“Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited, sorrow won/Sorrow that put me on the pills/It’s in my honey it’s in my milk.” -The National
My grandmother and I never got along. In fact, when she was dying her last words to me were, “I’m going to haunt you.” Grandmom Edith knew that I was easily freaked out, especially by the paranormal. I replied: “Good.”
I never understood how or why my mom’s mom got along with all her other grandchildren except for me. She and my cousin Jenny exchanged letters full of sweet “I miss yous” and “you’re such a good girl,” but her directives to me were always along the lines of “go get me another beer.” I was nine.
I wanted my grandmom to be like all my other friends’ grandmothers–to spoil me with candy and homemade cookies. But no such luck. My parents used to leave me with her for entire weekends when they needed some alone time. Here’s how the weekend usually went:
Friday night: Grandmom presents me with my beloved Party Mix snack–that delicious junk food potpourri of chips, pretzels and cheese balls in a bag. I eat it and she asks how I could possibly eat so much.
Saturday: Edith makes a huge breakfast–steak and eggs. I can’t finish it. She is offended and shocked– “How can you not finish that? There are starving kids in Africa!” We make a run to her liquor store where she picks up a six-pack of Old Milwaukee beer and a 12-pack of Parliaments. Then back to the apartment to watch Dallas and old made-for-TV movies.
There was no story time with my grandmom, no walks to the park or special trips to the toy store. With Edith, there were beer mugs in the freezer and witticisms I was too young to understand, spoken between cigarette puffs.
I was no ideal child, don’t get me wrong. I challenged everything and everyone as much as possible. If my next door neighbors had toys that I wanted, I simply “borrowed” them when they were not home. I also had no problem stealing on Easter. The holiest day of the Catholic year and I stealthily put a pack of colored pencils in my jacket after my mom refused to buy them. And then at home, cool as a cucumber, I opened the pencils and started coloring in front of everyone. Edith asked me where I got them. “From the store,” I said.
Lots of kids steal things, but usually their parents drag them back to the store and embarrass them so profoundly that they learn a lesson. My mom just rolled her eyes and I got what I wanted without punishment. Jenny never would have done something like that.
But bad kid or not, my dad’s mom and I got along famously. (It was possible for me to get along with others.) Grandmom Marge was nice and sweet and funny and affectionate and she cooked Italian food. She was the best. (I still believe she’s my guardian angel. We all deserve one.) So what was wrong with me and Edith?
Today, my mom calls me Little Eddie. She says the older I get, the more I remind her of her mother. Great. So I’m the wicked witch of the west. There are certain attributes Edith and I do share: I have her nose, the shape of her face, and I scrunch my nose, close my eyes and show my top teeth when I laugh, just as she did. I’m also full of wit. (Not charm.)
My mom loves sharing her mom’s sayings, such as: “When money doesn’t come through the door, love goes out the window,” or “Never tell a man everything he doesn’t want to know,” and “What’s in the marrow comes out the bone.” We could write a book full of Edithisms. Her old quips make us laugh and we know there is truth and wisdom in them. We have our theories on why Edith was the way she was. We’re all a sum of our experiences. And she had some brutal ones.
I’m still mad at my grandmom though. She’s won our war; she haunts me.