The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Shrine For Grandma - Laura Dale Dehart Cockrum

By Barbara D. Cockrum © 1989

Issue: September, 1989

The key to Grandpa's attic dangled on a nail so high over the door frame that neither I nor my step grandmother could reach it. Beyond the door, Grandpa preserved the treasures which belonged to my Grandma. This mausoleum was my only contact with Grandma because she died before I was born. Grandpa never talked about Grandma much, I guess out of courtesy for my step Grandmother. But when Grandpa and I clambered the steps to the attic and the door was wedged tightly below, Grandpa talked about his "Laurie."

Grandpa had finished a small portion of the attic. He built sturdy shelves around the walls and painted everything white. There was a window in the room at the top of the stairs, and it faced east, allowing the afternoon sunlight to glide off the floor, leaving circles of light on everything it touched.

As I mounted each step, an image of Grandma's spinning wheel slowly emerged. It silently peered down the steps, watching for intruders. A delicate oak stool stood as a back up guard for the spinning wheel. Sometimes Grandpa let me perch on the very edge of the stool and stretch my leg to the pedal which made the wheel spin. Through the whirl of erratic brown spoke marks, I watched Grandpa gingerly dust the countless pieces of china across the room.

Grandpa sat on a small bench he had built into a recessed area, encircled by tiny shelves covered with rows of cups and saucers daring me to touch them. When I tiptoed into this corner of the room, I pretended to be a bride selecting a china pattern. Grandpa held one of the cups up to the block of light glowing from the window, and I could practically see through the glass to the pink floral design on the other side. One cup was white with miniature silver leaves painted on its lip, and a dark tea stain grew in its bottom. As badly as I wanted to feel the lightness in my hand, Grandpa never let me touch it. A three piece tea and crumpet set gathered on one shelf. The tea cup was sky blue with a gold rim blessing its top. The lip on the bottom of the cup hugged the crumpet plate. I asked Grandpa once why Grandma had all of the odd pieces from glass serving sets, and he said, "She just liked to look at 'em."

A clunky old wall phone, which Grandpa says was the first phone he and Laurie ever had, clung to a thick wooden beam. With a shiny black receiver held to my ear with one hand, I leaned into the metal mouthpiece and cranked the ringer with the other hand. I would ask for Grandma on the old phone, but of course she never answered, and Grandpa would shoo me away.

When I was quiet, fourteen clocks tick-tocking harmoniously on one shelf made the only noise in the room. Grandpa had set them all to chime at the same moment, and if we were in the attic when the big hand was close to twelve on the clocks, Grandpa rushed me down the steps. He said that the noise of the clocks banging and clanging in our ears would make us deaf. I flew down the steps, with the shuffle of Grandpa's orthopedic shoes close behind.

Once the door was secured and the key safely returned to the nail, Grandpa and I waited by the door for the clocks to mark the hour. We never spoke until the choir of clocks had chimed, and screamed, and shouted, and gonged, and finally rested, telling us that the hour was over. After the last chime echoed down the stairwell, Grandpa always double checked the lock on the attic door. And then he moseyed back to the den where my step grandmother was glued to her recliner, leaving the attic behind.