The last time I visited my grandma’s house, weeds were growing through the front porch and the two holly bushes by the front stoop had grown so tall they hid the front of the house. It had been nearly 25 years since I’d visited her house, shortly after her death. During this time, the house has sat empty and slowly is falling apart. I wasn’t sure it would even be standing as I walked down the hill. I could barely make out the old road, it was overgrown with trees. Pine trees, nearly mature, had filled in my granddaddy’s fields around the side and behind the house. This was where he also raised a garden for the family, the tobacco being grown on the other side of the highway. The apple trees just behind the house were overgrown and broken up. It had been decades since they’d been pruned.
I stepped upon the porch, unsure if the wood would hold me. It creaked, but was solid. I was revisiting the past. The door creaked as I pushed it open and stepped inside. The house was trashed. Wallpaper was peeling from the walls. What few pieces of furniture remained were broken and scattered around. Much of the plumbing and fixtures had been removed. The back addition to the house was sagging and the back porch was falling down. I didn’t dare step out on it. I entered the kitchen and noticed a pile of papers, mostly cancelled checks and bank statements, on the floor. It appeared someone had been looking for something. Did they find anything of value? I doubt it. The checks were dated from the late 50s through the mid-70s. I looked through a handful. They were made out to the electric coop, a farm supplier, the garage and the hospital. "What a story they might tell," I thought, "if someone organized them."
I spotted a red book underneath the checks and the bank statements. Although I didn’t know it then, it was what I had come for. White and yellow letters proclaimed it to be the "1965 Official Guide, New York World’s Fair." A blue banner across the front noted that this was "All new for 1965." I stuck a few checks into the book, wanting an example of my grandmother’s handwriting, and held on to the book as I made my way out of the house and up the hill.
We were living in Petersburg then. It was the summer between my second and third grade. One afternoon, my grandparents in their Chrysler pulled up in the yard, returning from their trip of lifetime. It must have been early in the summer, for once he started curing tobacco, my granddaddy would have never been able to get away. They were excited, telling us about the New World they’d seen; it would be a world where space travel becomes common and technology creates leisure. Even in the midst of the Cold War, it was a world of hope, symbolized by U. S. Steel’s 12 story Unisphere, the largest globe ever built, and created out of stainless steel so that it would last forever.
Looking through this book, I wonder if my grandma visited the "women’s only" Clairol exhibit. She could have tried out a new hair color while receiving beauty tips from experts while granddaddy checked out the General Cigar’s exhibit, replacing his usual Chesterfield with a fat cheroot. Did the two of them test-drive an Amphicar on Meadow Lake? Did they talk to each other via a picture phone at the Bell exhibit? And did they see what had to be the most amazing exhibit, Michelangelo’s Pieta, a marble statue of Mary holding her son Jesus after he was taken off the cross? This sculpture had been carefully brought in from Rome for the Vatican’s exhibit.
My granddaddy would only raise one more crop of tobacco. It’s odd to think that he was only a year or two older then than I am now. He’d die early in ’67, from emphysema, at age 52. My grandmother would live another decade, suffering also from emphysema, passing away a month after I graduated from High School. They never got to see this new world, but at least they got a glimpse even though it’s not nearly as glamorous as the fair made it out to be.