My grandma on my dad’s side died when I was younger, so my memories of her are limited to the things that happened during my childhood. Luckily for me, I have some wonderful memories.
For as long as I knew her, Grandma was not in good health. I remember her sitting in her armchair in the living room, watching wrestling on television and being utterly thrilled when her grandchildren came to visit. Grandma smoked heavily for many years, and when I was really little, I looked forward to her lighting up because she let me blow out the flame on her Bic lighter after the end of the cigarette caught. On the rare occasion she forgot the first time, Grandma flicked up another flame just so I could puff it out again. At the time, I was too little to realize that the smoking was to blame for much of Grandma’s poor health.
My time with my grandmother was mostly constrained to the little house she and Grandpa lived in for many years, the house where they raised eight children and lovingly welcomed them back with grandchildren in tow. Grandma’s chair was a high backed armchair, orange, beige, and brown tweed or something like it, and I loved to sit in it with her. We watched the WWF together, and she hollered encouragement to her favorite “athletes.” I was always excited to watch wrestling with Grandma because it wasn’t a program I wasn’t really allowed to watch at home.
The best part about visiting at my grandparents’ house, though was the treats. Grandma started by cutting me an orange. She always had the sweetest navel oranges, and whether it’s because she cut them up with such love or because they were better “big city” oranges, they were fantastic. Never once did I eat an orange on a plate there: Grandma always served it to me on a styrofoam meat tray, meticulously scrubbed and white or pink (or blue if I was really lucky) and nubbed across the surface with those raised round dots you see every time you cook pork chops but never really think about. The best part about the oranges, though was the way she cut them. Grandma pulled her big butcher’s knife out of the drawer, the blade a little wavy and more than a little thin from decades of sharpening, and cut the orange in half. She then quartered each half with perpendicular lines, leaving me with eight little pyramids, rounded on the bottoms, juicy on their pulpy tops. I’d lie on my belly on the shaggy carpet in the livingroom, sprawled in front of the tv, and enjoy every bite of those oranges.
If I finished the orange to Grandma’s satisfaction, she trooped down to the basement in a way that only a ninety pound woman with an oxygen hose could troop. Like a pirate, she hid her best booty in a secret place: the giant old deep freezer in the basement. I was terrified of that basement, dark and scary as it felt to my young self, but somehow going down there with Grandma wasn’t so bad.
Hidden in the freezer was a case of dixie cup ice cream, usually vanilla, but chocolate or strawberry swirl on rare and blessed occasions. There is a company that still makes dixie cups, but the last time I bought them they didn’t taste right to me, and I was forced to eat them with a spoon. The dixie cups at Grandma’s house each had a little wooden stick, perfect for little hands to scoop ice cream to a sticky little mouth. A wooden stick is simply the only way to eat a dixie cup. On many trips to the city, eating that dixie cup, and seeing the grin on Grandma’s face when she offered it to me, was the best part of my day.
My grandma has been gone for many years, and I wish I’d had a chance to know her as an adult, to chat with her as one grown up person to another about life and all the good and terrible stuff that goes along with it. My memories of her are entwined with my childhood, and my times with her glow with the love that is present in the small, simple things. Even now, I eat an orange, cut into eight even pieces, rocking and swaying on the plate, and I think of the tiny woman in the tweed chair.
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