Grandma’s House

Today is my grandma’s birthday.  She would be 129 years old.  Happy Birthday, Clara Czerwinski Lipski. You were a great grandma.


Once there was a small, old, brick house
With a tiny brown lawn and a stoop
On a street of small, old, brick houses
With tiny brown lawns and stoops
In Cicero, Illinois.

My grandma lived there
With my grandpa
And my Uncle Stooge and
Uncle Chester
But I always thought of it as
Grandma’s house.

I lived there, too, when I was just born,
With my mama and daddy,
Grandma and Grandpa,
Uncle Stooge and Uncle Chester,
All of us in the small old house
Crowded together like clowns in a circus car.

I was the star of the show
And had an audience of six.
Did she eat? my uncles would ask.
Are her bowels moving?
Did that rash go away?

When I grew older,
I spent nearly every weekend at that house.
The furniture was dark and solid
And there were always surprises for me
On the big old round table
In the dining room:
Cracker Jacks or
Hair ribbons
Or a new dress
From Marshall Field’s.

It was all different from my own house
In a new suburb.
The air at Grandma’s house
Smelled of bleach,
Mothballs, and
Pipe tobacco.
Clocks ticked in quiet rooms,
And pigeons cooed in the back yard.
The floor in the bathroom was made up of
Little white tiles.
That made you dizzy if you stared at them too long.
The toilet was called
A Toledo
Because that’s where it was made:
Toledo, Ohio.

At Grandma’s house
We ate chocolate cake and Pepsi for breakfast,
Played Old Crow at the dining room table,
Climbed the hill of coal in the coal bin.
And my grandma slept
In her clothes
At the foot of our bed
To make sure we were safe.

Frightened and brave and hopeful


From a recent interview:

Question: You were born in and spent the early part of your childhood in Illinois. What drew you to writing about Rodzina, who set off on an orphan train from Chicago to an unknown home?

Answer: In a bookstore in Berkeley, I found a book about the orphan trains. The cover showed a giant locomotive and a line of children, holding little suitcases. Their faces were so frightened and brave and hopeful. I knew there was a book there, and I was right.