Click by Click

Kassidi McKayla Kaminski is a sophomore studying Psychology in the Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin. After graduation she hopes to attend law school and is currently a member of Delta Gamma and a Young Life leader at Reagan High School.

By Kassidi McKayla Kaminski –

Smiling is painful. Especially when you’ve been forcing it on your face for 20 minutes of camera clicks.  But no one dares contradict Nana or asks for a break from the family photos because we all know how much a picture means to her.  I inherited that love of pictures from her, and I now understand how important they are for memorializing the little moments of life.  Growing up I spent most weekends and summers at my grandparents’ house.  As a young adult, I gradually see the snapshots of nostalgia that make each room a memory — and the entire house a permanent museum of my happiest days.

Kaminski Family Easter, 2004. Nana (Kathryn Kaminski), Pee-Paw (Larry Kaminski), Kassidi McKayla Kaminski, Cheyenne Novicke, Patrick, Kristen and Stephen Gifford, McKenna and Dallas Novicke, Mattea Gifford and Kolton Kaminski.

Nana and Pee-Paw’s house is a 25-minute drive from mine. I know the way perfectly. We take two lefts, ride University until we reach Highway 59, turn left and keep going until we see the exit for Rosenberg. A right on Highway 36, a left by the Stop-n-Go, a right by Sunset Park and a left on Azalea.  We pull into the single strip driveway on the left side of the one-story, white-bricked home. I step onto the patchy grass of the sloping front yard and approach the massive oak tree. I gaze into the branches and see not just a tree but a snapshot of my older cousin, Patrick, laughing hysterically as the rest of us discover him in the hiding spot he inhabited for half an hour. On the lawn is another snapshot of his brother, Stephen, arms back in a mid-football throw to my brother Kolton down the street.

Three identical arches provide entry to the thin cobblestone porch. Pee-Paw sits on his wooden rocking chair in front of the window, frozen as his toes point upward in mid-swing and a puff of smoke escapes his cigar. I glance at the rusty gold mailbox nailed to the right of the burgundy double-door.  It’s overflowed with newspapers and bills and other things my grandparents choose to ignore. Out of instinct I don’t knock; Nana and Pee-Paw don’t own a house key and haven’t ever locked their house. So, I grasp the golden handle and push open the door to my second home.

The first thing I notice about places is their smell. Rarely do I forget how a place smells, and I judge it on that initial impression alone.  My grandparents’ home smells like a faint blend of dust, mothballs, Downy laundry detergent, copper and some of the best days of my life. It’s an old house, built in 1976, and nearly untouched by remodeling. The white and blue tiles in the entryway reflect its 70s roots. Against the right wall stands a short, long, wooden cabinet, its surface covered with propped pictures of children, grandchildren and everyone else in the Kaminski family tree. The framed black and white and sepia pictures contrast against the colorful Walgreen’s prints, weaving the timeline of my grandparents’ lives from the past to modernity.

Before entering the living room, I remove my tennis shoes and leave them by the storage cabinet. The cream and grey-speckled carpet is rough on my feet and hasn’t been properly cleaned since the 80s. The long, brown couch to my left has worn spots permanently sunken in of the shape of my grandpa’s lounging body. I see my eight-year-old self clutching my grandparents’ poodles, Curly and Shorty –  my head cocked back and my mouth wide open with shrill screams as Curly licks my face. By the entrance stands a wooden armoire that matches the wood-paneled walls and extends the entire length of the room. Although the television takes prominence in the center of the piece, its significance fades when I look at the glass cases surrounding it.  Like the cabinet in the entryway, these cases hold dozens of pictures in addition to high school graduation announcements, save-the-dates and a few of Nana’s keepsakes. The Kaminski lives lie shelved here in a sequence of small frames and paper cutouts.

The wall to the left of the armoire is just one giant window with a view to the backyard. Pushed against it is a second brown couch, the one my brother claimed whenever we slept over.  In one picture I look over from the other couch and see his back turned to me, his body frozen in sleep as I watch the clock strike 2 am and watch another rerun of Sister, Sister.  Nana sleeps next to him in her green corduroy massage chair, the one she purchased after breaking her ankle in the back yard.

As I make my way to the kitchen, I pass Pee-Paw’s cream-colored chair. It rests as a throne at the head of the room underneath his favorite picture – a rugged landscape painting of cowboys and a band of paint horses. He’s hunched over a peach fruit cup and peels the lid off for my brother who’s sprawled out across the circular white-washed stone fireplace that is the background of all our extended family photos. In another picture my toddler self sits on Pee-Paw’s lap. He feeds me another donut hole and makes me promise to not tell my mother, who would surely disapprove of such an unhealthy breakfast.

The most ironic thing about the kitchen is that Nana never used it for cooking, and when she did, the result was disastrous. All nine of us grandchildren would plop around the large, round wooden table and await what was sure to be an inedible meal.  Nana spoons a scoop of soggy spaghetti onto our animal-shaped plates and waits for us to eat. I look worriedly at Cheyenne and beg Nana to make us oven-ready French toast sticks or lightly buttered toast instead. Kolton asks Pee-Paw for more peach fruit cups, and Dallas suggests we skip dinner and go to the Mexican ice cream store.

I chuckle to myself and approach the dining room.

The dining room serves only one purpose: the backdrop for Christmas family gambling.  The cotton-like green carpet bears many questionable stains, and the long red oak table has nick marks from all the times we’ve leapt onto it in an attempt to snatch a card before one of our cousins can.  In the snapshot all nine of us are locked in a frantic reach for the cards in the middle of the table. My Aunt Kelly looms near, providing parental supervision. Kolton yells at Patrick for cheating once again, Mattea and McKenna work together to grab their cards, and baby Stetson sits in Dallas’ lap, insisting that we all stop fighting since Santa is watching.

I walk past the glass case that houses all of Nana’s scrapbooks and silver. The dust layers thick on the silverware but doesn’t plague the scrapbooks; she looks at them too often for the dust to settle.

On the other side of the archway is the Christmas Tree Room, so named because Nana keeps her Christmas tree up all year round.  She keeps the personalized gingerbread ornaments on so she can look at our names whenever she wants.  I look to the couch and see Aunt Kelly and my mother snapping at my cousins and me for trying to see the goodies in our stockings before the appointed time.  I see the stack of family photo albums on the antique organ that never gets played and try to imagine a time when its pipes, like the kitchen stove, were put to use.

Having made a full loop, I cross the entryway and reach Pee-Paw’s office, a dark and dusty cave in which we were not allowed. I’ve only been in there twice in my life. My only snapshot is of Pee-Paw sitting at his desk, mid-grabbing an item in his desk drawer. He insists I leave quickly and shut the door. I can only speculate as to what makes that room so forbidden.

The next room is Nana’s –  clean and simple. Her only decoration is an armoire full of what else but more photographs and displays of miniature towns, all with a Christmas theme. Her television sits on a small cabinet that holds all of our favorite movies (most of which are VCRs). Three of my cousins and I are piled on Nana’s sleep number bed, fumbling with the bed control remote to see how far we can make the bed fold.

I turn left down the hall and enter the seafoam-carpeted bathroom. It smells strongly of old lady perfume and Bath & Body Works hand soap.  The gold accents of the fixtures complement Nana’s modest display of gold jewelry. I peer into the bathroom and see the first snapshot – my toddler self stepping out of the shower while Nana waits to dry me off with a towel in hand. I glance over my shoulder and see a different one of Kolton and Stephen. Eight-years-old and butterfly nets in hand, they are on the prowl for a cockroach that, unbeknownst to them, would moments later fall from the ceiling and onto their feet.

Directly across the narrow hall is the play room, which with our growing age accumulated more and more toys until the tiny space resembled a toy store’s dumping grounds. I see my cousins and me sitting on the foldable couches and admiring Nana’s Beanie Baby collection. I am handing Cheyenne a plate of fake food so we can play restaurant while Mattea looks for our favorite baby doll. I gaze at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and remember the nights I lay awake, wishing I would stay a kid forever.

Much like his office, Pee-Paw’s room is a messy and forbidden territory. My only memory of this room is peeking in to ask Pee-Paw a question, only to find him snoring loudly and the television blaring. But a recent remodel transformed this cavernous space into a palace fit with a king-size bed, a walk-in closet and a warm paint job.

His room has a door that leads to the back yard.  I see the adults sitting on wicker chairs as the poodles run across the cobblestone porch to join our Easter egg hunt. Patrick, of course, climbs the tree while Stephen and Kolton search the pond empty of both water and fish. I’m helping Dallas find eggs while Nana stands among us with her camera in hand, waiting for the perfect picture.

Every room in my grandparents’ house has a cluster of photographs. Nana leaves no moment undocumented and owns multiple cameras to capture the family she so loves.  There will come a time when we won’t have Nana around to take hundreds of pictures of life’s precious moments. One day, Nana and Pee-Paw’s house will be empty of habitants and home only to its unique smell and all of their belongings.  But Nana taught me well. And with twenty years under my belt, I have captured enough moments to last me a lifetime, solidifying each memory with a blink of my own internal camera.