As most people who read this blog know, the apartment I live in belonged to my grandparents long before I was born. I first came here when I was just three months old and came to visit at least once a year until 2002, when I moved in for good. You’d think after five years (Philadelphia and I will be celebrating our 5th anniversary in two weeks) that I would have tapped out all possibilities for nostalgia or quick trips back to my childhood, but that is not the case.
Last night, I walked an overflowing bag of bottles and cans down to the recycling room. I reached out to pull open the door and flew back about twenty years. I remembered the thrill I would feel when my grandmother would trust me to take the empty jars down there by myself. She would stand at the door of the apartment and watch me walk down the hall towards the west end of the building. I would tuck the empty prune juice bottle under my arm to free up a hand to open the fire door in the middle of the hallway. I’d throw that door back and scoot through before it could return to rest against the doorjam.
The bottle room, as it was called in those days, always smelled like fresh paint, linoleum and the slight souring that came from bottles not properly washed out. I’d put my empties on the hallway floor and give the bottle room door knob a tug, fighting against the slight difference in air pressure. I’d carefully put my bottles on one of the many cubbyhole shelves that lined the shallow closet from floor to ceiling, and take a minute to check out what other people left behind. You could always tell if there was a baby visiting a grandparent by the empty food jars, or if someone had thrown a party by the number of empty bottles of Beefeater gin or Chivas Regal.
I’d glance down the hall and realize my grandmother was walking towards me. I’d taken too long. She’d open the fire door, stand in the frame and reach out with one of her perfectly manicured hands. “Dollbaby” she’d say, “aren’t you done yet?” I’d let the bottle room door close with a slam and skip towards her.
When I reached her I’d hold her hand and ask, “Tutu, do you have any trash that needs to be taken out?” The trash room was even more fun than the bottle room.