Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stories From My Grandmother

I've been writing about my grandmothers here a lot lately, I guess because July is their birthday month.  But also, they're both so damn old, I figure I should get to it while the getting's good.

Virginia, you know about.  She's great, but kind of a handful. For instance, yesterday I busted my ass running errands for her, and when I came in the house carrying a load of groceries and she said, "Jessie, are you pregnant?"


"Oh, you're getting a little bit of a stomach. Also, you got me the wrong toothpicks--I like the ones in the paper package you got me that one time."

Okay.  Well, the take-home here is I'm DONE wearing billowy white shirts with large flower patterns on them.  I'm through.

Anyway, that's just Virginia for you.  There's no changing her.  She and my other grandmother, Granny--whose name is Migs--couldn't be more different.  Granny lives out in California, and I haven't seen her in almost a year, but I could show up tomorrow, nine and a half months pregnant and she wouldn't mention it.  I could be in active labor and probably the most she'd do is ask if I needed Tums or perhaps some tea.

In fact, therein lies the trouble with Granny: she's so private and respectful of other peoples' privacy that you don't get many stories out of her. If she's not sure where the line between anecdote and gossip lies, she'll avoid that end of the pool all together.  Whereas, Virginia will just make shit up to keep you entertained.  I suppose both have their merits.

Anyway, every so often, Granny will tell a story about her childhood.  Like once she told me her earliest memory:

The year had to have been like 1913 or something.  She described to me this little blue jacket that she had loved, but had grown out of.  She remembers putting it away in her drawer and kind of petting the jacket and saying, "It's okay, I'll wear this again next time I'm a baby."

I love that story--it makes me cry a tiny bit every time I think of it.  I guess because Granny's 102 now, and you never know: she might get the chance to be a baby again pretty soon.

Anyway, Mom was just out visiting, and Granny told her another story while she was there:

When Granny was six, her father died.  He was a successful political cartoonist at a newspaper in Chicago, so the family lived pretty large until then.  But after he died, Granny's mother had to sell their big, fancy house on Lake Michigan and move to Sharon, Connecticut where her sister lived.  But right before he died, Granny's father bought a piano--just the stand-up kind--so Granny and her sister Sally could take piano lessons.  They moved that piano to Connecticut with them, and lots of little kids learned to play on it over the years.

Eventually, after a couple of generations of children gave it a good banging, the piano wouldn't stay in tune anymore.  Great Aunt Sally moved to Mackinac Island on Lake Huron and brought it with her.  Eventually, Sally donated the piano to "The Indians," which I guess means...well, I don't really know what that means.  I picture my tiny, prim little great aunt driving a truck with the piano in the back to the end of a dirt road where some Native Americans are sitting in a circle of tipis, making handicrafts around a smoking fire.  The chief in a full feather headdress solemnly accepts the piano from Aunt Sally.  Aunt Sally and the chief shake hands and Aunt Sally drives away.

Anyway, the Indians ended up not wanting the piano either.  It just wouldn't tune.  The last anybody saw of the piano, it was standing in shallow water out in Lake Huron. A fisherman took Aunt Sally out in a motorboat to identify it.

"Yes, that's our piano," she said, before turning around and motoring back to the land.

"So, The Indians didn't want it," Granny told Mom a little mournfully.

Mom could tell that, even though she wasn't saying it, Granny didn't approve of The Indians' piano-disposal method.

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