and other things i learned from my grandmother
It occurs to me that I’ve never mentioned my grandmother.
I think this is because it may take a while to tell you everything. This weekend my mom was up for Mother’s Day, and she went to see our play (Austinites! Only two weeks left to see Boys’ Life at the Movements Gallery), and then we spent Sunday together playing Scrabble and having lunch.
Eric brought up the fact that we will have a couple of trips to the Northeast over the next few months, and how it would be interesting to go and visit my grandmother.
“Oh, you haven’t told him about your grandmother,” my mom said.
“No, I have. I’m sure he’s just joking.”
“No,” Eric said, “I just want to see if what you guys said is the truth. I can’t believe it until I see it.”
I haven’t actually seen my grandmother since I was eleven. I’m not exactly sure how to explain it all. I guess I’ll show you how I learned about my grandmother, and we’ll take it as my brain started putting the pieces together from when I was little until I was old enough to understand.
“Gramma with the Puppies,” as I called her, had something like nine Chihuahuas. She also had a Siamese Cat. My mother told me that before I was born, Gramma used to have two spider monkeys and a rooster as well. No, she doesn’t live on a farm, she lives in a three story house. Well, it used to be a three story house. When I was little, you couldn’t get to many of the rooms, and some of them were completely filled with things.
See, when we were younger, Gramma would pile us into the Pinto and we’d go to the Salvation Army after it was closed and she’d go through the “drop-off” dumpsters and pick through it to find things that were going to be “worth money some day.” I’ve never seen one of these dumpsters since I’ve gotten older, and I think that maybe they got rid of them once they realized that my Gramma could strip those things down faster than a stolen Miata.
The UPS man driving in front of our house when I was a kid meant that Gramma had sent a “package.” This box was always filled with doll clothes, dolls, toys, and strange little coats and socks for me. These were things that she had found in the drop-off dumpsters, but I didn’t know that when I was six. I just thought that Gramma had a never-ending supply of Grandkid toys.
When I was eleven we went to visit her. I hadn’t seen her in years. I never got to go in the house. I was sitting on the front yard with her, looking over her dogs (at this time there were only five or so.) She pointed one out and told me that it could talk to her. It would say “I love you.” Being eleven I was rational enough to understand that dogs didn’t talk, and my Gramma spent too much time by herself.
When I was seventeen and about to leave for college, I talked to my Grandmother at Christmas time. There’s a videotape of me on the phone, which is priceless, because my face is scrunched up in this, “I’m related to this woman?” sort of way. The conversation went something like:
So, you’re off to college soon, huh?
Yeah, after this school year.
Well, that’s good.
Yeah, I’m excited.
Well, I’ll tell you, Pamie, you’ve got to be careful out there, you know?
I will, Gramma.
mumble, mumble, mumble –Moonies and shit.
I said you’ve got to watch out for the fuckin’ Moonies.
(who had never heard her Grandmother curse before)
They’ll suck your fucking brain you know.
They live on the college with the whoosits and the whatsists and they suck your fucking brain.
Gramma, there’s no Moonies in Texas.
You know the Moonies?
Yeah, Gramma, you don’t have to worry.
Those cult fuckers will pull you right in.
I promise to be careful.
That’s a good girl.
I got off the phone and turned to my mother. “Gramma said ‘Fuck’,” I said.
And that’s when the stories started coming in. The stories about how Gramma would carve her name into everything she owned so people wouldn’t steal her stuff. There’s the story about how Gramma chased a boyfriend of my mother’s down two streets with a broom for kissing my mother good night. The story about how the first time my father met my Gramma one of the monkeys washed his hands in my dad’s coffee and the other one started humping the cat and then my grandmother told dad it was time to meet her boyfriend, and she brought in the rooster. He ran out of the house and didn’t call my mother for six weeks.
“And when he called six weeks later, I knew that was the man I was going to marry.”
There’s the story about how Gramma didn’t want me to call her “Gramma” and wanted to be called “Other Mother.” When my mom (fully pregnant with me) told her that I was going to call her “Gramma”, my soon to be “Other Mother” grabbed a kitchen knife and threatened to cut me out of my mom unless I was to call her “Other Mother.”
I think for a week, perhaps, my mother reconsidered. I never called her “Other Mother” and Gramma never corrected me.
A personal favorite is the story of the night my mother and father married and they were on their honeymoon, Gramma called my dad’s parents at three in the morning and said, “What do you think they’re doing right now? Do you think your son’s fucking my daughter?”
That’s when you have to decide if it’s worth being an in-law. Can you imagine?
I’ll always remember my grandmother’s “Bitch, Bitch, Bitch” glass and her “Bitch, Bitch, Bitch” keychain. I remember the collection of Playboys that she had in her living room, and how one night I stayed up in her bathroom reading “The World’s Dirtiest Jokes” and not understanding a single one of them. I remember her garden, and how she’d walk me around it, and I remember thinking it was nothing like my Great Granduncle’s garden, where we’d pick strawberries and he’d make me Shirley Temples. Later I found out that Gramma grew more than just tomatoes in that garden. That’s why I always thought it looked like it was missing fruit.
I remember the time that my mom and my gramma weren’t speaking for a year, and my little sister was really sad that her mom wasn’t getting along with her mom. This was just after the dog talking incident, and we had left my grandmother’s house that day with the two of them fighting. My little sister had never seen my mom so angry, and didn’t know what all of the fighting was about. She didn’t understand why we didn’t talk to Gramma anymore. She had to have been about eight or so at this time, and she went into my mother’s address book and found Gramma’s phone number. Because Gramma never answers the phone, my sister kept dialing the number all day long. I watched her jump a little as she said, “Gramma? Hold on.”
She held the phone out to my mother. “Happy Mother’s Day,” she said, her hand trembling a little.
And they talked.
I always thought that was the nicest thing my little sister ever did.
Gramma has been a constant source of stories in my family. But now with Eric slightly interested in meeting her, I’m worried that it will change his mind about me. You know, it skips a generation and all, so it seems to be my turn. Maybe it will be my sister’s turn, and I’ll just inherit the strange moles my father’s side of the family gets when they get older. Really, if it’s a choice between moles and talking dogs, I think I’ll take moles.
There’s more stories, but I think I’ve shared enough for right now to make you question my future.
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