Some thoughts on Grandmas (Crank Magazine, spring, 2005)
Grandmas, especially as they get older, are the sort of people that have a smell that sticks with you. They're people who can scare you with their oddities and tempers, yet love you like no one else in the world. Yeah, they have more facial hair than the other women in your life, and they refuse to stray from one fashion path, no matter how outdated it may be, but that's just fine with you.
In fact, all of it is just fine with you. Even if your grandma isn't an apple-pie-grandma, or the one basting the turkey at Christmas, or who bakes gingerbread houses and knits you scarves, but instead, has real problems like you and the rest of her progeny. Even if she says something crass or racist when you bring potential mates home for your family to sniff, and even if she doesn't hear every third word you say to her, forcing you to yell into her ear, "no, grandma, I don't want to get married yet," you just pack it up into a suitcase and store it in a warm place with a sign above that says, "Grandma."
What amazes me -- and you -- about grandmas is their incredible ruggedness. Grandmas are tougher than boot leather. Hell, they raised those hard-asses you call parents. Sure, we're presented the idea of grandmas in our schoolyard rhymes as fragile -- as blue-haired women with walkers and false teeth that could fall apart at any moment -- so you'd better be gentle. But I've met grandmas who broke hips (it’s always the hip, isn’t it?) and recovered without a whimper. I knew one grandma who fell, giving herself a black and purple shiner the size of a pie plate, and, stubborn as always, wouldn't listen to her family's concern about living on her own. One of my grandmas was a tough escape artist. She'd flee the nursing home the doctors said she needed to be in, and then snag a ride on the Greyhound to pay surprise visits to members of my family.
Many grandmas are the last link you might have to the old country that gave you your strange, multi-syllable surname. My grandma came here on a boat from Ireland. My buddy's grandma only speaks Greek and lives in his family's basement. She makes amazing baklava. My girlfriend's grandma hid Jews from the Nazis in Holland. Now she lives in Canada and her grandkids think of her as a god. And she is. That's the thing about most grandmas: for all their perceived daintiness and age, they're people with storied lives who have overcome challenges we just can't imagine anymore. And when they’re gone, as both of mine are now, they leave a hole in your self that you will never be able to fill.