Friday, November 09, 2007


For an explanation of this alphabet theme, see my first NaBloPoMo post.

I did say G was not for "geriatric." I did not say it wouldn't be sort of close. G is actually going to be for Grandma.

My grandma turned 96 years old a couple of months ago. She still lives in the three-story house where my mother grew up, and she lives there all by herself. I try not to think too much about her being there, as when I do, all I can think about is her foot slipping on the frighteningly steep stairs from her kitchen to her bedroom or from her back hallway to the cellar and her breaking her poor little 96-year-old hips.

I'm worrying needlessly, I suppose. The woman is obviously invincible. I'm pretty sure she's going to live forever, just to spite my mother somehow. Don't get me wrong; my mother loves her dearly, but the woman drives her batty anyway. I would very much like her to remember this, as I think it might be useful supporting material in another thirty years, but I know that's a lost and pointless cause. This is what we're here for, after all. Children drive their parents crazy; parents return the favor when they can. It sort of seems an unfair unbalance in the universe if I never have a daughter and can't have this same exchange from the other side.

In recent years, I haven't spent much time with my grandma. I live six hours away and typically see her only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. From this distance, it's easy to forget how old she's getting, but I notice it in her letters and cards. They always amuse me, sure (what with the self-addressed labels she encloses and the dollar bill always securely stapled in place so it can't get out). But the increasingly incoherent sentences remind me that her mind isn't what it once was. It bothers me, much like it bothers me to know that she's bored and lonely--that the cranky, anti-social front she's taken on is just her way of saying that she misses her twin sister (who had the nerve to die years ago already, after living two blocks away for decades). I can't really blame her for making herself a shut-in; I've realized I'm well suited for hermitude myself. It's harder to make friends as we get older, and by the time I turn 96, I'll probably have had enough of meeting new people as well.

The cranky, anti-social grandma is not the one I'll always remember, though, and she's not the one I envision when I think of her now. In my mind, she's still the lively old lady who took me on my first bus ride, who walked everywhere--to the park, the grocery store, the bank. She's the one who taught me how to do a jigsaw puzzle (corners and edges first, then look for all pieces of a specific color or pattern and work in sections from there), and how to color without going out of the lines. She didn't argue when I insisted that mashed potatoes were the only part of a holiday meal worth eating, and she always made sure I had chocolate pudding to polish them off. She taught me, involuntarily, that cutting your own hair (or rather, someone else's) is rarely a good idea... (She was banned from trimming my bangs once my mother realized I had more and more of them every time I returned from her house. I eventually spent a year and a half with chunks of hair held back in metal clippie barrettes as my mother struggled to let the unintentional excess bangs grow out.)

My grandma taught me and my sisters all sorts of life lessons, actually... some perhaps more useful than others. Here are five that immediately come to mind.

  1. Stick a roll of wax paper in your purse when you go to the park. Sitting on a sheet of wax paper makes the metal slide slipperier.

  2. Volunteering at a Vincent de Paul store is a great way to outfit your family. When you're the one sorting the donations as they come in, you get to keep the best stuff for yourself.

  3. Never sit on a public toilet seat. Always squat and hover.

  4. Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks are a perfectly suitable bedtime snack. Just take a Children's Tylenol immediately afterwards to fall asleep. (Did anyone else have their first lesson in uppers and downers at age five? No? That's just me? I thought so.)

  5. Always carry mints in your pocket and have Cool-Whip in your fridge.

That Cool-Whip one in particular is something I can totally get behind.

Tell me, what did your grandma teach you?


nabbalicious said...

Aren't grandmas the best? Mine just turned 90 this year, but she lives in assisted living. I'm way impressed that yours is still on her own.

My grandma taught me that you can get the last little bit of ketchup out of the jar by putting some water in it and shaking it up real good. Oh, wait. You wanted non-disgusting lessons?

Among a zillion things, she taught me that ginger snaps are the PERFECT midnight snack, and to always be kind and forgiving but also not take crap from anyone, and to rise above your circumstances.

-R- said...

My mom's mom died when I was only five or six. But I will always remember sitting in her living room in Florida, excited because it was way past my bedtime, learning to play the card game War.

steve said...

I'm a little jealous of you on this one - the last of my grandparents died when I was only 5, and all I have are the vaguest memories of my mother's father being quite ill before he died. I've got a pretty small family - sometimes it's a bummer, sometimes it's handy.

sognatrice said...

Hey my grandmother taught me coloring in the lines and how to do jigsaw puzzles too. Also crosswords, word search, tons of card games I no longer remember (canasta anyone?), making meatballs and homemade pasta and gnocchi, canning/jarring, filling up cans with water to get the rest of whatever was in it out (much like the ketchup tip above only we didn't do this with condiments), the logical way to arrange silverware in a drawer, the rules of baseball, pinching off dead leaves on plants, the right way to iron a shirt (many times, but I still don't remember), knitting/crocheting (ditto), and so much more.

I taught her how to do plastic canvas crafts and how to work a remote control, so I think we're even.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. I learned how to sew, play cards and get a bowl of sugar if you say you want to eat rhubarb

Noelle said...

That was so sweet. I wish I can remember something specific my grandmas taught me, but I can only remember stuff we did together. They both died when I was pretty young.

L Sass said...

96?!?! That is amazing!!

My mom's mom had Huntington's Disease and wasn't really with it during my childhood, but because of her instruction, my mom dressed us in lots of "classic" little girls clothes. They were so uncool!

My dad's mom is 83 and she taught me that homemade cinnamon rolls are the most delicious breakfast in the world!

Jess said...

This is so sweet. One of my grandmothers died before I was born and I barely knew the other. I'm so looking forward to my kids having strong relationships with all their grandparents, and then getting to learn things like this.

Whiskeymarie said...

My grandma taught me how to bake, including the secret of how to make carrot cake lighter and more delicious (cook the carrots a little first).

She also encouraged me to marry a rich man. Unfortunately, I neglected to take her advice on this one. She forgave me though, but only because I'm pretty sure she had a little crush on my Mr.

Stefanie said...

Nabb--Rising above your circumstances is an excellent lesson. That ketchup one, though? Yeah, I guess that I could do without.

R--My grandma was more about Old Maid and Tiddly Winks, but it seems card games were a pretty common activity with grandmas.

Steve--I understand the small family thing. Basically I have my immediate family and that one grandma and that's it. (I have cousins, but one half we don't see and the other half lives many states away so we also don't see.) I always wonder how overwhelmed I'd be if I end up with a guy with a big family.

Sognatrice--What's funny to me is my grandma watched me knitting at her house a couple of Christmases ago, and she was all amazed by what I was doing. I had to say, "Grandma! You used to knit! What the heck??" Apparently she doesn't remember ever doing that, so obviously she never managed to pass the skill along to me.

Monkey--Again with the card games. Grandmas are card sharks, I guess.

Noelle--I'm glad I have good memories with at least one grandparent. My dad's parents died before he even met my mom, and my grandpa on my mom's side was... well, let's just say not an ideal grandpa. (Also, he died when I was in high school.) My grandma's twin sister was actually sort of a second grandma to me, though, so I suppose I should say I had two.

L Sass--One thing my grandma is NOT is a fabulous cook. I know--that's just absurd, right? I guess it runs in the family. ;-)

Jess--So hopefully your kids will live close to at least one set of grandparents then, right? And you'll just have to schedule lots of trips to Germany! (I can think of worse things to inflict on a kid...)

WM--Your grandma had a crush on your husband? That's kind of adorable.

lizgwiz said...

Nanny taught me to crochet. I never got very good at it, sadly. But I do still have several afghans she made for me.

Grandma taught me how to make perfect little decorative peaks in cake frosting. ("It's all in the wrist."