Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Tribute to My Bad Ass Grandma, 1910 - 2010

You almost made it to your 100th birthday. And that’s pretty crazy, considering that you single-handedly disproved the theory that positivity extends life. You were emo Grandma; always ready to talk about how shitty shit was, and how your life sucked harder than anyone’s, and how we should all shut up and be grateful that we, too, didn’t have to pick cotton at the rate of a penny per pound.

Grandma, you were awesome.

You were awesome because you were totally passive aggressive. Yeah, you thought you were the most important bitch in the room, but you didn’t say it – you just talked right over us and blamed it on age and hearing loss. You never stopped looking at the bad stuff. Grandpa’s been dead for years, but you still talked constantly about his alcoholism. Which lasted for 2 years. Back in the 1950s. It was your favorite topic; probably because those AA meetings were the highlight of your social life. I’ve never seen a 90-something year old get so excited telling a story about all the nice people she met in AA. And how fun it was to have all those bumbling alkies over for muffins.

Grandma, what made you awesome was your complete lack of tack. You didn’t need it. You were old; you could say anything. You read me my estranged half-brother’s suicide note, dropped the bomb about my cousin being in prison, described in vivid detail your brother’s horrible cancer-related death to Cancer Dad on the day of his diagnosis and you didn’t even bat an eye.

You were never ashamed. From you, I got a first hand account of electroshock therapy. A speech about why God sucks. You told me to get your purse one day – it’s it the closet, next to Grandpa, you said, shocking me to my very core. That’s when I discovered you had been keeping your husband’s remains on the shelf next to your handbags since I was ten.

You were obsessed with your own life story, even though you never did anything at all after marrying Grandpa (besides briefly ending up in the nuthouse. No one I know – besides you – could hate the home their husband bought so much that they hallucinated about a flock ducks in the living room.)

You didn’t learn to drive until you were 40; even then you never made a left turn.

You were the 13th child of 14, born in a one room house in Oklahoma, only three years after it became a state. You talked shit about the Indian chiefs sitting in front of the general store in Apache, Oklahoma, waiting for their government checks – supposedly, according to you, so they could spend it on booze and chewing tobacco. You wondered aloud why the gardeners were Mexican instead of Japanese these days – why are things so different now? I dunno, Grandma, I dunno.

Other people’s grandparents talk about walking uphill both ways in the snow to get to school, but you were an original gangsta. You took a fucking covered wagon to school everyday! You not only had a pet prairie dog; your twin brothers (sadly named Adolf and Nels) had a freaking crow and a singing coyote that would accompany their banjo playing.

You were weirdly superstitious – and your stories about ghosts always had logical explanations, but you would never hear them. The dead Indian chief ghost that used to carry his lantern over the hill; the doors that would open mysteriously after being locked, supposedly to let in the ghosts of the deceased previous home owners. When the Ouija board spelled out jibberish that turned out to be Danish – your grandmother was trying to speak to your dad and tell him there was a heaven. Obviously. (That would be more believable if you weren’t, like, 6 at the time and had some knowledge of Danish.)

You always had your hair permed, your nails done. The last time I saw you in your home, you were going on and on about how many jobs you had. A telegraph operator for Western Union, a film developer – before you married and never worked again. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings and tell you that I’ve had more jobs at the age of 22 than you’ve had in your whole life – I mean, you were legitimately traumatized that you had to work so much. Until you were 27. Shit, Grandma, your life was hard.

Your mom wallpapered the tiny farm house you lived in with newspaper. Your prairie dog made a hole in the door so he could come in whenever he chose. You were certain your eldest sister was kidnapped and murdered – but the fact that she was last seen with a suitcase and a mysterious man makes it sound like she was leaving her husband for a lover. Just sayin’.

You were diagnosed with every disease cataloged by man. You survived multiple types of cancer multiple times, supposedly recovered from multiple sclerosis, inexplicable blindness, and god knows what else.

You were a tough old bird, and, to the end, you thought you would never die. Your main concern when I visited you in the hospital was whether or not you’d get your voice back – not your failing kidneys, or infected intestines (all of which you recovered from before you passed away). You were 99 years old, but you kicked an orderly and punched a nurse on the way to the hospital. Life was your bitch, and you were determined to win the fight against mortality (even though, as you constantly reminded us, your whole family was dead and you were pissed about it – apparently we just didn’t count as family).

Anyway, I love you Grandma. You’re irreplaceable. No old woman is as angry as you; as bad ass as you; as downright pessimistic as you. You were a complete narcissist to the core, and it was truly awesome. You couldn’t remember your son’s wife’s name (I wish I could forget that too) and you always thought you were broke (despite the seven figure savings).

You, and your tales of suffering, shall be missed.

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