I woke up this morning, and for the first time in my life, my grandma wasn’t there. I didn’t expect to feel such a hole in my life, but it’s there. She still lives on in my heart, this I know, but the ache is almost unbearable.
I’d like to share some thoughts about my grandma.
She was the toughest, most stubborn old bird I’ve ever met. Even when her body gave out and doctors said she had only moments to live, she proved them wrong. When told it was OK if she left her battered body behind and stepped into the afterlife, she piped up and said, “I’m not going anywhere; I’m staying right here.” I cleaned that up a little bit.
Anyone who knew my grandma knows she had a mouth that could embarrass even the crudest of sailors. She was rough and crass. She could hold a grudge like nobody’s business and you never wanted to get on her bad side and get THE look (even her closest loved ones got that look a time or two).
She carried brass knuckles in her purse and knew how to use them. That’s what she said, anyway, and I believed her. She showed all the kids how to hold and use a church key (can opener) as a weapon. I wasn’t kidding about her being a tough old bird.
For all her harshness, Grandma had a heart of gold and she loved her kids and grandchildren with a blazing devotion that held her in this world much longer than many others could endure. In her last days, she uttered a confession on why she clung to this world through all the pain and suffering. “I don’t want to leave my kids.” She was proud of the legacy she left behind, in her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. “It all started with me. I made you.”
Here are some memories I hold dear. I suspect those closest to her will chuckle or laugh or smile or nod, knowing how true these are. Some are stories shared over and over and over again by the family. Some are my own observances.
Grandma was always “dolled up” if she went anywhere. Makeup, hair done, nails painted. She’d prance and dance around shaking her hips and putting on a flirty smile, raising her shoulders and making a clicking sound or winking. Grandma loved to flirt.
All of us have been challenged by her to a somersault contest. I can still see her getting on the floor or out in the grass, flipping head over heels and laughing heartily when she landed on her back.
Grandma loved to garden and can vegetables. She showed off her garden to anyone who would walk out and tour it. She filled the room in the basement with her preserved harvest. The basement. The place where everyone was afraid to go because of its damp, eerie ambiance that made most horror films feel like cartoons.
I’m not sure what Grandma loved more, cooking or watching people eat her cooking. When visitors arrived, she always wanted to feed them, even if that was in the middle of the night. She’d pull out her cast iron skillet and start frying potatoes. Oh, those fried potatoes! Here are some dishes that sprout to mind as I think of Grandma’s cooking. Spaghetti with homemade sauce of chunked green peppers and onions and tomatoes. Potato soup with ripples. Pancakes in shapes like Mickey Mouse and other animals. Hamburgers with our fried potatoes. Fresh salad. Fried green tomatoes. Soft fried or poached eggs and white toast with real butter. She kept the butter on the kitchen table and it was always soft and delicious. Hot hot dogs (that was an intentional duplicate), pickled beets and eggs, all in large pickle jars. Sauerkraut she canned herself. She always had bologna and hot peppers on hand. She loved her jalapeños, pairing them with sandwiches, cake or just a cup of coffee. And then there’s the dandelion greens — oh, so delicious — that she hunted all over town.
She made the best fried chicken. Who remembers the mass of chickens she killed and skinned in one day, wringing their necks, one in each hand, explaining the whole time how to humanely kill them, scald them and pluck off the feathers? I’m still awed and a little horrified at how quickly and easily she slaughtered all those chickens. Grandma enjoyed shocking people.
And, oh, the sweets! Grandma always had cookies on the table. Oreos and Pecan Sandies and Fudge-Striped cookies. The best pecan and cherry pies with homemade crusts. Chocolate-Miracle Whip cake with marshmallow icing.
And then there were candy-infused holidays. Popcorn balls and chocolate-covered Rice Krispy treats with peanuts for trick-or-treaters. Christmas wasn’t the same without her plastic shoebox full of candy: chocolate-covered coconut mounds, with and without almonds; buckeyes, or peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate; caramels with nuts wrapped in wax paper; peanut clusters; peanut brittle. She scrawled our names on the container tops in black marker. She stored all the boxes in the closet in her bedroom, the closet under the stairs, where they’d stay cool.
She loved to dress up for Halloween and went trick-or-treating until she couldn’t anymore. She loved to have the kids in costume come to her door. She decorated the front porch with a Halloween dummy she made out of old clothes, newspaper and a scary mask. After the holiday she’d store it at the end of the hallway upstairs. I can’t tell you how many times I almost peed my pants rounding the corner and seeing it sitting there. Especially after all her scary stories of footsteps and floating baskets.
She always had a jar of bubble gum.
The coffee pot was always on and even in her final days she asked for coffee. I know that’s where I get my addiction.
Grandma had the newspaper delivered every day. I remember when the paper came twice a day. One from Winchester and one from neighboring Muncie. She scoured the paper and cut clippings she thought others would be interested in, writing down the side how we should know the person mentioned or pointing out the articles she wanted you to see. Then, she mailed them in stuffed, letter-sized envelopes. Sometimes she included a letter, sometimes not.
She always had to know what was going on in her town. She listened to a police scanner as far back as I can remember, and she kept a clipboard nearby to jot notes on where police cars or ambulances were going. She heard emergency vehicles dispatched to her son’s murder, even though she wasn’t sure it was him at the time. Who remembers hearing a siren and everyone running to the little window in the bathroom that faced the main road behind the house?
Grandma was always writing notes and poems. She signed birthday cards on the backs, not on the inside, and made sure every grandchild got a five-dollar bill for his or her birthday. She wanted everyone to be treated the same, and everyone got a gift from Grandma for Christmas, even if it was the same gift, but a different color. Boys often got wallets. The girls got an assortment of gowns, footed-pajamas or trinkets. In her later years when the number of her descendants had grown, it wasn’t unusual to get one of her used household items packaged up like new. Or get a gift she had been given but didn’t use. Regardless of where the gift came from, she wanted everyone to have something.
Grandma liked to scare people. She would wait until dark to tell stories of haunts and ghostly happenings in her house. Is it any wonder no one wanted to sleep upstairs?
A lot of storytelling happened around Grandma’s kitchen table.
Stories of Grandma spending the day at Anchor Inn and running home right before the three o’clock factory whistle blew, pulling out the ironing board and pretending she had been doing housework all day. She never had more than two beers. That was her story and she would never admit otherwise.
The retelling of Grandma’s risqué exploits won’t happen here. We all know them, because we’ve heard the stories many times. Let’s just say Grandma had a colorful past. She had a frequent quote: “If God had created anything better, he would have kept it for himself.” I’ll let you use your imagination, but those who knew her know what she was talking about.
Things Grandma would say:
“Better out than in.” I guess you know what that’s about. Let’s just say it made some shopping excursions very embarrassing for her grandchildren.
“I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.”
“I had six kids, only two are left.” Grandma had unbearable sorrow at burying four of her children. She clung desperately to the remaining two.
“Get your bleep-bleep bleep-scratchers out of my face.” That one usually came with THE look. Needless to say, she didn’t like her face touched, and especially her nose.
“Go get Grandma’s purse. I’ll give you a dollar for helping.” She gave a dollar here and there anytime we took out the trash.
“What’s for supper?” and “What’d you have for dinner?” Grandma would finish washing dishes, sit down with a cup of coffee and cigarette, and then immediately start planning the next meal.
“I’ll throw it out in the barrel!” And she would. That usually happened after food she was cooking didn’t turn out right. Or someone picked something out of the skillet or bowl with their hands. That was a big no-no.
“Are you Grandma’s PC?” That was her term for “particular child” or the favored one.
Her advice on dating, the “Four Fs”: “Find ’em, fool ’em, f— ’em and forget ’em.” I told you she was salty. She playfully threatened to try out our men before we married them. Remember that shock factor I mentioned earlier?
She always referred to our husbands or boyfriends as “your man,” for example, “Linda and her man were here.”
“When I die, I’m coming back to haunt you.”
I have random memories. Thoughts that have been running through my head since I sat down to write.
I’d roll the pennies and other coins she saved. I had so much fun counting and stacking and packaging. Even though she’d let me count change, she was very protective of her money and hid it for fear someone would take it.
Grandma walked everywhere. Across town. Out by the highway. She didn’t have a driver’s license. I think she once did, but I don’t recall ever hearing the story of losing it. She either walked or waited for someone to visit and take here where she needed to go.
She loved to go to yard sales and trash haulin’, which is what you do when people throw out perfectly usable stuff. She also liked the Community Action, a thrift store. Grandma recycled before recycling had a name.
Black walnuts remind me of Grandma. She had a huge tree in her backyard and would crack them with a hammer and concrete block. The tasty morsels made their way into candy. Or just our mouths, straight out of the shell.
One summer night, she let us use all her spare sheets and blankets to build tents in the backyard. She helped us have one of the funnest nights, even with the lightning.
We had a lot of fun with Grandma. One week when her husband went on a business trip she didn’t approve of, she took a sledgehammer to the kitchen and tore out all the drywall. We got to help. He finally got around to remodeling the kitchen when he got home.
Grandma gave big hugs and even bigger kisses. She wasn’t stingy with her love.
I could go on and on. And on and on. And on.
Just like when she waved goodbye. She’d walk to the side yard and stand there, watching us round the corner and out of sight, waving. We’d look back and she would still be there. Waving. I never once, ever, looked back and didn’t see her standing there waving.
There is where my heart hurts the most.
When I look back now, she’s not there.