Sun streamed through the window into the kitchen, I sat on one of the wrought iron chairs, with the plastic-covered seats, around the table. Usually, we sat in the only lived-in room in the house, where my grandmother spent most of her day, watching TV, talking on the phone and mending her stockings.
When we sat in the kitchen it was because my grandmother was making something special, like the Sicilian pizza or sfinge (fried dough balls rolled in sugar) she made once a year.
My sister and I visited my grandmother, who lived upstairs from us, every day after school. Not because we wanted to, but because we had to. My grandmother was not the kindly old woman that the word “grandmother” usually evokes.
I was shy around her and intimidated by her. Sometimes she would tell us stories about the children of friends, or the soap operas she was watching, but we didn’t talk to each other. The whole time I was there I’d be trying to think up an excuse to leave as quickly as possible.
But sometimes, my sister and I would be alone in my grandmother’s living room.
It was one of those rooms that were only used when company visited. The Baroque style furniture was covered in plastic. A glass chandelier hung from the ceiling and on one end of the room was a huge credenza. Behind the doors, which rolled into the piece of furniture, was a black and white TV that I don’t remember anyone every watching. On top of it was an oversized porcelain figurine of a 17th-century man, down on one knee holding the hand of a sitting woman in a beautiful gown, her white hair piled high on her head.
I don’t know what the circumstances were that my sister and I got to play in that room by ourselves, I only remember acting out the scene that was going on in the porcelain figurine. One of us sitting on the couch while the other kneeled before her proposing marriage or whatever story we came up with.
Actually every room in my grandmother’s house, except the sitting room, was kind of magical.
In the dining room one wall was covered in mirrors. Even her bathroom, though the exact same set up as ours downstairs, seemed more elegant. It smelled like powder, the fixtures were blue instead of pink, the extra toilet paper covered with a crocheted doll, a soft fluffy cover on the toilet seat.
And even the kitchen, though well used, had one wall, papered in a scene from an Italian Villa.
In the mural there was an archway with a birdcage hanging from it and wrought iron chairs leading to a garden. Like the wardrobe that led to Narnia, I could imagine stepping into the scene while my grandmother talked and cooked. It was a magical place to go to. An escape while never leaving my chair.
Although it’s very different, when I look at my quilt “Botanical“, that’s what I think of. The other side of my grandmother. The one I only knew from the rooms in her house that I usually wasn’t allowed in. The ones that transformed her upstairs apartment into a Venetian Palace.
Botanical is a magical place to go when you can’t leave, but need to get away.