Sleepover at Baba’s: Coming Back to Home Base
Once upon a time when I was very young, maybe between three and seven years old, I would often stay overnight at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother, my grandfather, and my aunt Mary lived together in Oak Park, Illinois. I’ve written several posts about Mimi, which is what we cousins called our Aunt Mary. She became disabled at age 13 due to a spinal disease, and Mimi went from being an active teen to living in a wheel chair for the next 70 years, the rest of her life. Mimi taught us lots of things, but the main thing was how to be positive about the unexpected “gifts” life offered. “Life is what you make it, Judy,” as she often reminded me. And what an example she was.
My grandmother we called Baba. She and my “Gramps” emigrated from Greece as teens and built a strong life and family in America.
One of my fondest memories continues to be sleeping over at their house — Baba, Mimi, and Gramps’s house on Maple Avenue. The photo that heads this story is that house. Of all the lovely places I’ve lived in my life, I think my memory of that house brings the most peace. Here’s why.
When I stayed over I slept on the floor on lots of blankets. Baba slept in Mimi’s bedroom. My spot was next to and parallel with Baba’s twin bed, and perpendicular to Mimi’s twin at the other end of the room. It was a small room, and I felt cozy nestled there between them.
Baba slept in Mimi’s room because she wanted to be available to Mimi. I know I’ve written this before, but it’s important to know that when doctors finally found the abscess that had partially severed Mimi’s spinal cord, they said she would not live out the year. Baba wasn’t having any of that. And well, there we were, the three of us — Mimi probably in her 30’s then, and Baba, maybe mid-50’s. Amazing to think of them so young.
So the memory is this. I would wake at daybreak, usually before they woke. The bedroom window was always open in the spring and summer, and my spot on my blankets was directly under that window. Upon waking I could hear and feel the soft summer breeze gently washing over me, and listen to the traffic humming on Harlem Avenue. Lying there, listening, at peace.
Of course the feeling of peace is also generated by the love that permeated Baba’s house and the
myriad ways it was expressed — Baba showing us how to make lentil pita, Mimi teaching me to sew on her old Singer, and Gramps and Baba dancing at Christmas Eve gatherings to the cheers and laughter of the cousins, aunts, uncles, and gathered family friends.
My sleepover memory came to mind during a recent morning meditation. Sometimes I use an app (Calm) to help me get settled in. On this particular “daily trip,” the speaker asked us to think of a place or time when we were completely comfortable and call it home base. Those summer sleepovers in Mimi’s bedroom came back. Like magic, I was there, calm, comfortable, at peace. Just writing about the memory evokes the equanimity I felt then, as well as tears of joy, gratitude and nostalgia.
The point here is that if you know me, you know I have a tendency toward worry. I like to get things right and so I plan and anticipate and create lots of expectations for myself and, I fear, others. I’m often on guard. Tension and anxiety are frequent companions. Meditation helps with this.
I realized, as I meditated and kept coming back to Baba’s house in my mind and body, that this was home base — a place and time when I was completely present. Being. Presence. Calm. I was too young to know this, perhaps. But the memory lodged. It is visceral. I can call it up now whenever I want. My body is where it was then, and a smile arises as it remembers.
I’m hoping as you read this you’re also remembering a time and place that feels like home base. You were calm, present, at peace. And, as important, you can return there. I’d love to hear about it.