Monday, May 21, 2012

Keeping Grandma Alive

Every time I think about my Grandmother, Grandma Peggy, I can smell their apartment.

They lived high on a hill overlooking a freeway, and I remember many weekends spending the night, while my parents were likely enjoying a gleeful period of childless bliss.  In fact, one of those weekends is probably why I have a younger brother.  Oh, irony.

Anyway-their apartment had a smell, much like most people's homes have a smell.  Not unpleasant,  just distinct. Think Cashmere Bouquet soap (travel sized, likely stolen from a hotel or bought for a nickel at a yard sale), bottled hair dye and cream of wheat, mixed with a hint of chain-smoked Salems.

Everything about their place is filled with memories.  I have often wanted to go back, knock on the door.  But it wouldn't be the same.  The black lacquer Chinese-inspired furniture would not be there. The divan (fancy Bostonian Grandparent word for couch) would have been removed, an overstuffed synthetic monstrosity in its place. The rows of discarded prescription bottles filled with spare cigarettes and pink fake sugar packets would also be gone. White milk-glass McDonald's coffee mugs and juice glasses stolen from Harrah's? Forgotten.

Grandma was an obstinate woman.  I loved her dearly, but she could be mean as hell.  (I am told I take after her.) As life went on, people would sometimes do or say things to annoy her, just to see her outrageous reaction.  She would get riled like a cat petted the wrong way, spitting and hissing, fur all amiss, bright orange lipstick looking for an unguarded cheek.

She had a hell of a mouth on her, too.  (Shit's GENETIC, I tell ya)  My cousin with special needs was sure his name was Dammit Danny for his first 5 years of life. I can still hear her, "C'meeeah, Goddammit" in her East Coast accent.  She would grab your upper arm-HARD-and pull you towards her for a kiss. She was surprisingly strong for a woman in her 70s that had been losing a battle with debilitating arthritis most of her adult life.all wrapped in a sea of polyester pantsuit.

I once was playing cards with her over a TV tray meticulously covered in wood-grain Contact Paper.  Rummy.  I was probably winning, which rubbed grandma the wrong way, I'm sure. I was short, being about 7 or so, swinging my legs back and forth, back and forth, under the table, as kids do.  Because they are full of energy, and are dumped at their Grandparents' homes.  She warned me not to kick her in the leg-it's like she was psychic.  I KNEW I wouldn't kick her--my sweet little-girl voices promised, "I know.".  But my legs had minds of their own, and they continued to tempt fate.  Soon, she winced.  Then, she made me hold still while she kicked me back. I was aghast.

I think she wrote that part in the Bible about "an eye for an eye". Or maybe she was the editor.

Either way, she didn't go easy on me because I was a little kid. 

I also remember when I told her about a kid at Kindergarten that was mean to me.   I told her how mean he was, pulling my hair and pushing me.  She told me, "Pull HIS hair, push HIM".  I told her my teacher said two wrongs didn't make a right.  She said, "that's a bunch of shit, she's wrong.  Smack the shit outta him." My wide eyes said "no", but my sense of justice said "yes".

The memories in that apartment are fresh in my mind. The smell of painting the cement stairs with a paintbrush and pail filled with water on hot summer days. The memories of her sneaking me M'nMs before Grandpa made dinner. The memories of me, rifling through the closet in the hall, looking for a puzzle I hadn't done 475 times, a book I couldn't remember reading, a coloring book with a blank page. I would dig and dig through that closet through the Color-forms, the Prang crayons, the Hi-Ho Cherry-o game pieces.  All in the dark.  Then, Grandma would come into the hallway and with a flick of the light switch she would say, "Look what Edison invented!"

I had forgotten this until I was reading The Oatmeal's rant about Edison vs. Tesla.

I read it aloud to Sky King, who agreed wholeheartedly with The Oatmeal.  Sky King is a big math/science/shit-I-don't-understand geek. I told him about the T-shirt.  He said, "I'd totally wear that".

So that was me the other day, click-clacking through the computer, ordering an XL for Father's Day.  And I thought about my Grandmother, and all my wonderful Grandma memories.  And I felt a little rebellious ordering the shirt.  I snickered, pressed "confirm".

Every time he wears it, I will smell the acrid smell of Salems.

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