2009-07-09 / News

Remembering grandmothers

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

Most people have fond memories of their grandmothers. I do too; but none of my memories even remotely matches any of the blue-haired, cookie-baking clichés that are so often portrayed on television.

I am thinking about this because I became a grandmother last week and I want to be sure that my brand new grandson will always have happy thoughts about me. The tough part about this is I can’t know what things about me will stick inside him. What I do know is that he will likely remember the very things that I’d prefer he didn’t.

When I picture one of my grandmothers, I usually remember her being completely naked. For many years, after she turned 60, she was a lifeguard and swimming instructor at a community pool. She was often wet and dripping, wrapped in a towel and topped with a rubber swim cap. When she got to the locker room, she stripped off her wet garb and paraded around the ladies area without one shred of modesty. So did all the other grandmas. The first time I saw this I was about 11. The sight of several elderly naked women wandering around telling jokes and kidding each other about their drooping body parts is still firmly imprinted on my memory banks. At the time, I was mortified, but years later the memories can send me into fits of laughter.

The other grandmother was far more reserved. I remember what a huge deal it was when she got her first “pant suit” in the 1970s, when she was about 72. Before that, she only wore dresses—always with a full slip underneath. She wore a girdle and garters and stockings, too. In the summer, she even wore dress shields. I can remember helping her get dressed, which was a huge effort. When she got to a certain age it was hard for her to hook up the girdle in the back, so I was often enlisted for that job. If I wasn’t around, I assume the hooking up job fell to my grandfather, but I’m not really sure. This grandmother always carried a pocketbook over her wrist—just like Queen Elizabeth—and she moved it from room to room in the house. It was always wherever she was, which struck me as strange, especially since there never seemed to be anything in there that was worth carrying around. There was always a book of matches, but she didn’t smoke. She had a fold-up rain hat, but rarely went out in bad weather. And there were always tissues. That’s it. No money. No credit cards. She didn’t even have a driver’s license because she never learned to drive. That pocketbook was a great mystery to me.

The naked grandmother loved to drive. In fact, she always had a very cool car and it was always a stick shift. When I was a kid she drove a VW beetle and had a couple of them, one after the other. She was only 4 feet, 10 inches tall, so even the “bug” was too big for her and she had to sit on a phonebook and have blocks put on the pedals. She was always running around doing errands—quick hops from point A to point B. She talked fast, thought fast and drove fast. She rarely sat down.

The other grandmother liked to take long rides in the country. She lived in Providence and enjoyed a trip up to the north end of the state, where she could see nature and maybe pick a bouquet of wildflowers or bittersweet. My grandfather was always willing to chauffeur her around on these lazy, purposeless rides.

When she was at home, she was usually sitting in her favorite chair, feet on her hassock, and watching TV. She liked talk shows and soaps, Jeopardy and Johnny Carson. Some evenings, after my grandfather would go to bed, she and I would stay up late playing Gin Rummy and wait for Carson to come on. She discovered a fondness for sombreros in her later years and we’d make a batch to sip while we played cards. She had the craziest laugh. Whenever something struck her as funny, she would quietly put her head down and her shoulders would heave up and down and then you’d realize that she was consumed by a fit of laughter. Her eyes would tear up and she would be rendered speechless for what seemed like forever.

At this point in the game, I have no idea what my grandson will remember about me, when he thinks about me many years from now. My hope is that he remembers me for just being myself—a woman who loved him very much.

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