My Grandma B.

I was thinking about my Grandma B. today. I don’t know why. Maybe because she was my secret Santa. Or maybe just because.

She’s my mom’s mom. I’ve always called her Grandma B. She hates her first name which is Phyllis. My grandfather calls her Phyll. My mom and my aunt still call her mommy. My uncle calls her mom. 

When I was young she scared me and made me uncomfortable. She was never that mean to me but she was never warm or friendly in the ways grandmothers were in movies and on TV. She didn’t bake my brother and I cookies when she came over or hug us to death or sneak us candies.But I remember her being proud of us when we got good grades and clapping her hands and saying “Ooooooooh,” when I showed her pictures I drew or things I had made.

I didn’t realize why I felt this uneasiness until I got older and she told me that she didn’t like children. I can’t remember why she didn’t like them but judging by how she is with other kids I think it may be that they’re loud. And really, my grandma is smart and kids aren’t at an intellectual level to be really interesting to her. I get the impression that they just aren’t who she’d like to spend her time with.

As I got older and developed the ability to form coherent thoughts and sentences we could talk some more and our relationship progressed. Like I was with a lot of people, I was always trying to please her and make her think highly of me. (A common enough affliction.) I tried to figure out what she wanted me to say, and I would say some pretty ridiculous things just to get her to nod her head and say, “Yes, you’re exactly right.” Sometimes I would listen to her talk on the phone. (She was always on this high stool in the kitchen, smoking with one hand and holding the phone with its long curly cord in the other.) I would hear her express and explain her opinions on things and then later I’d bring the topic up and say I felt the same way. This probably seems like some kind of devious subterfuge and maybe it was. But I was young and, looking back, I’m sure it was all completely transparent anyway. Like I said, my grandmother was smart. She was also an economics major. When your six-year old granddaughter who thinks piggy banks are for playing Farm says she thinks it’s a bad market for selling or that the economy is headed for a downturn you know it isn’t something she came up with on her own. But Grandma always nodded her head at me and said she completely agreed. “You’re a smart kid.” “You’re smarter than most.” Or maybe just, “You’re right.” And she really was pleased. At the time I thought it was because I had found the right thing to say, that I had made her think her and I were on this same page, but now I think she was probably just pleased I was repeating her words. That I was being so young and silly but at the same time so obviously soaking up something of her knowledge and opinions.

But once in a while I’d hit on something without even having to play my little game. Sometimes I’d say just the right thing to completely please her. I remember when Ross Perot was running for president I said that I liked him until he quit and then changed his mind and decided to run again. We were watching TV together and they were talking about how someone was going to release some pictures and ruin his daughters wedding. I said I thought a wedding was a dumb reason to give up running for president. And I remember grandma looking at me like she was so proud and saying something like, “You are exactly right.”

She has a dark lovely sense of humor. When she laughs it sounds a little wicked. I love this about her. It makes me think she was wild for a while. And maybe she still is.

She loves dogs. More than anyone I’ve ever known. Just the mention of them make her smile. She loves the Cubs. She loooooooooooves the Cubs. But she hates them too. She gets so bitter sometimes. 

She likes to drink. Or she used to. But pretty much everyone in my family likes to drink so this doesn’t mean much.

She once bought a house at a party. She was on the deck having a great time and told the host that she loved his house and loved the deck they were on. He told her it was for sale and she bought it right there. On the way home from the party she asked my grandpa if he liked the house they were at. “Sure,” he said. “Good because I just bought it.”

She crocheted forever. She was good at it too. She’d make great blankets and for a while she supplied the whole family with beautiful throws for our living rooms. As a kid I absolutely loved these blankets. No matter how many times you washed them they’d always smell like dogs. I loved this. Dog smell–not dirt but that dog skin, fur, paw, warm smell–will always be a comfort to me.

She also made sweaters and stockings. (I talked about this a few posts ago.)

She didn’t like cooking much (none of the woman in my family really love cooking except my aunt) but she did it and was good at it. We have a lot of recipes that come from Grandma. Spaghetti sauce. Cookies. Enchiladas. Lamb stew. (Which I hate actually.) 

She always wears turtle necks with things on them–small Christmas trees, small flowers, or small diamond shapes–so you didn’t really notice what the things are, you just think it’s a pattern, until you get close. 

Her hands always look like they hurt to me. They shake a lot. She can’t buckle her own seatbelt. 

She loves chocolates. Boxes of them.

She was the one who would remember everyone’s birthday and age. Everyone. Other families would call her to remember their uncle’s birthday, or their neighbor’s, or their cousin’s. She would remember baseball stats, dates, historical events, and family events and history the same way. 

She loves the 49ers. She and my Grandma Murray used to call each other after every game.

The smell of certain soaps remind me of her. There is this jar of decorative soaps in the front bathroom of my grandparent’s house that is filled with these soaps that are butterflies and seashells and different pastel colors. They smell very distinct and they remind me of her and the pink bathroom.

She sighs. She has a sigh. It’s long and drawn out and it expresses her displeasure at the world. She doesn’t do this as often anymore but it’s there.

She wishes she used her education more and got a job. She regrets not having a career. 

She used to volunteer for political campaigns. She’s a republican. 

When the family lived in Alabama she had a maid who was black and she’d drive her home from work every day. She went to her wedding and brought my aunt and my mom. These are small things. They seem like nothing and maybe they are–just normal things you do for and with anyone who is an acquaintance of yours. But at that time it was a big deal to a lot of people. 

She hated Alabama. She still does.

She thinks golf is pretty silly. I don’t remember her ever really expressing any huge interest in a movie or a book. 

She likes to sing. I’ve heard her sing her fight song from college many many times. She used to like puzzles but not so much anymore. She used to have books and books of word puzzles. She likes the comics. She loves Chicago. She loves Disneyland.

She likes ice cream. She sneaks spoonfuls from the carton sometimes.

She uses one of the big spoons not the little ones.


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