As I light a memorial candle in remembrance of my grandmother, I recall her legacy amongst those close to her. She is known for her sense of style, outgoing personality, and interesting use of humor. In my teen years I abhorred visiting her because she always made me feel bad about myself; though now as an adult woman I have come to realize she has taught me many things. I am sure she did not even know she had taught me these things, and probably did not even intend to. Here I list them in no particular order.
1. It is okay to say cruel things about people as long as they are behind their back or you think they can’t hear you. My grandmother never hesitated to have a good laugh about her neighbors, grandkids, or even the baby eating dinner next to us at a restaurant. However, she would never think to say these negative things to their face unless they were kin. Instead she resorted to consulting with others around her about people she had problems with. These qualms ranged from simple fashion mistakes to a baby having “bad table manners”. Her biggest problem was having to wait more than three seconds for food at any restaurant and automatically taking it out on the waitress. Then, of course, commenting on her appearance behind her back. She was like a coffee maker without a filter.
2. Show off things you are proud of to your friends that don’t care. She owned things like expensive cars, fur, and art until the day she died. There was no shortage of displaying these items to people that she considered friends living in the retirement home with her. One of her favorite activities was showing off her grown children to people who had none of their own. These instances always led to awkwardly silent dinners where no one really knew what to say and just wanted an end to the gathering.
3. The best foods are incredibly difficult to eat. Everything she ever served us was a misadventure in eating. Whenever we arrived at her New England home, she would give us a soup of gazpacho from a store down the street. The gazpacho slipped on and off the spoon, then splattered all over your shirt. My grandmother and I got it in our teeth too. Then for dinner we would go out for lobsters, which was a gigantic twelve step process for us, but a very easy task for her. There was little content inside the lobster for all the effort put in to gather the nutrients. She always ordered the most complicated foods and made sure to share them with everyone.
4. Constantly tell your children and grandchildren they are chubby for no particular reason. “Richard, you’re looking chubby!” she said once to my dad. Or maybe she said it eighty times over the course of my 24 years of knowing her. She had even said it to me because no one in my family was immune. I always wondered about the purpose of the statement, because it really led to nothing productive. Was it out of concern or just general want to say something rude? I mean, never was there a suggestion on a solution to our supposed chubbiness. It was simply a comment about appearance to make her feel good or something.
5. Always brush your hair before you go out. If someone you are going out with does not have brushed hair, brush it for them. If anyone was a fan of a good hairbrush, it was my grandmother. She had many hairbrushes of different intensities for a variety of hair types. Many times I would wake up from a deep and intense nightmare about my grandmother while at her house and she would immediately tell me to brush my hair. I usually didn’t have one, which was a big shock to her. She thought that everyone should have a hairbrush, even those who do not have any hair. One time we were going to a restaurant to meet a friend of hers and she said, “wow, you would look beautiful.. but only if you would brush your hair.” That is a pretty unbelievable comment, but a real testament to my grandmother’s passion for orderly tresses.
6. Favoritism is absolutely fine with your children and children’s children. Let it be known who you like more. Sitting in the back of a jerky car piloted by my grandmother, I recall having a calm conversation about video games with my sister. Things escalated when this calmness turns into a debate and my sister yelled at me. My grandmother then tells me to be quiet and deems me the misbehaving child. It is obvious through voice identification who caused the commotion in the backseat that day, but my grandmother did not want to throw my sister under the bus because she was her favorite sibling. In fact, my grandmother chose favorites of all the sets of my cousins. Her verbalization of bias towards and against specific family members was problematic and sometimes hurtful growing up, but became routine and accepted by my family.
7. Do good things for the ones you love. My grandmother was very generous until the day she passed. Whether it was providing for complete strangers, family, or friends, she wanted to be a giver. She worked hard to gather enough money to support her family from the beginning. There was always plenty of food that is difficult to eat on the table because of her dedication to bringing it.
The memories I have of spending time with my grandma are of her uttering disparaging comments. Looking back on that sometimes I can’t help but to feel like she didn’t love me. Instead of thinking like that, I choose to believe her way of expressing her love was telling me I am fat or asking me if I am wearing a bra.