Christmas is the time of year when I think about my Grandma Biscomb more than usual. She died in 1994, and I still miss her a lot. Growing up, I spent most of my Christmases at her house, located at 7732 W. Seven Mile Road in Detroit. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the dinner that would always be waiting for us when we rolled up the driveway from our twelve-hour journey from Roanoke. Her home was always warm and cozy. My brothers always slept in the attic, my parents were in “Auntie Annie’s room,” and I slept with Grandma, under the print of Jesus standing in a garden, knocking on a door with no handle, which now hangs in my living room in New York City. At Christmas time, Grandma’s manger scene and glass ornaments decorate my home, her familiar handwriting labeling each box. On the box that contains the manger scene for eleven months out of the year, she wrote, “Manger Scene. Last used 1993. A.B.” She knew in December 1993 that she was dying; we did not.
When Grandma died in September 1994, I was on tour with a theater company. I don’t remember where we were in the country at that time, but I do remember that I flew to Detroit, sang at her funeral, then got back on a plane and flew back to the tour. I did not go to her house on Seven Mile Road. I was not there when my mom and dad and uncle combed through her things, deciding who got to take which of her belongings, and what would be given to her church for their annual “rummage sale.” I was not there to say I wanted the pencil holder in her kitchen, or her orange juicer, or any of the other things that come to mind when I think of the meals I ate there.
I miss her smell. I bought some Pond’s cold cream and Oil of Olay this year, because I hoped it would help me revisit those days in my mind. Sometimes, when we were sleeping together in her bed, I would wake up and watch her chest rising and falling in the dim glow of her clock radio, making sure she had not died in her sleep. That was actually something I was a little bit afraid of, but it never kept me from sleeping with her.
Grandma loved her children and her grandchildren very much, and it was hard for her when we moved so far away. I was only seven when we moved, and every year, we made two trips back and forth – once in the winter for Christmas, and once in the summer, usually around the fourth of July. Grandma also came and visited us a couple of times each year. When I began my career in theater, she came down for opening nights of several shows I was in.
Today I was thinking about her house. One of the treasures I did manage to end up with was her journal, which she started before she married my grandfather in the ’30’s. Because I have her journal, I have the ledger she kept when they built the house at 7732 West Seven Mile Road. It was built in 1936, and it was their first – and only – home. She never moved out. She went to “stay” with my parents in 1994, and she died of cancer one month later. I have been curious for some time about the house that meant so much to me, as I have heard stories about the decaying Detroit neighborhoods. When a band released an interactive video earlier this year, where you could type in an address anywhere in the United States, and it would virtually put the kid in the video on that street, I used that address. But that was the closest I came to finding out how the house is now.
I just got off the phone with someone in Grand Rapids – a work phone call – and we talked a bit about Detroit and the state of affairs there. I typed the address into Google, and this is what I found.
It’s a real estate listing for my grandma’s house. The current value is $49,500. The information lists it as 1,544 square feet, with one bathroom and a detached garage.
But there is some really important information missing in the description.
Bedrooms: 2, with an attic. Pum and Grandma had the room on the left, decorated in pink, and my mom had the room on the right, painted blue, and my uncle’s room was the attic. After Pum died, Grandma lived alone in the house, until my great-uncle Russell died. Then, Auntie Annie (Grandma’s sister) moved in with Grandma, and they lived there together until Auntie Annie died too. My grandmother buried several of the people she loved most, and lived many more years after they were gone, alone in the house. But she often said she was not really alone. “I have Jesus to keep me company,” she would say. And she did. Jesus definitely lived at 7732 West Seven Mile Road. Auntie Annie’s room became the guest room then, and we filled it several times a year. The attic became our playroom.
The nearest schools are Bagley Elementary School, Michigan Technical Academy Middle School and Mumford High School, where my mom graduated. I have her graduation picture in a frame in my living room. My mom was the piano accompanist for a choir in high school. She walked to school. She says that one of her favorite things was to come home and smell “chips” frying in the kitchen. She loved it when her mom cooked chips.
Year built: 1936, by newlyweds Milford and Alice Biscomb. With love. I know this, because Grandma wrote about it. She loved my grandfather very much. He died April 1, 1975, when his only daughter was pregnant with her third child, who would turn out to be a girl. Pum had loved the name “Christine,” and I really wish he could have lived long enough to meet his granddaughter who was given the name he loved. My first ideas about heaven were closely related to Pum. When I was old enough to understand that there was this important man I would never meet, I felt sad. Grandma comforted me by telling me that I would see Pum in heaven.
I’m still looking forward to that day.
I wish I could go back to 7732 West Seven Mile Road one more time. Honestly, I wish I had the fifty grand to buy it, so I could be sure it would remain the place I loved so much.
But the truth is, even if I could buy it, it will never again be the place I loved. The things that made it the place I loved – my brothers playing with their “little guys” in the attic, the countless Pinochle games played around the card table in the living room, the piano, and, of course, Grandma herself – are long gone.
But I still hold them all in my heart. And I hold them closest at Christmas.