You may have noticed the excessive downtime this last week. I thought about telling you all that I was kidnapped by ISIS for being so damned ‘murican or that I was shacked up with ten Asian hookers of indeterminate age and gender, but those are obvious lies.
The truth is, my grandmother died.
I don’t talk a lot about my family on this website, but family is important to me and, for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has been a part of it. Her husband died at a tragically young age and so, she’s lived with either us or a close relative for the last 35 years.
I’m going to tell you some stuff about this crazy old woman.
The earliest memory I have of my grandmother is wondering why she stood in her food pantry for so long. I didn’t realize until I was older that she was dipping Copenhagen and didn’t want us finding out.
She loved couponing. For years, I remember helping her clip coupons from the newspaper and going to the supermarket when they still had triple coupon days. She loved a bargain and would fight for them. The crazy old bat was so good at what she did, the stores would sometimes – and quite literally – pay her to walk out with a can of green beans or a box of macaroni and cheese. I swear, if she could have gotten 50 cents off of a box of Tide for curing cancer, David Bowie would still be with us today.
As mind-killingly boring as that sounds – and was – she would literally pass the savings on to her family… allowing them to buy food from her pantry for ten cents a can. Sometimes less. Yes, if you found one of those cans of food that she had gotten for -10 cents, she would deduct that from her tally. She said she did it to help pay the bills, but that was bullshit. She did it because she wanted to make sure that her family was fed.
She loved traveling and she loved fishing and, thanks to her trusty Coachmen Leprechaun, the trips were frequent. The Leprechaun was a shitbox, but to me it was the greatest conveyance in the world. A mansion on wheels. I often joke about RVs and the misadventures that happen in them… it all comes from those memories and those memories are good ones.
She hated cooking, but she was so good at it. Beans have been forever ruined for me by this woman because I will never taste a bowl so rich and so perfect as the beans that she made. I’ll probably spend the next few years trying and failing to replicate the recipe. The best thing about my grandmother’s beans was that, after an hour or so, you could rip the loudest farts with both volume and bass.
I remember once we left on a ski trip to Colorado on what should have been a 10 hour drive and ending up going through the worst blizzard that Texas had ever seen. Total white-out conditions… we couldn’t even see the road.
Two days later, we creep into Clovis, New Mexico. The ski trip was over before it started. My grandmother, who had been a complete trooper, collapsed onto a motel bed, exhausted and spent. My brother’s fat little Chihuahua jumped into bed next to her and promptly hiked his leg on her.
Without moving or changing facial expressions, she simply said, “That goddamn dog just peed on me. If I wasn’t so tired, I’d kill it.”
She wasn’t perfect. She was a hypochondriac and prone to unnecessary drama. She’d get pissed off at the drop of a hat, not for anything that we did, but for what she thought we might do or what she thought we were thinking. She was also racist as hell, continually referring to my best friend and neighbor as “that colored man” or worse.
The last time I took her to the movies was a showing of Big Momma’s House (Don’t judge me) and we were the only white people in the entire theater. During a sequence that took place in a church service full of praising and hollering and singing, my grandmother says, “You know, that’s really the way them niggers celebrate church!” Dozens of dark, shocked faces swing my direction as I try to sink into my chair. I knew… just knew that they would never hurt an elderly woman, but the guy with her was fair game.
Thankfully, I did not die that day.
The funny thing was, despite her antiquated and liberal use of the n-bomb, my grandmother didn’t hate black people. She had a pair of elderly black neighbors and loved them, often speaking of them as some of the best people she knew. Adoption brought her a black granddaughter who she loved and cherished.
I often looked down on her for what I saw as hatred, but the truth was she didn’t hate anyone. She was wrong for using those words and thinking those thoughts, but those words and thoughts came from the era in which she was indoctrinated.
But she did hate Asians.
Good god, she hated Asians.
My point… she wasn’t perfect, but who is?
I got a lot of my humor from her. A multitude of characters that I created… voices that I put on paper came from her and her personality. I can hear her voice when I read my own work. I can hear her cackle when I write an off-color joke.
Boy, did she have a cackle… a boisterous laugh that shook the very Earth. When she threw her head back and laughed the room would laugh with her. You simply didn’t have a choice.
What I will remember most about her is her frequent and often inappropriate use of profanity. On the surface, she looked like a sweet little old woman, but at her core was the heart of a sailor and the tongue of a maximum security inmate.
Instead of asking, “Hey, Jason, is something wrong with your girlfriend?” it was, “Jason, what the fuck is wrong with that goddamn bitch?”
It was glorious. She was glorious.
She developed Alzheimer’s in her final years against my recommendations. She referred to her great-grandchildren as “little boy” and “little girl” because she couldn’t remember their names. She kept asking where her husband was, even though he had died three decades ago.
When a Medicare rep called the house, she insisted on asking my grandmother questions even though my grandmother didn’t have the capacity.
“Do you know what your first name is?”
My grandmother answered correctly.
“What’s your last name?”
My grandmother didn’t know.
“Do you know what year it is?”
My grandmother huffed and looked at my mom and then, right into the mouthpiece of the phone, says, “If I don’t know what the hell my last name is, why does this stupid bitch think I know what fucking year it is?”
During her last Christmas, as the children opened their presents, she sat on the couch frowning, leaned over and said, “I don’t know what the hell is going on.”
A few days later, she had a stroke. She entered the new year without the ability to walk and with barely an ability to talk.
In the early morning hours of January 15th, 2016, she slipped away surrounded by family. It wasn’t dramatic nor was it traumatic… she just faded away.
When it came time to plan the funeral, I did the stupid thing and volunteered to speak. At the time I did this, I could barely choke together three words without melting into a puddle of tears and pure liquid pussy, but I volunteered all the same: No one else would and I didn’t want some guy (as nice as he was) relate memories of her to her own family even though he had only met her when she was comatose on a hospital bed.
So, I decided to be funny. I got up there and told stories about her… About the food pantry and about her camper. About her secretly dipping Copenhagen and about how a Chihuahua peed on her one day after an exhausting two day trip through a blizzard.
The mourners were laughing. I apologized to my grandmother a couple of times for telling stories that I knew she hated, but I told them anyway. If my grandmother was going to be remembered, she would be remembered with a smile and a laugh.
I actually made it through the speech without falling apart until the last couple of paragraphs.
We’re all stories in the end. Stories persist long after our physical bodies turn to dust, so tell these stories to your children, to your grandchildren, and to your great-grandchildren and tell them good so that they will tell their children and grandchildren. A hundred years from now, I want people to hear the story of the runaway camper and the food pantry and the fat Chihuahua that peed on her. We’re all stories in the end and my grandmother was a collection of really good ones.
It’s been a few days. I’m not depressed or non-functioning, but I am sad and I will probably be sad for a long time, but I take heart in knowing that a few more of you know the stories and, despite her imperfections and short-comings, you know that she was a good person who cared about her family and loved her grandchildren.
So, do me a favor… tell one of these stories to a friend.
Because we’re all stories in the end.