January 5, 2011 – My son was part of an ongoing game with my mother when he was younger. Each time he’d visit he asked her to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because no one, not even his own loving mother, could make it as good as she could.
“Grandmom makes it special,” he would say. “With love.”
Whether he said it simply to make her feel good and shower him with more attention, or he really could taste that special ingredient that no one else apparently had, my mother devoured the compliment and the game continued for years.
Now that he’s almost 28, my mother doesn’t make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore, although she would if he asked. He adores his grandmother, and he should. But when I tell him that his grandmother isn’t the same woman who raised me, he gets that glazed look in his eyes and has no idea what I mean.
Something happens to women when they become grandmothers; they suddenly become the most special people on earth. I adore my mother, too, but she’s different as a grandmother than she was as a mother. Not that she was overly strict or mean raising her brood, but my siblings and I didn’t get the attention that her grandchildren get. In fact, my father is fond of saying that if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, he wants to come back as one of my mother’s grandchildren. I think that says it all.
My experience with my grandmother was quite different. I only had one, my mother’s mother who we called Gramsy, and she was already an old woman by the time I was born. I don’t remember her as a dotting grandmother. I don’t remember much at all – she passed away when I was 11 – but I do remember she wasn’t too crazy about kids in her old age. She did, however, have other attributes that made her unique and interesting. I can honestly say she fascinates me now.
Gramsy and her family were poor. I know most people struggled back then during those depression years, but they were really poor because her husband, who died when my mother was a young teen, had a heart condition and couldn’t work. From the stories my mother tells, Gramsy didn’t mind being poor. I suppose she was used to it, or didn’t want to show her kids that it bothered her. But my mother resented not having money and living a life straight from the pages of “Angela’s Ashes”. She never had new clothes and was made fun of by the other kids because she had to wear her brother’s shoes to school. She speaks frequently about those shoes, and of the times when she was lucky if she got an orange and a nickel for Christmas. She also talks about when she and her twin brother were born, they only had one infant undershirt between them.
I’d give up an awful lot to have a conversation with Gramsy now, to see what she thought about her life. I’d love to ask about her younger days, when she first met her husband. I wish I remembered more about her personality. I can picture her clearly – my cousins used to say she looked like George Washington on the dollar bill. And she did. Her entire wardrobe consisted of loose-fitting house dresses (do they still make them) with nylon stockings rolled down to her knees. I remember that she had a raspy voice from smoking Viceroys, and that she loved to gamble, which is something my mother inherited. Gramsy loved to play the numbers, I’m told, which was illegal in those pre-Pennsylvania Lottery days, and rumor had it had she ran the numbers game in the Port Richmond neighborhood where she lived. My mother says she often thinks about how much Gramsy would enjoy the casinos today.
Gramsy also had a sweet tooth and loved butter cake and jelly roll. I can still picture her walking to “the avenue” to the corner bakery whenever she stayed with us, which was frequently. She really didn’t have a home towards the end of her life and took turns staying with our family or one of my mother’s sisters’ families. Can you imagine being tossed back and forth and having no place to call your own? That must have been difficult and I hope she felt wanted.
I realize my son’s memories of his grandmother will be different from mine, but it’s been interesting to have experienced my relationship with Gramsy and his relationship with my mother, not necessarily to compare them, but to realize how wonderful the differences can be. It makes me speculate what kind of grandmother I will be when I’m blessed with grandchildren, and what my grandchildren will take away from the experience.
It is still several years away most likely, but I do look forward to becoming the most special person on earth.