When I was young I was terrified of my dad’s mother, Grandma J. From very early on I found her to be loud, critical, and brash. I remember packing my Wuzzles bag for holiday trips to Eau Claire, Wisconsin and when I found out we were headed to her house I would howl and cry because I always wanted to visit my Grandma Cille first.
The apprehension for these visits didn’t die down until I was in my late teens. My brothers and I would sleep in her living room, the two of them on the floor in sleeping bags and me on the couch. When my older brother and I were teenagers we had mastered the art of sleeping in and had every intention of doing so while spending Christmas vacation at Grandma’s. Every year, without fail, Grandma J. would turn the oldies station on early in the morning blaring Christmas carols that stopped the sugar plums and fairies in our dreams dead in their tracks. These holiday carols would be after a night of hearing her wind-up clock every hour on the hour and the fuzz of her police radio coming from the hallway.
Everytime we went to see her I was asked, “Are you still one of those vegetarians? You must not get enought iron.” or told, “With your eye makeup like that, you look like one of those burlesque girls.” That’s my favorite Grandma J.-ism. Years later, I now take it as a compliment.
Things changed when I was seventeen. I had to do a school project that involved interviewing an elder for a oral storytelling project. My dad pulled me out of school and we drove an hour and a half to go see her. In all of my growing up, I had never once wondered why she was the way was or what made her tick. That day I found out what she was made of, and came to appreciate how strong she had to be and hoped that a lot of her genes were passed to me.
When I graduated from high school I found myself taking little roadtrips to go see her here and there. I’d pick her up and we’d go to the buffet for lunch and she would introduce me to her friends and seem so proud to show her grandkid off. I miss having lunch with her, I hate that I am so far away.
I spoke with her on the telephone today and it was so good to hear her little voice. These days, she seems more gentle and soft spoken. I don’t think it’s the age, I think it’s because she knows me now. Grandma J. keeps me posted on the family, recites Norwegian words from her youth to me, and speaks honestly about how hard it is to grow old and lose the people you love.
Some days while at work, the church plays the same song as her wind-up clock. Immediately my brain goes back to her house. I think of the way the flowered tin of crayons smelled, how there were always fig neutons in the cookie jar, and her perfume bottles and lipstick in the bathroom.
Every year that passes she makes it a point to warn me that it will probably be her last year on this Earth. I know better though, she’s tough as nails. I think it’s her way of preparing me for life without her, which makes her the most wonderful grandma of all.