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My Grandmother’s House

DALTON: Every child dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. But as Acacia O’Connor learned recently — on the path to growing up, some of those dreams are left behind.


I’m from Syracuse. If you ask me, that’s what I’ll say. That’s where I lived as a kid, where I went to school. But so much of my life is anchored a two-hour drive East.

There, in Troy, NY, tucked at the shady end of a row of modest homes is my grandparents’ house.  

The house is broad and pointed, all brick and maroon paint, with white windows and a curving U driveway. The back overlooks a steep slope down to the busy four-lane road below. We have this long-standing family tradition about that hill — when you leave, the rest of us line up in back and wave while the departing drive off, honking.

In an far upstairs bedroom, the traffic down the hill creates a quiet whoosh of white noise. I slept there a few weeks back when I went up for Easter.

There’s a peaceful feeling to this house I’ve felt almost nowhere else in my life. In the morning, sunlight dots the floor, striking my great-grandmother’s wooden hope chest, a black and red afghan draped over it. There are those comforting sounds: plates being moved around, voices speaking softly to one another downstairs in the kitchen. The pages of the newspaper turning.  The sounds of childhood that told me that grown-ups are here, taking care of things.

But I’m a grown-up now, as I’ve become more aware recently.

Over the last few years, I’ve struggled with what being grown up means. What it means for me, a millennial without the traditional trappings of American adulthood–marriage, kids, a house.

When it first became clear that moving into an old folks’ condo might be best for my grandparents, the thought of someone else living in their house made me sick with panic.

So many of the important events of my life happened here. My brother, cousins, and I spent countless hours running shoeless in the plush grass around my grandmother’s garden. At Thanksgiving, exiled to “the kids table,” we’d loudly sing the Spongebob theme song on repeat. More recently there were hard moments, too, as adulthood encroached. Frantically searching for jobs after college when I had no idea what the future held. A funeral we had there in the rain, after my cousin, Chris, died. And lately, witnessing my grandpa’s alzheimer’s advance. A few weeks ago, he asked me, where do you live, again?

Someone asked me what I was afraid of, in losing the house. It’s more than just memories of childhood, it’s a dream I had. An alternate version of my life, where I was a matriarch like my gramma, presiding over family gatherings. It was having a place for Family, (PAUSE) which always felt indelibly tied to these red bricks.

But buying that house and making it Home for the next generation was a dream. One that conflicted with other dreams: living in New York City, writing, studying journalism and pursuing the very life that makes my grandparents proud. When I realized the two were irreconcilable, the path forward was obvious, but it hurt anyway.

After Easter dinner, my brother drives me to catch the Greyhound bus back to my life in New York. I won’t move to Troy. Instead, I’ll call, and visit, and help pack. It doesn’t feel like enough. I want to say, ‘and that’s okay’ but it’s not, not really. That feels bleak, but in growing up I’m starting to realize even if I can’t have everything, I have so so much.

You’ll find Acacia O’Connor listening to her grandparents’ vintage Panasonic AM/FM radio in her Harlem apartment. The click of the tuner knob is extremely satisfying.


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