I wrote this piece in 2012 while taking Judy Reeves Wild Women Wild Voices Workshop. I’m glad to share it with you now. Grandma G. was quite a character. In fact I have a character in my next novel, The Silver Shoes, based on her larger than life personality!
Whenever I drive over the Coronado Bay Bridge I have a longing to be with Grandma G. again. I pass her house on A Avenue, now overgrown with trees so thick you can barely see the one-story craftsman. I think of other times long ago when we’d ride in the station wagon onto a ferryboat to get there. Either the Fun Ferry, where you could get out of the car feel the breeze on your face and smell the salty bay. Or the Un-fun Ferry, where you had to stay seated in the car and just listen to the radio.
I imagine her standing on the porch again with open arms ready to give me a squeeze. Her body warm and soft against mine, like giant pillows enfolding me. Her kisses sweet as the M&Ms, in the crystal candy dish that waited for me on her sidebar.
“Hello Jilliebeaner,” she’d say as if I were the most important person in the world.
The best times would be when I’d get to stay all by myself for the whole weekend. Friday nights we’d watch her old green-screened tv. Westerns were her favorites. When the cowboys fought she’d yell, “Whee!” really loud and make me giggle. I also giggled every time the cuckoo clock went off and the bird jumped out.
On Saturdays we’d go to the toy store on Orange Avenue and I could pick out one thing, no matter how big or small. Back at her house on the treadle sewing machine she’d make dresses, using remnants, for the doll she’d bought me. Grandma taught me how to sew sequins on with shiny beads on top to keep them in place. Or we’d design outfits for Betsy McCall paper dolls. Hats were grandma’s specialty because she had been a milliner. If my brother had to be there too, he’d usually choose model kits. I hated that stinky glue.
Sometimes I’d get to help Grandma’s next door neighbor, Dot, feed the baby birds that had fallen out of the giant untrimmed palm, with an egg dropper. Dot’s house was filled to the brim with dusty knickknacks, piles of newspapers and magazines. My brother told me she’d been an aerial trickster, which meant she’d walked on airplane wings while in flight. I didn’t believe him until I saw the photos myself.
Saturday nights I’d help Grandma set up for the poker party. We’d take the tablecloth off the enormous round table, make appetizers and set out the highball glasses. For staid Coronado they certainly were a motley crew. Mr. S. had a big face and smoked cigars. Skinny Mrs. C. had a high, squeaky voice and her nose twitched when she laughed. I don’t really remember the rest of them. Grandma let me sit next to her and stack the chips. I always liked it when her pile got heftier than everyone else’s and she liked it, too. I could tell by the way she’d smile, wiggle those eyebrows at me and pull her winnings across the table with her arms.
Sunday’s we’d collect sand dollars the size of saucers on the long stretch of beach and eat breakfast at the Hotel Del. Then we’d go back to her house and lounge. If I wanted she let me play with the mahjong tiles she’d brought back from her trip to the Orient. I liked the smooth ivory surfaces and the clicking sounds they made. It was always sad when Dad picked me up to go home.
I remember that last Fourth of July. The last time she gave me a squeeze. The peppers, alyssum and lobelia in their pots: red, white and blue. She hugged me good-bye like always, but this time she held on a minute longer than usual as she said, “I love you, Jilliebeaner.”
We don’t know if it was because of her diabetes or her heart just gave out, but a few days later, right before the moving van came to move her into a rest home, Dot found Grandma on the carpet in the hallway—dead. I remember my aunt and Mother trying to be civil with each other as they divvied up and sold off Grandma’s things at the yard sale. I can still feel the sound of those coins dropping into that candy dish instead of M&Ms.
At her graveside during the burial, a wind blew through my sorrow and she told me I’d be okay and not to worry because I was loved and she’d always be with me. Now, years later, I look in the mirror and see her face again: curly hair, beauty mark on my cheek, wry smile. And I’m reminded to live life more fully.