§ My favorite of all Grandma’s stories was The White Spot §
My Grandmother Marie lived in the same red brick house on Southern Avenue in Indianapolis from the time she married in 1928 until her death in 1989. Despite financial difficulties, she and my Grandfather, Charles Sr., managed to retain their home during the Great Depression solely due to the kindness—or perhaps pragmatism!–of a local bank official. As Grandma told the story, when “Pop” accidentally met the bank officer on the street one day, he confessed miserably that it was unlikely they could continue making their mortgage payments. The banker first asked Pop how much he could afford to pay, and then asked him to hand over the passbook that recorded their payments. A bit bewildered, Pop duly handed over his passbook. Glancing at the payment amount, the bank official inked a line through it, wrote in the affordable amount, and, initialing the change, handed the passbook back to Pop. I’m sure the bank did not need one more foreclosed home during the Great Depression, but it was a kind act, nonetheless. So it was that the little red brick house stayed in the family.
The story of The Mortgage was just one of the dozens of tales my Grandmother had to tell me: The Smoke Alarm In Her Purse. The Brains On the Asphalt. The Irish Catholic Nun Who Hated Wops. The Silk Parachute. The Clock With Sparklers on the Front Porch. My favorite of them, though, was always the story of The White Spot.
Passionately house-proud to the day she died, Grandma’s home was always beautifully kept: polished, swept, dusted and scrubbed. So as a young bride, it drove her simply nuts one afternoon to find a white spot on the living room carpet. She had no idea what it was—flour, perhaps?—but she moistened a clean rag and scrubbed at the spot until it disappeared.
The next day, though, the spot was back. And the next, and the next. Like Lady Macbeth bemoaning the blood on her hands, Grandma scrubbed daily at that mark on her carpet: “Out, damned spot! Out!” Frustrated, she could not for the life of her figure out what was being spilt in the same place on the carpet every single day!–until the afternoon she realized that The White Spot was actually a tiny, stray sunbeam, slanted onto the carpet from a miniscule hole in the Venetian blinds covering the window.
That’s right. Every day Grandma had been “scrubbing” a sunbeam out of her carpet. It disappeared under both the onslaught of moisture that darkened the carpet temporarily and the movement of the afternoon sun.
I never failed to chuckle at this story, told in my Grandmother’s expressive Italian manner, complete with hand gestures, of course. I’m giggling now, remembering it.
Then one Sunday afternoon at a church service, I listened as a visiting minister from Germany related his own, similar tale. He called it The Phenomenon of the Black Spot.
Quite a dandy, the minister, Peter, liked to dress well, and he favored white ties with his well-cut suits. Those ties, though, were sometimes the utter bane of his existence, for he occasionally spilled something—food, ink, dirt—on his tie and had to wear it the rest of the day, stained. And it was inevitable, as he related to us during that Sunday lesson, that at some point during the day a helpful person would say to him, “Peter, did you know you have a spot on your tie?”
An excellent speaker, Minister Peter was able to spin this story into a significant lesson about our human habit of focusing on the tiniest of problems rather than the bigger picture. While taking the theme of his sermon to heart, I could not help but laugh quietly to myself, linking it to Grandma’s story of zealously scrubbing that damned non-existent White Spot.
I sometimes now look back on both these stories, finding that they remind me to concentrate on the important problems that I encounter, and not, as my obsessive-compulsive personality tends to do, on the minor, easily correctable situations. But the tales of White Spot and Black Spot came home to me just the other day when I happened to look across my living room to the area rug that rests beneath the long hassock. Mahogany and cranberry-colored flowers and dark green vines twine across a pale ivory-green background—but the area where my attention focused appeared to have been spotted with fresh blood! I glanced in consternation at my bare feet, but there was no wound. Then I jumped up, prepared to check the paws of each of my cats, when the truth came rushing in on a flash of inspired memory, making me laugh aloud.
A ray of afternoon sunlight was slanting between the blinds onto the carpet, turning the cranberry flowers blood red.
I’m sure, Grandma, very sure, that you were laughing, too.
(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “And Speaking of Prejudice”, in the Archives from 01/18/2018, and reprinted as “Racism Knows No Logic,” 06/10/2020)