by Julia Buckley
Grandma in gardening gear.
A few weeks ago I told a story about my grandmother and her passport. But in reminiscing about that story of course I remembered many more wonderful things about Grandma, especially the advice she doled out over her 88 years. I'll share a few here, starting with:
1. Dress for the calendar, not for the weather. Grandma's wisdom holds true today; how many people are we seeing, when spring peeks through the winter clouds and gives us a rare day in the 40s or 50s, who refuse to wear coats at all? Grandma would shake her head at them; they are bound for winter colds and flus.
2. Never look at a monkey. Grandma didn't like monkeys in general, and I'm sure there was something far in her past that somehow linked them to evil. But most especially one was not to look at a monkey while she was pregnant--this would mean that her child would eventually resemble that monkey.
3. Always wear blankets. We suffered through this particular wisdom on many a summer sleep-over at Grandma's house. Children who flung off covers would soon find themselves covered again. And heaven forbid if a child coughed. She would hear a distant, "Who vas dat coughing? Chreesy? Julie? Leenda?" and then Grandma herself would appear with--what else? Blankets.
This probably had something to do with the fact that her first-born son died of scarlet fever, something she never got over. But by the time we came along that was a distant memory--for us anyway--and we really couldn't understand her fear of a coughing child.
4. Everything tastes better with garlic and paprika. My grandmother was a wonderful cook who never worked from recipes. We begged her to write things down for us, but it was too difficult; she was an instinctive cook who had never gone beyond the fourth grade with formal schooling. She did not work well in text, but her cooking was poetic. When my mother asked for recipes, she would say, "Oh, a lilly bit of this and a lilly bit of that."
5. Never call someone a gypsy. In my grandmother's world, this word was the ultimate insult. So once, when she and my grandfather came to my parish school for the annual chicken dinner, and my grandfather leaned toward me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Tell you grandma that lady looks like a geepsee," my grandmother turned her wrath on him. "You watch your mouth!" she hissed. I sat between them, not knowing the deep connotations of this particular word.
6. Never cross Grandma. Once we were out in Michigan at the little house that my grandmother inherited from her father, who had bought it with a railroad lawsuit. It had become our summer place. My grandparents had been married close to sixty years at this point, but my grandmother was angry at my grandfather for wearing a particular ring to the breakfast table.
She confided to me, rather than him, that he had received the ring from someone in his past named Margot Pinkotzi. "I did not get this ring from Margot Pinkotzi!" my grandfather boomed over his cereal bowl (from which he ate dried bread and hot milk). "I bought this ring from Joe Thomas for 75 cents!"
Neither of them seemed to find it ironic that they were arguing over something that had happened many decades earlier. In fact, when someone asked my grandfather what the secret was to his long marriage, he responded, "Argue a lot."
7. Always give gifts. My grandmother had never been a rich woman, but she was talented at cooking and needlework, so she always made us beautiful things. When Alzheimer's took part of her away near the end of her life, she still gave us gifts, even if they were strings of yarn or balled-up napkins. It was the giving she remembered.
She still gives to us today, in the form of memories.