My grandmother was born 104 years ago today. She was a quiet unassuming Christian woman. Her faith was devout, her spirit strong. She was the youngest of three children, at least those who survived.
I have certain memories of her that stand out. When I was about 7, I was staying over at her apartment and I remember she was in my grandfather’s red recliner. She asked how upset I would be if there was no Santa. I always felt like an adult, so I tried not to react. I suspected as much, since once the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, equally preposterous ideas, fell, the next domino to fall was Santa. Besides we didn’t have a chimney. What frightened me most was why she was telling me this.
“What if your mom and dad didn’t have enough money to pay Santa this year?” she inquired gently.
I think I said something like, “That would be okay, I guess.” I really don’t remember what I said exactly just feeling a little like I’d been kicked in the stomach.
I never told anyone what she said to me. It would ruin it for everybody.
We used to walk through Mount Moriah, the nearby cemetery that held Betsy Ross’ remains. Until they were relocated so visitors to Philadelphia during the bicentennial wouldn’t have to travel through such a shady neighborhood. We’d put flowers on graves of children who had died that had nothing more than “Tommy” and “Billy” etched into the stone. Names and the dates indicating they were children.
When I was in college I got kicked out for having no tuition. The short version is that I used my student loan to pay for the fall semester and was to apply grant money that was held up to the spring tuition bill. My father’s employer, his oldest brother, never came through with the financial statements so I lost the grants. Thereby not being able to pay for tuition. Thereby erasing that semester. Since I technically had not been going to school that semester, I would have to start repaying my students loans. I worked two jobs, one full time at Media Courthouse and one thirty hours per week cleaning offices in Newtown Square. After a few months of this, I had enough to buy a mustang (used), catch up with my loan repayments and make a down payment for the fall semester. Lo and behold the following spring I was out of money again and needed $1500 or I would be kicked out again. I put a “for sale” sign in the mustang. I went to the woman I babysat for, she was like family. No dice. I asked my dad if I should go to my wealthy aunt on his side. He said she’d never help. She was funny about money. I mentioned it to my grandmother. She didn’t have a pot or a window. She lived on $600 per month and still helped us out plus donated to the Anti-Vivisection Society and the World Wildlife Federation and the Mary Knoll Sisters. She found the money. Turns out she cashed in a life insurance policy. When my aid came in I tried to pay her back and she told me just to pay $1200. (That was all the aid I got.) Who knew she would be the one to come to the rescue. She had the least of everybody.
Around 27 I started to question my sexuality. By the time I was 30 Granmom was living with my mother. I remember lying in bed with her crying that I didn’t want to turn 30, that I was afraid. She said, ”You don’t have to, Pet.” That scared me even more since I thought she had wisdom and insight and that my only other choice was to die. It turns out she was holding me back from a surprise birthday party my family and friends were having for me.
Around the same time she repeated to me a story from years earlier about a woman who struck up a conversation with on the street and as they began to walk the woman took her by the arm and they walked a ways arm in arm. She said to me that it could have been innocent but that I should be careful because there were evil people out there. That she could have been one of those “lesbians.” When she said this word she said it with a soft “s”. She shook her head and shuddered when she said it. I left there crying but she didn’t know it since she had gone blind a few years earlier. It made me sob that she thought me evil even though she didn’t know it.
These are just a smattering of the memories. The day she died my sisters and I were returning from a trip to London. I remember before we left Granmom asking about the British flag and what it looked like. She always wanted to learn. My middle sister had borrowed underwear from her for the trip and just assumed it was okay. My granma told me about it sort of laughing saying, “I am a human being yet.”
I don’t feel her close to me and I don’t know why. Sometimes she comes to me in my dreams and sometime in those dreams she is angry. I asked my mother two days ago if she thought she was far away because she was angry I was gay. Y mom said things are different there. They have a higher of understanding of things now. I still don’t know why she seems so far away. My dad seems close.
I miss her. She was so kind, gentle. She worried too much and cried too easily. Mom says I am like her in that way.
Other memories to include: St Pat’s party when I was little. 69th street and hot dogs. Putting her hand through the mailbox and giving us tapes of lollipops, living with her for six months, staying with her on so many vacations, how clearly I can see everything, how I could describe everything, how some of the apartment dreams are of evil, pure evil especially coming from the basement. Painting her toenails even when she was dead. Hamsters, her buying us things, bows and arrows, bowie knives (plastic), mattresses, winter coats, crocheting us things, teaching us things, how to make cookies, apple crisp, lemon meringue pie, how to throw a ball, how a pebble tossed in a pond causes ripples – maybe this is the title because of the ripple effect of her life on us and ours on others. Teaching us that all people want to be appreciated and how kindness was most important of all. How she wanted me to be a missionary until I taught in West Philly and then see wanted me out of there. Giving her eulogy. Where is that? Where is that poetry about her living in darkness? Her Uncle Pink, her Scottish grandfather she “pizened” with paste. Working in a pencil factory. Gerald and Howard Mowers and TB. Angora and Hirsch Street. Playing games with her. Taking walks with her. Praying with her. Staying overnight on the floor of the hospital when she fell and hit her head.
I don’t think I can do this all in one sitting. More later.