewing dry air over the noodles that lay spread
out on the table. I loved those noodles! I had a conversation recently with my mom and dad about the fan and the noodles.
My dad thought it was to keep flies from alighting on them; mom thought it was to dry them faster. I had always thought that,
for some odd reason, noodles needed to be kept cool. Grandma also had two tin fruit cake boxes. One held buttons that I loved
to sort; the other held my Crayolas. These were my favorite playthings.
I probably spent as much time at Grandma’s as I spent in my own home, two blocks up the street. I loved
spending the night. Grandma let me stay up late and watch the Pabst Blue Ribbon fights. “What’ll you have? Pabst
Blue Ribbon!” I sang the jingle with gusto, while coloring away with my Crayolas, or sorting her buttons. I didn’t
actually drink beer, but Grandma did let me drink Lipton Orange Pekoe and Pekoe tea, which Arthur Godfrey said was the finest
cup of tea anywhere. I put in three spoonfuls of sugar and agreed whole-heartedly with Arthur Godfrey.
But the thing that I loved the most about Grandma’s house was Marsha
Blue. Marsha Blue was a blind woman who’d lived at Grandma’s since the war. The county paid my Grandma “a
little something” to take care of Marsha. Since I spent so much time at Grandma’s, Marsha became my personal project,
and a good friend.
walks together up and down the sidewalks. Marsha taught me not to hold on to her, but to let her hold me. She’d ask
me what color the sky was. I’d take a mental perusal through my big box of sixty-four Binney & Smith Crayolas, and
I’d tell her it was Cornflower, or Periwinkle, or Turquoise Blue. She’d say, “Ah, that’s so pretty.”
Up and down the street I’d instruct her when to step up over the curb,
or I’d warn her about the heaves and cracks in the sidewalk. If there is one thing a roller skater knows, it’s
the heaves and cracks in the sidewalk!
We’d walk past house and garden, house and garden. Every house on 8th Street had a victory garden beside
it left over from the war. I figured it was just a habit that no one ever got over. Marsha stopped by the Hanover’s
garden and lifted her nose and sniffed the air like my uncle’s Springer Spaniels.
“I smell ripe tomatoes,” she announced. I looked up and down
the garden rows.
lots and lots of them.”
color are they, Deanna?”
“Well, what kind of red? Are they red like Christmas balls or are they
red like fire?”
at them again. “Red like a fire.”
“What color would you say that is?”
“It’s Deep Orange Red.”
“I knew it!” she said victoriously. “That’s just
how it smells, too. Now, whose house is this one?”
“It’s Mr. Langley’s.”
“Well now, has Mr. Langley just tilled his garden?”
I looked at his garden plot, all black and deep brown like coffee grounds
and lined with little hills ready for planting. How did she know?
“Yup. It’s all dug up.”
“I thought so,” she said. “I can smell the dirt.”
I put my pointy little nose in the air like Daddy’s beagles. “I
smell worms,” I told her, thinking that was pretty impressive.
“Do you now? Well, do you see anything out there in that dirt?”
“No, only the robins hopping around - robin red breasts.”
“Well,” she slapped her thigh, “there you are. You were
over that for quite a while. I’m not sure how long it took me before I figured out the connection.
One day after school, Marsha’s hand rested in my lap. She was lightly
tracing the wales of the fabric. “What color is this corduroy?” she quizzed. I didn’t even hesitate.
“It’s Prussian Blue.” It matched my Crayola perfectly.
“Oh, how beautiful,” she sighed, and I felt like a royal blue
princess. Her fingers crept up to the waist, across the bodice, and onto the shoulders. “Oh, it’s a jumper,”
she said, surprised. “Here, right here on the shoulder. You need a little brooch, right here; something sparkly that
goes well with Prussian blue.” I readily agreed, but the only piece of jewelry I had was a gold paper ring that said
King Edward Cigars.
On a rainy Saturday
she sat with me while I watched Howdy Doody on TV. “What kind of puppet is he?” she wanted to know. “Is
he a mitten, is he on strings, or is he a ventriloquist’s dummy, like Charlie McCarthy?” “He’s like Charlie McCarthy, except he doesn’t wear broken
glasses,” I explained.
to know every color in Howdy Doody’s plaid shirt and what color his cowboy boots were. I told her that all the colors
on the TV were shades of gray and silver. That puzzled her. I had to get out Grandma’s Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalogue
to look him up. Then I told her all the colors in his plaid shirt, and I told her his hair was Burnt Sienna.
She said she thought he must be a handsome little guy with such fancy colored
hair. She asked me if he could roll his eyes like Charlie McCarthy and I said yes, he could do that. Then she said, “Does
he talk like this?” She put a hand on each of her cheeks and squeezed them together. Then she chopped her chin up and
down between the two deep cracks, just like Howdy himself. I squealed with laughter and rolled off the couch. With my skirt
up to my shoulders and the blue embroidery on my days-of-the-week panties telling the world that it was Saturday, I rolled
around in hysterics.
Before the weekend was over, I’d taught all the cousins how to make
a Howdy Doody face, and on Monday morning we were disrupting classrooms and entertaining on the playground. I even entertained
myself while skating home. I was so amused that I missed the heaves and cracks and got home with my hem sagging and scabby
knees weeping into my socks.
Marsha and I
read together a lot. My mom had always read to me with a repertoire of character voices, which I now shared with Marsha. I’d
give her my deep, deep voice that read, “but da tar baby, he don’t do nothin’.” Then I’d give
her my high squeaky voice that read, “Please, please don’t fling me inter dat brer patch.” I’d tell
her all the colors on all the pages; Brer Fox was Copper; the tar baby was Ebony.
Marsha also read to me. I’d help her pull out her big Braille Bible.
She kept it under her bed. There wasn’t a shelf anywhere in the world big enough to hold it. Making room to open it
up, we'd spread it out on the bed between us. I’d watch in fascination as her fingers read the familiar verses.
She taught me to spell my name in Braille so when I wrote her a poem or a little story I could punch my name at the end on
the backside of the paper, to be read in reverse on the front.
One time, while sitting on Grandma’s porch after supper, I told Marsha that the stripy clouds were
pinky. “Are you sure they’re pinky? Or are they pinky purple or pinky gray?” I told her they were Magenta.
My brother rolled his eyes, and Granddad chuckled, but Marsha believed me. She said it must be a very special evening somewhere
for someone, and she hoped when she got to heaven she would see Magenta clouds.
When I finished the seventh grade, my little triangle shifted. I had to leave
Murray J. Huss School, two blocks from my house, two blocks from Grandma’s, and go across the town for eighth grade
at the high school. I was a little scared. Marsha said I’d soon be way too busy to visit much at Grandma’s; I’d
be occupied with other things.
I assured her. “I’ll still be coming to walk and read. I’ll never forget you.” Well, at least that part was true; I never did forget her. But, Marsha was
right; I did get occupied with other things. Mostly, I was occupied with me, myself, and I. Like many teenagers, I found myself
spinning in the center of my own universe. The wheels on my skates were quiet.
Marsha would never know how much she influenced my life. My senior research paper in 1960, discussed
the controversial theory that computers might one day replace classroom teachers as new teaching tools. In my paper I suggested
some adapted uses of these new aids to teach the blind. When I declared a major at Michigan State University, it was in Special
Education for the Blind.
Marsha even influenced
the way I raised my seven children, with boxes and boxes of Crayons in some stunning new colors. I taught my children to use
all their senses as if they couldn’t see, and to use their visual sense as if it were the only one they had. “How
many shades of green are there in the lawn?” I would ask them. As toddlers they all learned to look inside the tulip
before deciding what color to name it. We’d collect fall leaves and search the labels on our Crayons to decide what
each fascinating color was really called. Sometimes we created our own color names.
When my children were grown I needed a new hobby, so I learned to transcribe
textbooks into Braille.
And even now,
years later, when I’m writing a story, I often find myself sifting through the old fruit cake tin to find the right
color to describe something elusive. “What color would you call that?” I can hear Marsha asking me. “What
color is the sky today? Are you sure?
I love how that old tin box of Crayons smells. Of course I do; it smells like Grandma’s
house. But my old box of sixty-four really has sixty-five colors. I have an
extra one, a
special color left over from my childhood. It’s a soft gray, like light
blue that has milk spilled
over it. It’s the color of her eyes. I call that color
Marsha Blue. It reminds me of Grandma’s
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