When we were kids, our grandma and grandpa had a television in every room (except the bathroom). They never moved from the side-by-side, shotgun duplex, the last of the properties of several they had owned and grandpa had tended over the years. The background squawk of the TVs was as constant as the simmering pots on the stove.
I don't know what grandma's favorite show was or even if she paid attention. White noise. Colorful noise, maybe blunted by the power and color of her personality. It mostly played in the kitchen, toward the back of the house, much of which had been built by grandpa. At one point in the house's history, the kitchen was the back of the house. Mom told tales of trips to the outhouse, even as inner City of New Orleans dwellers.
Whatever grandma's favorite show was, grandma knew that all of the people in them had indoor bathrooms, just like her, and likely had more than one color TV—maybe in every room, just like her. Toward the front of the house, the televisions rarely played. Instead, the sound of a bar across the street often filled the air. An ironic coexistence, given that grandpa was a Baptist preacher and did not set foot in the establishment. It was an ironic coexistence with his step son who lived in a tiny living space upstairs with its own entrance who regularly stepped into that establishment.
Ironic? Uneasy? Maybe neither. All these things belonged. Was it a sense of humor or a load of tolerance—or maybe an exercise of non-judgmental Christian love—a test of the church's Great Commission playing itself out, a world across the street that begged the preacher man to save then; and a man who was more willing to open that door than his wife was eager to accept.
Or a test provided by grandpa's eldest granddaughter who, on a Sunday morning, dressed finely for the good church people to see, one of four shiny, cared for grandchildren of whom he was much too proud, would peer into that magic TV box at American Bandstand, full of gyrating young people running afoul of the expectations of that sacred day and afoul of young Christian lady conduct in general.
But she loved to dance. She loved dance, a student of people moving to music, to the beat and of their hearts' desires, still too early in life to have an understanding of what all those desires were, but knowing of them—enough of them to watch, not getting to close and knowing that she could watch because she was her grandfather's granddaughter.
The TV would be turned off not from disapproval, even as my mother and I lived moments of uneasiness, appropriately worried about hurting grandpa's sensitivities, feelings or the equilibrium of moral order. The TV was turned off because it was time to go to a church service at which grandpa would preach, that would last hours and would be capped off with a score of fawning middle-aged women who had to meet grandma and grandpa's beautiful grandchildren.
Those three-week summer visits were punctuated on the front end by grandma's vigilant wait on the front stoop for a weary carload of Minnesota kids to show up at the house on Roman Street. We would arrive as new-again strangers who would ease into the growing familiarity that, at some point, devolved into mostly-hollow threats from grandma saying that if we did not behave, we'd get a whipping so bad we would not be able to sit down for a week.
Next week, the final installment (I think) of “Home.” Be sure to check out the first installment at: http://theclarencewhiteblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/home-part-1/. In the mean time, tell the rest of us what home means to you.