Oct 19, 2016

Here's a story

My grandmother:

         I have always known that my grandmother is an amazing person. Growing up, I only had one grandparent. I have only ever known what it was like to have that specific grandparent as a grandmother.  I have noticed that people like to claim possession of “eccentric” grandparents. They use the word, being affectionate and positive. When we use the word about my grandmother, it’s forced optimism and an understatement.  It’s an “err on the side of caution” and “less is more.” It’s a way of being polite out of a sense of loyalty to the woman but also unwilling to let people dive undeservingly into something they don’t understand.  It’s a lie.  In fact, the only time I would use the word “eccentric” to describe my grandmother would be with heavy sarcasm.  The word that is most often used to describe my grandmother is “memorable.” And she is very memorable. I was in a pleasant conversation with several nurses in the hall of her nursing home, when one asked me, “Who’s your grandmother?” At my grandmother’s name all three women’s faces darkened and their attitudes towards me cooled. Was I surprised, taken aback or dismayed by this reaction? Not at all. I had been trying to avoid saying her name. Someone once told me at some function that they had an “unforgettable experience” with my grandmother, before walking away without introducing themselves. I took that to mean my grandmother was the unforgettable part.
          Here are some of my experiences with her that I will never forget.
          As a young child, when I began to realize that other grandparents were called a plethora of titles and names besides grandma or grandpa, I asked her how she felt about being called grandma, or rather, would she like to continue being called grandma, since I didn’t remember if I had given her a choice?  She looked at me and spoke as if speaking to someone with far less intelligence than herself, “I am your mother’s mother, not your mother, thank god, nor am I compensated in any way for taking care of you. I’ve done my job, I raised your mother. So I am your grandmother. Your grandma. Understand?”
          She once received a boom-box with a CD player and several CDs, which she couldn’t figure out how to open and found incredibly frustrating. Frustrating and apparently very fragile as she had only tapped it a few times with a hammer, and not only had the CD case shattered into a million pieces, so had the CD. This was her closest brush with current technology for many years afterwards.
          Once, while walking somewhere on the streets of New York City, I spotted some conveniently placed scaffolding. I quickly climbed the scaffolding and managed to do a couple flips around a horizontal bar before I was violently ripped off by my grandmother and a policeman. The policeman held me by one arm, demanding, “Whose child is this?” while my grandmother was gripping my other arm, much more painfully, and yelling at me that I was going to be arrested, put in jail and then crack my head open on the sidewalk. She even yelled at the policeman to reprimand me more and then didn’t give him an opportunity to, as a crowd gathered, mostly of construction workers who also had things to say to me. My grandmother was yelling and shaking me, “Look down! Look at the cement! Imagine the cement covered in blood! Dripping into the cracks!”  When the policeman asked my grandmother if she knew me, she just stared at me for a second before admitting, “Unfortunately, yes. This appalling child is my granddaughter.” Even after that, the policeman seemed reluctant to release me into my grandmother’s custody and inquired about my mother, who I had spotted blithely taking pictures of the window displays a ways away while my grandmother was screeching about blood on the sidewalk.  My mother came bustling over with her camera and tried to whisk me away to stand in front of the window display for a picture. She knocked my grandmother’s hands off me but was halted by the policeman who continued to hold onto my arm. My mom asked him brightly, “Would you like to be in the photo, too?”
On another occasion, we were riding in a cab, my grandmother seated between my mother and I in the back. I was behind the cab driver. My forearm and hand had been casually resting on the armrest of the door when suddenly my grandmother screeched at me, “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!” Naturally this was very alarming to everyone. In the resulting chaos and screaming, the cab driver veered sharply to the side of the road and threatened to kick us out, my mother began yelling in my defense, and my grandmother continued proclaiming that I had been about to open the door and leap out, killing us all. 
We used to visit her in her Manhatten apartment and sleep on her pull-out sofa bed. On one such occasion when I was around seven, she was preparing dinner and I realized her kitchen lighting was one of those dimmable round knobs and I promptly treated all of us to some spontaneous strobe lighting. While turning around in alarm, Grandma spilled a large amount of spinach on the kitchen floor and started to scream at me. This was followed by lots of slamming things around. While she was still yelling, my mother thrust twenty dollars at me and kicked me out the door. In a split second, she had decided that the streets of Manhattan were safer than being trapped in an apartment with an enraged Jeanne Fischer.  I have a vague memory of waving the twenty dollar bill in the air while skipping down the sidewalk and a man sitting against a building, calling out to me, “Hey, honey, do you want to break that twenty with me?” 
More recently, when my mother was telling my grandmother about how I hadn’t had a boyfriend in so long and she was worried about me and my social life, my grandmother suddenly said sharply, “Shush, Mary! She might be gay,” And then turning to look directly at me, “And we would still love her the same, anyway.” She said very solemnly. Which prompted my mother to also turn and look directly at me, nodding with an equal amount of gravitas, “That’s right, we would.” And my grandmother said, “And she can still get pregnant and have children.” “That’s right, she could,” my mother said with a smile, and my grandmother continued with raised eyebrows, “So she should be careful while she’s figuring that out,” My mother nodded again, solemnly, “That’s right, she should.”
          They continued to look at me without blinking, so I said contemplatively, “I don’t think I’m gay…”
          “I don’t think you’ve really tried it yet,” my mom said. 
          “I find myself very drawn to the male form... and sometimes even… their minds – “
          “You think you’re attracted to them because you have no imagination and have never been exposed to any other kind of life!” My grandmother stated grandly, leaning forward with her finger in the air. 
          My mother frowned at her, “No, mom.”
          “It was expected of you to like men, you never had a choice!” My grandmother continued to preach.
          “Mom, what are you talking about? I've always had gay friends. Two of my oldest women friends are gay lovers and they used to babysit her when she was little.”
          “I think we’re talking about your life now, grandma.”

My grandmother leaned back in her chair and gazed off into space. “We might be,” she said softly.