Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gramma - The Great Pretender

Sunday, October 24th: Missed 2 calls, from the two oldest people I know: Dad (71) Gramma (80). How is that they are only 9 years apart? Gramma is my mother's mom. Plus my parents are 20 years apart....I know it's rare. My Dad leaves me a short message which is easy for me to decode the half English and half Spanish, but all around funny to Mechanic Hubby who only understands the English parts. Gramma leaves me a sweet message to give her a call back about my upcoming visit....oh Gramma, she's so sweet to be concerned.

Called Gramma back. Big mistake. My Gramma is the queen of pretend. Here's how it went:
Me: (Ring, ring).
Gramma: Hallo? (That's how it sounds).
Me: (In Spanish) Hey Gramma, I got your message but it was pretty late. How are you.
Gramma: Fine. Why didn't you call me before you buy your tickets?!
Me: Wuh?
Gramma: I have vacation for nine days and go back to work (as a nanny) when you get here. When am I supposed to see you? I leave the house at 8 or 9 and come home about 7 or 8. When am I supposed to see you huh?
Me: (First off, I'm touched that she really, really wants to see me. On the other hand I'm trying hard not to pee my pants). I get up early in the mornings and I'm sure I'll be awake when you get home...I'll have your coffee and sweet bread waiting for you. Maybe one day we can both get up extra early and go to breakfast.
Gramma: Hmm...okay. But you still should have called before to let me know.

My Gramma is 80. She works hard and only tells her family and close friends what she thinks. What about? Everything under the freaking sun. I'm going to visit and I'm afraid that she'll say what she tells everybody, "Have you gained weight?" I'm always tempted to ask her the very same question but mostly I pat my tummy and say something silly like, "It's been a good year," or "I'm so happy you noticed."

She has been working since 1938, picking the fields with her family in Southern California. She's told me a lot of sad stories about the things that happened in her life, some of which her adult daughters have never heard. Gramma is like an old treasure chest, rough around the edges but has a glow in the center. I once asked Gramma if she had ever been in a fight. This is what she told me.

"A long time ago, when your Tia (aunt) was about seven years old, she came home with a red puffy cheek. I asked her what happened and she told me that a big girl hit her. I asked her to point out which girl it was. She walked me over and pointed her out. I went up to this girl, this huge fourteen year old girl and beat the crap out of her. The cops came and I showed them what this girl did to my daughter and they let me off the hook."

My Gramma has had the love of her life cheat on her, mourned the death of her first born, 14 surgeries, crisis after crisis and still manages to get up every morning, make a cup of coffee and face the day. She says she doesn't like to think on sad things that have happened to her and doesn't like to open up about them too much either. I like to look at my Gramma as a living time capsule, no matter how mean, ornery or insulting she may be. According to her we never do anything right, won't ever come close to being as good a cook as she is or have better ideas than she does. I especially love when my Gramma will have an idea and someone tells her a better idea then she'll say, "That's what I said."

I don't mean to regurgitate old writings but this is something I wrote up last year after Christmas about my beloved Gramma on the way home. I had been thinking about her since I mentioned her in a talk I wrote for church and I had to get some things off my chest. Please forgive the half English and half Spanish parts, that's just the way Gramma talks.

Driving home or watching Mechanic Hubby drive us home gave me time to think and thinking can be dangerous for me. When I don't give myself time to think about how much I miss being at home it's better that way. If you let yourself think about our lives 20 years ago; happy family going to Disneyland and going to breakfast on Saturday mornings and now how we all live in different parts of the country - it sucks. But it has to be this way otherwise how would we learn to appreciate ourselves? I noticed that there was a stinging, a mild pain in my chest, like I have now, that started once we started saying our goodbyes last Saturday. I'm pretty sure it's not a medical thing, just a regular old slight break in my heart that will mend itself once I get my head together. Great, two broken major organs. Ha, ha.

Like you guys know I gave that talk at church and have not stopped thinking about that green tupperware bowl Gramma has. She was boiling the chicken for tamales and she took it out. I almost cried but I didn't want Gramma to think I was crazy. But there it was, that bowl. I asked Gramma, "How long have you had that bowl?" She thought about it for a minute and said, "Oooh mija, about unos 30 years. Es de tupperware." The math checks out because I don't remember my life without that bowl. It's had macaroni salad in it most of the time but when it came to masa, it's the masa bowl. I asked her if she needed help, and there I was shredding chicken with Gramma, getting our hands greasy as she re-shreds my chicken but I don't mind. I noticed our hands in the bowl working diligently and Gramma setting parts of the chicken aside; mostly skin. She said, "Who's going to do all this work when I'm gone?" I quickly said, "I don't know but I want this bowl." She looked at me and smiled. I called dibs on that green bowl without a pause. Mom comes into the kitchen and it was for her that Gramma was saving the chicken skin for. As she passes the chicken skin she says to Mom, "Tiene mucho cholesterol." And Mom says, "I don't eat it everyday Ma."

On Sunday when we couldn't stay any longer at Mom's and absolutely had to leave was tough. I hate being the one to decide when to stop socializing because I can talk and listen for a very long time. I knew I'd have to say goodbye to Gramma sooner or later. We were in Mom's kitchen and I said, "Okay Gramma, we have to go." "Okay mija, " she says. I gave her a hug and put my head on her shoulder. She rested her cheek on my head and I hugged her tight. I buried my face in the nook of her neck and smelled. She smelled like work, food, hairspray and something else, Love I'm sure. I started crying and she stared to pat my shoulder saying, "Ya, ya, ya." As if she was consoling a baby, which I pretty much was at the time. I released from the hug and she held my face and said, "I always like when you're here." Here being anywhere she is. Of course I started sobbing by then and saw just one tear escape her eye. Just one, "Damn that Gramma is tough," I thought. Yes she's mean and yes she lacks tact most of the time but when I looked into her face I saw myself in it.

My Gramma may not be the kind of grandmother who showers her grandchildren with treats or gifts or a ton of affection, but when she does you know she really means it. On her 80th, I gave her a scrapbook with a lot of pictures and a family tree along with stories and well wishes. She looked through it and thanked me. I was kind of bummed out because I wanted to see her cry with joy and get that moment of, I don't know like, "You're the best granddaughter ever!" But she didn't do any of that. Before I left I had to go to her room for something, I can't remember right now but I saw the scrapbook on her bed and a ton of wadded up tissues and I knew she loved it. Gramma, you are the great pretender.


  1. Very well written! I think I'm falling fir your Gramma, too :-)

  2. What an awesome lady. I am tearing up and I don't even know her!

  3. hey! wouldn't it be cool if you were a columnist? i would love to read the paper in the morning w/ a cup of hot something and enjoy. you're very entertaining, but it's more than that. also,you're familiar, but unexpected. like, it's original, but not so original that no one could relate. it's good.

  4. Thanks everybody! I adore my Gramma so this was a pleasure to write.