the big nine two



Today is my sole surviving grandparent’s birthday. My dad’s mom, my “Green Mimi”, named so because she had that old fashioned green carpet in the living room, turns ninety-two years old today. Notice how I didn’t say ninety something years young. Because one, that’s annoying, and two there is no such thing as young when you are over ninety.

I spoke to her for about twenty minutes this morning. She sounded better than she has in years, and she is excited about being eighty-two. I didn’t correct her, I think it is cruel when people do that. She talked about things that will never happen due to her health, that she needed to get done in her (long-gone) house since I promised that Jacob will be visiting Erie at the end of March, and how she will get to hold him and read to him whenever he wants a story, and how she will walk him back to the creek at the end of the triple-sized backyard to see the tadpoles and point out the rows of vegetables in the garden, things she did with all of us (my uncles, cousins, brother, and I) when we were kids. She said she hopes the violets, crocuses, and daffodils will be up by Jacob’s visit so he can see them, and she talked about how she will tell him the same stories she used to tell her boys about growing up in Sioux City, and the clover patch that grew three feet high and the field of violets that popped up every spring.

She told me how much my Poppa dotes about Jacob every day and always looks at and shows off his pictures because he is so proud of him. I think she used the word adored, I’m not sure because I was busy thinking about how much he loved me and how much I miss him now that he is gone and the old house which sold and the big yard I loved so much has been re-developed. I whole-heartedly believe that Poppa is with Jacob, and have a pretty good story to prove it, if you are interested and promise not to think I’m crazy.

She asked if maybe they can drive down to Philadelphia once the weather breaks and visit on a day of a good baseball game (her father loved everything about the sport, especially the stats) and she can take Jake while maybe I take the car to get some shopping done or take a little time for myself.

Mimi was a librarian, and makes sure that I am taking plenty of time out of boring, useless stuff like housework and cooking to read aloud to Jake and always asks if I am still reading new books for myself. She never believed much in daily chores and anything that could be slapped together to fill your belly at dinnertime was just fine. I have her old 1940’s cookbooks that convince you that canned is wonderful and anything can be substituted by something because of war shortages. I have the 1950’s cookbooks that praise all things frozen and quick. Don’t tell her, but I tossed the books from the eighties that taught you how to cook in a microwave. I hate microwaves. As long as you eat your raw fruits and vegetables all day long and drink your milk and have juice with every meal you can’t go wrong, says she. A cup of something hot with a half a slice of toast with butter and peanut butter after your afternoon nap can’t hurt either.

Mimi is all about eating a whole lot but keeping your figure. Her advice is to avoid junk unless you are at a party and exercise, exercise, exercise and the best way to exercise is to run around with your children. And never give in to sugary temptation while pregnant nor “near your monthly”. Always brush your teeth. Be well-read. Go to school. As much as possible. My Master’s Degree is nice, she reminds me, but not nearly enough for a woman these days. I have her college diploma in my basement, and I mean to have it framed when I get around to framing mine. Ladies never raise their voices but assure they are heard. I never raise my voice. But boy, am I heard.

Mimi always thought she was ugly, and often still describes herself as “witchy” because of her black (now white) hair and black eyes. I hate to admit it, but I may as well do it while she is alive when it is easier to do something like this. When I was little I thought she coulda been a ringer for the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s the eyebrows, and when mine go unplucked I kind of think I look like Mimi. And the Witch. The picture above was taken around about the time she was my age, right after she had my Uncle Charley. She thinks she looks like her mother, but I’ve never seen a picture of her mother as she refused to be photographed because she was embarassed of the way she looked. I would have loved to see her, my great-grandma Adda Louise Lear Van Horne. She died in 1955, the year after my dad was born.

I think some of the curl in the back of my hair comes from Mimi by way of my dad, and I like to think Jake has her eyes. I inherited her love of books and school, or maybe it was just forced upon me. Her father was a mathematics professor, and that love and ability stuck through the generations.

I’ve recently realized that my need to make everything as small as possible (like toothpaste tubes and bread bags and paper) probably comes from her, as does my tendency to worry about things that need not to be worried about. Mimi loves to stockpile, just like me. I’m working on stopping the need to do it, even though it is comforting for me to have 24 units of everything. Just in case. My name is a shortened version of Loraine, her middle name. She liked Lora better. Because it was shorter. And short is always better.

Unless you are talking about your height. Mimi is so proud that I am tall. She thinks it makes buying clothes easier and makes people take notice of me. She laughs when I tell her I have to have some of my pant hems let out but she tells me to be grateful I can wear flat shoes and still be taken seriously. She was so disappointed that I stopped growing when I was ten. She tells me she thought for sure I’d be six feet tall like my grandfather.

Every birthday that passes I think may be her last. I’m sorry I can’t be there today and she says is sorry she can’t save me a piece of cake, as a treat. “Just a bite or two to get a taste can’t hurt.”

After we said goodbye this morning she stopped me from hanging up to ask if I’m keeping a journal. She kept one, just like her father did. I know that the idea of a public blog would be lost on her, but I assured her that since I was pregnant I have been keeping an honest-to-goodness record of how I feel and what I’m doing and what Jake is up to and I keep it up at least once a week. I plan to give this to him for his thirtieth birthday, I said. Maybe even pay to have it bound in hardback. “Pay to bind a book!”, she exclaimed. “Why, you can do that yourself with a piece of pressed cardboard you’ll find in the basement in the drawers under the stairs with the kitchen tools and the maracas, some good glue, and some of that twine on the shelf by the back door!”.

I smile because of all the books she’s hardbound for me. Well-loved classics that she didn’t find the heart to throw away and cheap paperbacks that deserved a better cover.

I could go on and on but there will be a time for that, hopefully not too soon. I promised I’d get a letter off to her, which is a promise she makes to me every time we speak. She wrote me three times a week up until about seven or eight years ago. She still clips the funny papers for me when she has the energy, because she is sure I don’t have the time to read them each day. Oh, and she doesn’t stop talking. Ever.

I get that from her too.

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