Friday, December 06, 2013

The Luckiest Girl


My great-grandmother, whom we always called by her name ("Jenny Mae" for purposes of this blog), was a big part of my life. I'm writing about her now because I just realized she was a grandmother by the time she was my age -- 40 is different now than it was in her day. 

Jenny Mae was a vivacious, willful, eternally youthful and romantic soul with a grudge-holding streak almost as wide as her stubborn-mule one. Standing about 5'2" in very tall heels, she had a ton of costume jewelry and wore wigs as a matter of course; there was a famous tale in the family of me being shocked to see her "without her hair on!" when I was about four. In her late 70s, she apparently decided to hell with the wigs, and grew her own hair out long; it was gorgeous, salt-and-pepper, and it emphasized her Native American genes -- amazing cheekbones, dark deep-set eyes, a nose and forehead that in profile you'd recognize from a mile away.

When I was little, before she retired, she had a beauty shop up on the town square; she did what she thought best for all of her customers' hair, and too damn bad if they thought otherwise. I'd hang out there sometimes, and she'd buy me Dr. Peppers in those little 8-ounce glass bottles from the giant old-fashioned cooler in the front of the shop. They cost a dime, and she insisted on payment before she'd let me take one by the pressed metal top, slide it along the tracks and lift it to freedom at the little gate.

I spent a lot of time at her house, too, which was just a few blocks from ours; my great-grandfather, about whom she had concocted many romantical and adventurous tales, mostly sat in his recliner smoking menthols and wheezing out a few words every five years or so. Jenny Mae talked enough for any ten people, so although according to older cousins he was a real cuss back in the day, I guess he'd quit fighting the verbal tide a long time ago, especially with his emphysema. Anyway, Jenny Mae would make us crustless sandwiches, cut to custom sizes; she'd freeze homemade ice-cream in ice trays (for custom serving amounts); she thriftily got "government cheese" and other no-frills sundries; when we slept over, which we did a lot, she'd make bacon and pancakes in a cast-iron skillet for breakfast; a Felix the Cat clock -- the kind with the switching tail and the eyes that ticked back and forth -- would watch us as we sat at the kitchen island of her little 1930s bungalow to eat.

Jenny Mae always believed the best in us kids, her only child's only grandkids; she just knew we were all destined for fame, fortune and wildly successful love. She thought my husband (when he was still only the boyfriend) was the absolute bee's knees and wanted us to get married immediately (we were 19 at the time). She herself had "run off" with my great-grandfather at 15 -- although the details of this have still never been explained to me, because my family does not talk of things, and had my grandmother at some murky indeterminate age no one will pin down for me. And but so that meant, among other things, that I had the benefit of growing up with her, a third grandmother basically, who was still young and spry enough to take me out to lunch on my 21st birthday and buy me my first legal margarita.

She died when I was in grad school, a hurricane of energy and excitement till the very end, and I miss her still.

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Blogger francine said...

i love this. and my grandma has a felix the cat clock she always hung in her kitchen. my dad saved his money and bought it for her when he was a kid. i don't think you can be a grandma without one (or until you get one).

7:21 AM  

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