I guess it has been a couple of months now since I have started to think about this. I can't say what started it or why. Maybe it's some kind of hormone thing, I don't know, but I've had this feeling that I miss my gramma. Have you ever had that feeling that? Probably not but anyway here it is.
And I remember how it was to have her hold me in her arms and rock me back and forth. I was small, and it seemed that all of me could just fit in her arms. Sometimes, she would insist that I take a nap and naturally all kids hate taking naps, but she would lay down with me and hold me in her arms and I would lay my head on her breast and slowly fall to sleep. I never felt that I would miss anything when I took a nap with gramma because I knew she would still be there when I woke up.
Remember when you were ticklish? I really used to be, as a kid. The ribs especially and I remember laying on gramma's bed and her tickling me so much that I just couldn't stop laughing, and then she would always ask how much I loved her. I remember saying that I loved her as high as numbers could go. That was a pretty good answer, I thought, and it must have been because I was learning how to count and it seemed impossible to be able to count to the end. No, kids don't know about infinite numbers and I surely wasn't a mathematician at four but I still think it's a pretty good answer. I sort of think that I was supposed to say that I loved her more than anyone else in the whole world and actually I did, I always did, but it seemed I would somehow get into trouble if I admitted that she meant more to me than my mother, but really she did, she always did. Now, I hope that it didn't hurt her feelings because I didn't tell her that I loved only her.
But then there was that horrible thing of having to go back home after every time I stayed with her. The times with her were always good. I guess I was always good too. She never "yelled" at me but I guess she never had a reason to. It seemed that when I was with her I could have anything I wanted, but really I just wanted to be with her. Once she let me eat as much watermelon as I wanted. It was glorious! Of course, I spent the better part of the rest of the day lying in bed, leaning over a bowl, throwing up red water from eating all the watermelon I wanted. Never really had a taste for it after that.
You probably have a picture of the typical grandmother. You know, the gray hair that is in tight curls and the support hose and all that. That wasn't gramma. No way. She never had a gray hair on her head. It was always a reddish brown and shit I don't think she wore underpants most of the time least of all support hose. Now, of course that sounds a little odd, I suppose, but I remember her telling someone that when she walked through downtown Chicago she didn't care if the wind blew up her dress, she just didn't feel like wearing underpants. And what did she wear when she walked through downtown Chicago? A white dress with red polka dots and these high heels which were white too, except for the toes and the heels, which were red. The skirt of the dress was full and the neckline was low and that, in a nutshell, was the way gramma looked. She wasn't one of the "perfect twelve's" of the fifties either. I don't know how sized ran but gramma wasn't the kind to ever watch her weight. For her, everything seemed to be in the right place.
She always played cards too. For as long as I can remember she played cards. Something called pinochle, I think. She could play cards with her friends for hours, and she did. I would stand by her side and look at the cards not knowing what the object was but she was always winning so I guess that was what the object was. She would take her free hand and put it around me and squeeze. That was her way of saying that she loved me and she didn't have to say a word. I always wanted to know when she would be done because hours of playing cards is an eternity when you're waiting for gramma to finish her hand.
Gramma smoked, too, and she knew how to drink. She always had gin with Squirt and a twist of lime. I liked Squirt, so that was my drink.
Then there came the horrible time of starting school. There was never any pretense of going to school to learn. It was clear that school was a punishment for being a kid and all kids must be punished. So, I just accepted the fact that I would be miserable for the rest of my life because when you're a kid there is never an end to school. If you're lucky you'll break your arm or something so you can get out of a little of it and then when you go back to school in a cast the teachers will have to be nice to you. Never had any such luck. No broken bones.
But then the summers would come and I could be with gramma all summer. Sometimes, I could visit during a weekend or when there was a break in school, but the summers were the best thing in the whole world. Dad would put my clothes in the car, and we would start the drive from Chicago to Indiana and drive by Gary with all of the burning chimneys and the black sky and then through Valparaso, with all of the white frame houses and the green lawns and no sidewalks, and finally to Huntington. When we would get there I would run up to gramma and we would hug each other and seem to never let go.
I remember that one summer that she traded in her S & H Green stamps on skates for me. She made me promise that I wouldn't tell any of the other cousins in Fort Wayne that she got me the skates. They were the kind that you needed a key for and you clamped them onto your shoes and tightened the leather strap around your ankle and then used the key to tighten the front around the ball of your shoes. The sidewalks were great in Huntington, not like Chicago with cracks and pock marked slabs that made the ride bumpy. Up and down the sidewalk until some other kids came out of their houses and started to skate too.
Sometimes, we would all walk behind the mailman and over to the chick hatchery and look at the baby chicks and ask the mailman if we could sit in the big metal mailbox that was on the corner after he unlocked it and took out the big bag of mail in it. Then at night we would all get together and catch lightening bugs and always needed a jar to put them in. Sometimes we would smear them on our shirts so we would glow in the dark too but we could never keep the lightening bugs lighting the day but that was all right, because we could get more the next night.
Then there was always the fair in Huntington, and we would spend all morning there looking at the sheep and the pigs. Some of the pigs would be in the middle of a rink and the person that owned the pig would have a cane that they would hold upside down and gently tap the pig so that it would sashay around the rink. I had never seen a pig before and didn't know you could have them as pets; at least that's what I thought they were. And then there were the ribbons. Outside of almost every stall where the animals were there was a shiny satin ribbon attached to the gate.
And then there were the times that gramma would make waffles for lunch or even French toast, because she knew I loved French toast. I would set the table and help clean up the dishes. Those were the days of sitting on books to reach the table like everyone else, but eventually I didn't need the books. We always had ice water too, with every meal. I would watch my grandpa eat peas with a knife and he would always drink his coffee out of the saucer. I still don't know why, but nonetheless it was pretty neat. Sometimes I would have coffee too with lots of milk and sugar, just like gramma.
Then, once a week on Saturday night, it was bath night. Back then you didn't have to take a bath every night as long as you washed really good and made sure your knees and elbows were clean. Gramma and I would take a bath together. It was like a Saturday tradition, and she would make sure that I got behind my ears and between my toes. Sort of funny now when I think of it that I didn't feel embarrassed and never thought anything of how gramma looked naked. If I had a question about why she had breasts or hair down there she would just give me a straight answer and that was the long and short of it. It was just the way it was and there was nothing to be ashamed of and I could even hug her after we got out of the tub before we put our pajamas on and it was okay.
The summers were never long enough. When you would start to hear the locusts in August everyone would say that summer was over. I knew it wasn't over, because school didn't start in Chicago until after Labor Day, but it made me sad even then to think that some day it would be over. And within a few weeks it was. Gramma would buy post cards for me to take back. They were the kind that had the stamp already on them, and she would write her address on the front so that all I had to do was write on it and take it to the mailbox on the corner. God how I hated to leave.
It was much worse when we got back to Chicago and pulled the old '52 Olds to the side of the building back by the alley. There was the house with six apartments in it and the whole back side of it nothing but porches and stairs and behind that the storage shed and then the alley and then the hill that the railroad tracks were on. I'd sneak away to the car and write on a postcard that "I love you gramma" and sit low in the back seat so no one would see me crying, and then when I was done I would run to the corner and put the post card in the mailbox.
Every summer was like that. The summers were the best part of my life, and then every summer there was the going back home part and the loneliness and feeling homesick and missing gramma so much that it would make me cry. Year after year of being with gramma and then being away from gramma, until, after a few weeks back in Chicago, I would toughen up enough not to miss her and get over crying until the end of the next summer when I had to go back home again.
Then there was the summer of '63 when gramma died. Just like you hear in all the songs and books that "I thought I would die too." This time she was living in Port Clinton Ohio, and after the summer ended and I wrote her back about what ma was doing she told my dad to go and get me and I would stay with her all the time. So, we made the trip back to gramma's from Chicago again, and this time I wouldn't have to go back. I could stay with gramma forever. But then two weeks later when she was cleaning the kitchen floor I heard the bucket tip over and came from the bedroom to see what happened, and there she was collapsed on the living room chair with her eyes closed and making a sort of gurgling noise. I called the operator, and the ambulance came out and took her away. I never said to her before she died that I loved only her and no one else, and then it was too late. I guess they took her to Fort Wayne from Port Clinton and I overheard dad talking to his half brother that she came to a little. I never saw gramma after the ambulance took her away. I guess it was supposed to have been a cerebral hemorrhage, like when she had one three years before and they only gave her five years to live, and she never made the five.
I didn't have any place to go then. Gramma was dead and no aunts or uncles would take me in, so dad kept me around for a couple of months with the woman he was living with until she told him to get rid of me. In those couple of months I went to school in Port Clinton and then dad took me to a place in Freemont Ohio to a friend of his girlfriend, so I went to school there for a couple of weeks and then she didn't want me there any more, dad took me back to Warren Michigan where he was living with her. I went to school in Warren for a couple of weeks and then she laid down the law and said to get rid of me, so I ended up back on the south side of Chicago with ma, and she also laid down the law. She would let me live in the house but that was all. If I wanted any food or clean clothes I could buy the food myself and carry my own clothes to the Laundromat.
I cried a lot for weeks after gramma died, always at night when no one would know, and that pretty much ended when I was staying in Freemont. By the time I ended up back in Chicago the crying was over. It wouldn't do any good anyway. And then a month later JFK was killed, and I would cry at night again.
Well, it's been almost forty years since gramma's been gone. For some reason I've started to think about her lately, and the more I do the more I miss her. I don't know why she loved me so much but I know I loved her because she did. And even though I'm just ten years younger than her when she died and it has been that long, I wish that I could just hug her once more and tell her that I love only her.