Let me tell you about my Grandma Pat.
My Grandma Pat was a funny, Southern lady. A hoot. And she always had a story up her sleeve. What a storyteller she was! I’d listen for hours to her long-winded tales of our past, wide-eyed and big-eared, always hungry for more.
My favorite story of hers is the one where my father convinced his little brother, my uncle, to jump off the top of a baseball backstop. If you don’t know, because I myself had to learn this, a baseball backstop is that big, tall fence behind where the players bat. It’s about fifteen to twenty feet tall.
My father, around 10 at the time, convinced my Uncle Ben, around 8, that, if he tied a blanket around his neck like Superman, he’d be able to fly. “Go. Do it. You’ll see I’m right.” I can imagine my father saying this with an arrogant smirk, always convinced of his own cleverness. My uncle, good little brother he was, did what my dad said. He jumped. He flew! And he broke his arm.
If you know my father, you’ll not be surprised to find that he pulled this off. Grandma Pat would tell me, many times, half-proud, half-chiding, that my father can convince anyone of anything. Yet, she lamented, it’s simply impossible to move his mind.
She blamed herself. “Your daddy’s had it easy from the start. As a little sperm he didn’t have to do any swimming. The doctor put him in me with a turkey-baster. And he didn’t have to work to get out, either. The doctor pulled him straight from my belly through a C-section. He didn’t have to work at all. I think that’s why no one can ever get him to do anything.”
She’d recall, exasperated, how my 2-year old father used to climb up into the highest kitchen cabinet for cereal, or on top of the refrigerator for fun. Try as she might, she could not get this child to move. He’d do what he wanted, no way to stop it. That’s just the kind of boy my father was, and still is.
My grandmother’s accounts of my father’s childhood were almost always recounted out of the presence of any first-hand witnesses. I must have heard the story of my father’s trick on my Uncle Ben at least a dozen times before he was close enough to pipe in. “Hey! It wasn’t all me. The neighborhood kids were goading him on, too!” Poor guy was trying to throw in a defense. The story was sealed.
“Yes. But who got the neighborhood kids riled up?”, my Grandma Pat retorted, smartly. We all knew who that was.
Grandma Pat made it her life’s work to teach me who I was by telling me who I came from. She had stories for every generation, all the way back to her own grandparents. For example, I know that she had two grandmas, herself. One was wacky and would lift her skirt up to pee off the side of boats while fishing. That’s the grandma my Grandma Pat took after. She told me so herself. The other grandmother had more airs about her. She was dignified and sophisticated, and proudly held the name Queen Victoria.
Usually, I was the exclusive listener of Grandma Pat’s stories. Our time together was a staple of my upbringing; a familiar routine. We’d sit in my grandparents’ cream-colored, leather recliners, she in hers and me in Grandpa Al’s. Grandpa Al would always excuse himself, leaving us ladies to gab while he listened to audiobooks and enjoyed a cigar on the porch. Grandma Pat would turn on the TV and switch the channel to her favorite soap opera, Paula Deen’s cooking show, or whatever Rosie O’Donnell happened to be on at the time.
Grandma Pat would take this time to ask me what I think about everything under the sun. What boys I was interested in, what future did I want for myself, how were my parents treating me. She was a great listener herself. She cared what was going on in my head, and she wanted to know who I was.
Now that my Grandma Pat is gone, I strain to remember her and her stories. But I remember vividly the feeling of sitting with her in her house, listening and sharing. I remember how she’d pat the top of my hand lovingly with her soft little fingers manicured in pink. She’d smile big, and tell me over and over, “Love you, sweet pea.”
“Love you, too, Grandma Pat.”