Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman

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.

5 thoughts on “Grandma’s House”

  1. I, too, love my grandma. She was the mistress of safety. When my wife and children visited from our home in Kentucky, grandma made sure that we had lots of covers on our beds and on our bodies even though it was hot, muggy summer and all the windows had been painted shut.

    Grandpa was my hero. We would spend hours in the basement straightening old bent nails. Time for a break? We would go upstairs for a Hershey bar and a glass of grape juice…always diluted with water. Lasts longer that way.

  2. I wonder, if your grandma and grandpa had written about you, Duffy and Karen, would they have written as movingly and poetically as their grandkids have about them? My nonni didn’t speak English and I never spent a night at their houses. Maria Zaninelli, mom’s mom, would always say to me, “Fa niza girl. You ‘elpa you mom.” Emilia Bortolanza, dad’s mom from the North, never said anything directly to me that I remember. My nonno made wine and grape juice from the Concord grapes he grew in their backyard. The odor when he opened the cellar doors nearly made us drunk.


  3. Lovely tribute. Just yesterday I talked with a friend about her lack of ever knowing a grandparent–all died before or soon after she was born. What a terrible void to have in your life.

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