May 16, 2007

Remembering Grandma

Whenever my Dad or his siblings invoke Grandma, they roll their eyes heavenward, much like a devout Muslim says Peace be Upon Him after invoking Muhammed.

Grandma was a woman of firm and fixed principles. Legend has it that upon turning 40 (some say 50) Ellen Kilduff announced that she was too old to go out to the movies, her favorite pastime. She stuck to that pledge for the next 50 (or 40, depending on who's telling the story) years.

My Dad, aunt and uncle knew Grandma well; she lived with them and their mother and kept house while my Grandma supported the family. She was a very efficient housekeeper. When my Uncle Jimmy moved out to get married he came to his bride with only two pairs of underwear. The story goes that he'd come home, strip, and before his drawers hit the floor, Grandma had scooped them up and laundered them.

By the time I met her, Grandma had lost all her starch. I remember walking in to a darkened room and greeting a toothless old lady who gave me a lemon drop. All her children had predeceased her and she was living with my Uncle Jimmy and his wife.

Uncle Jimmy was lucky. After my grandmother died, my Aunt Rose got custody of Grandma, who still had a lot of good years left. Aunt Rose, whose husband was in the Air Force, had just returned from England with a new baby and was run ragged between the often conflicting demands of an infant and an old lady.

And then there was Grandma's conversation, which according to Aunt Rose, was prefaced by a groan, the placement of her forearm to her forehead and the statement "I wish I was in the grave with May." May being my grandmother.

One day, Grandma came downstairs with a groan, leaning heavily on the banister.
Aunt Rose: "Grandma, be careful about putting all your weight on the banister. You'll hurt yourself."

Grandma: "I wish I was in the grave with May."
A typical exchange. But the next day when Aunt Rose called Grandma down to breakfast, she got no response and went upstairs to see what the problem was.
Aunt Rose: "Grandma, it's time for breakfast."

Grandma: "Since you care so much about your damned banister, I'll never go down those stairs again."

And she never did.

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