December 09, 2005

There's No "d" in 'Grama'

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She’s 75 years old. Isn’t that incredible? As big as that number is, though, it still seems pretty short to me—and I’ve only known her for twenty-four of those. My grandmother is hysterical, and wonderful, and a bunch of superlatives that don’t quite encompass how fabulous she is… but everyone thinks their Grandma is the best. The difference being that mine actually is. [You can tell, because it’s spelled differently: G-R-A-M-A. What, that’s not enough proof? Well, she can also totally beat up your ‘Grandma’ any day, so nyeah.] So I thought today I would do a special tribute to the matriarch of the family; not by futilely trying to describe how incredible she is, but rather by writing out all the things that pop into my head when I think about my Grama Shirley. I was really amazed; not by how much there was, but at how random these things were, at what my subconscious chose to hold onto. I am not passing judgment, elaborating, or embellishing any of these memories—this is just what my brain retained. Enjoy.

Why There is no “D” in ‘Grama Shirley’:

Grama’s wardrobe has, for as long as I can remember, consisted of little else than sweatshirts, t-shirts, sneakers and knee socks. There are a few pairs of shorts for the summer, and two or three tank tops that never get worn outside of the house. She wears “good clothes” (nice shirts and dress pants) for church, but is right back in the comfy clothes as soon as she’s home; the only time dresses are worn is for weddings.

She made us wait until it was 80 degrees outside before we could go in the pool. Many a long summer’s morning was spent on the back stairs of her house, waiting for the mercury to go above seventy-nine. When we finally went in, we would deny the fact that it was cold even when our teeth chattered because we didn’t want to get out; Gram said if it were up to us, we’d stay in even if our lips were blue. She never went in the pool with us, but hung her arms over the side into the water and watched us swim, (or rather, “made sure we weren’t dead”). We could never swim alone, because we would drown. Period.

Back when Grama’s house only had one TV, it was booked from twelve noon through four o’clock: Days of Our Lives, One Life to Live, General Hospital, and Oprah. We hated the soaps because we didn’t understand them, but Grama had them on everyday, whether she watched them or not. The best thing to do during this time was play in the pool or nap until 4:00, when we could watch Nickelodeon.

When my mother decided to move away, Grama said it broke her heart. When she talks about it now, she still cries.

Every time we had to make a project for school—a valentine, drawing, or any other craft—I always made it for my Grama. Years 3-10 my friends and teachers thought I was strange because everything I made got sent not to my girlfriends or boyfriend, but to Grama. After we moved, they got mailed to Grama. She was my very first best friend.

Whenever she was just hanging out, reading or watching TV, her regular place to sit was on the floor of her living room, one leg out, knee socks up to the bottom of her shorts; she was there so often there was a patch worn in the carpet. I never asked why she doesn’t sit on the floor anymore; I’m afraid she’ll tell me she’s old now.

I remember once Grandpa scared us all by choking for a full five minutes on a piece of lettuce from a McDonald’s salad, and when he was okay my Grama still couldn’t stop crying. I remember it because for a while after I thought salads killed people, but also because I had never seen my Grama cry before.

If my great-grandma ever smelled like any kind of perfume, Grama could always be expected to yell “MA! You’ve got that damn musk on!” And my great-grandma would always deny it.

The best plan for a summer afternoon was going in the pool, drying off, getting warm on the couch with a blanket, and falling asleep with Grampa playing Tetris and the sun shining behind the curtains. When you woke up, Grama would pinch your toe and say ‘Good Morning’, regardless of the time of day, and tell you how long until dinner.

Gram would often look after us while Mom was in nursing school and my father was at work; I think over half my meals were eaten at Gram’s. There were so many of us kids that at dinnertime we had to eat on the floor of the living room, with hardcover books to set our drinks on so we wouldn’t spill. Grampa would always tell us to “take what you eat, and eat what you take”, but we would inevitably load our plates, and then be too full to finish. We would try to con each other into taking our plates to the kitchen, sometimes even offering small amounts of money, to avoid getting those disappointed looks from Gram & Grampa because we were “wasteful”.

Grama made all of our clothes. I would sit next to her at her sewing machine, and she would tell me what she was doing as she went along, and eventually I picked up the art of sewing. Most of my clothing had dinosaurs on it; what didn’t have dinosaurs had hearts. I cried when my yellow dinosaur dress didn’t fit anymore. I was teased in fourth grade for wearing my fancy blue dress she had made to school; I wondered if it was my haircut that made them laugh, because I knew the dress was beautiful. Gram made us each a quilt, a Cabbage Patch Doll, and a Care Bear. I had no idea that we were too poor to afford the real ones, because I loved what Grama gave me.

My Grama and Grampa did dishes together everyday, usually with the radio on, usually singing. There was no better place to be than at the kitchen table when this happened.

Grama, now and forever, hates cartoons.

One of the first times I spent the night at her house, I asked Grama if, since I was a sort of night-owl, I could stay up to watch Nick at Night. She said I could, and it became a habit as long as I set the sleep timer. After a while, she mentioned to my mother that I always fall asleep watching “Nick the Knife.”

When Grampa died, Gram told me all she wanted in the world was a cigarette. She had quit smoking thirteen years before, and knew she would be sick if she had one, but it was all she could think of. She pronounced ‘cigarette’ just like Lucille Ball.

When it’s time to leave Grama’s house, she will stand on the porch and wave until you are down the street, just like she did when you were five. She doesn’t think that you’re too old for this, and you will never, ever tell her that you are.

I love you Gram.

No comments: