Grandpa’s House, Pt 1

Isabelle Grace Althea Tompkins, née McCarter, my paternal grandmother, kept Misty Mints in a Blue Mountain Pottery dish in the living room. Sometimes there were other dishes. Grandma’s offers of candies and cookies are among my first memories. But they’re also my last memories of her. She died in November 1977 aged 63 during surgery for an aortic aneurism. Her surgeon, Dr. Howes, had elected to remove Grandma’s gallbladder during the same operation and something went wrong.

I was three then, too young to say now, for sure, that this was the moment when family life went to shit for me. But Grandma’s death was a turning point. My parents, who had decided against a religious upbringing, didn’t take me to the funeral. They divorced within a year. Shortly afterwards they tried again out of town in Chatsworth, where my mom had us living. But it didn’t last long. It ended in the bathroom one night with a vicious and bloody fight.

Back in my Grandparents’ living room, on the south wall, there was a dark oil painting of a container ship battling one of the Great Lakes. The blues and blacks matched the candy dish. On the other side of that wall lived Uncle Bob McCarter, Grandma’s brother. Two doors down were Aunt Marie, Grandma’s sister, and Uncle Bill Green. My grandfather, George Rick Tompkins, told me he had purchased two of the redbrick townhouses on 3rd Avenue East together. Grandpa and Uncle Bill were both named for their fathers. George Rick Jr and William Norman Jr. Then there was a William Norman Green III and William Norman Green IV. There were no more George Ricks. George Robert Tompkins though was my dad’s older brother.

The walls in the front half of the first floor were white plaster. Archways from the entrance hall, and delineating the living and dining rooms, may look expensive today. They were also plastered and had a designed rather than prefabricated appearance. Carpets in the front half of the house were pea green. Thick gold curtains hid the sights, sounds and cold of the boulevard. I was later scolded in my teens to stop peering between the horizontal blinds “like a criminal.” Ceiling light fixtures looked iron, had frosted glass shades.

Behind the living and dining rooms toward Owen Sound harbour were the kitchen and then the newer backroom. Wallpaper covered the kitchen walls. It wasn’t linoleum on the floor but more solid tiles. The backroom where the bookshelves and Aunt Carolyn’s desk were, and where so many hours were spent staring out at the bay, had faux wood paneling in a light tone. Grandpa finished the kitchen and backroom. He built the kitchen cabinets purposefully with a low counter. A four-row spice rack hung above the dual sink. He constructed the rear extension himself, with an entrance to the backyard and additional bedroom above on the second floor where he often slept.

Upstairs there were another three bedrooms and a bathroom. The basement, equal parts complex and mysterious, was a low ceiling cellar with a cement floor. It should be discussed at some point. Arguably it was the most interesting floor in the house. But that will come later. With this opening blog entry, I wanted to start at an important place. I was often at Grandpa’s house through my teens, almost always without my parents. It was somewhat of a refuge from whatever storms were raging outside. I still prefer its colours. My mind continues to seek out the house when looking for calmness inside.