My grandmother is 86 years old. As of right now, or right now minus about two weeks ago, she still lives completely on her own. She's more gangster than your grandmother will ever know: had two husbands, six kids, and every house she's ever owned she paid for up front, in cash. When she was in her teens, she and a girl friend got bound and determined that they were going to go to the West Point prom (or whatever-they-call-it). They were heartset. There was no way they'd let some measly small problem, such as their not knowing a single cadet there enrolled, stop them.
My grandmother, clever and bold, devised their scheme: they got their hands on a current yearbook. Together, the girls went through the pages and pages of photos. Each found a cadet whom they really liked the looks of. They took the boys' names down and got their addresses at WP. Then, they started writing the boys letters.
"Oh don't you remember me, we met at such-and-such...." They took facts and actual WP social events, leveraged their gossip and the names of girls they knew had actually been to WP, were dating or had dated this man or that one, and said, "What a fun time we had! We can't wait to see you again!"
It was the 50s and back then, no gentleman would be so rude as to deny or dismiss polite society, in the form of a single girl who claimed with believable details they'd been introduced, they knew each other, that surely, they remembered that afternoon at the Church Social eating cucumber sandwiches and playing croquet, or what-have-you...
That's how Gram went to the West Point Ball with a man who'd never met her before and didn't believe that was the truth.
She was a military wife who had her first daughter, my mom, somewhere along the Panama Canal. She had 4 kids total overseas. Her husband committed suicide by overdose, whether intentional or accidental, in Germany when my mother was 11. They went back to the States. She found another husband, a real dick. They had three more kids. Six girls, one poor, out-numbered boy.
When she became a matriarch she insisted her title was Gram.
She was not the typical grandmother sort. She was nothing like any of the depictions of grandmothers common in popular culture; not doting, not a sugar-spoiler or gift-giver, not a cheek-pincher or a cloud-haired dried-carved-apple face.
For many years she taught art at a local private school. When we wrote her cards she'd hand them back and ask that we add our last names to our missives - she had so many children over the years. She got so many projects and notes and scrawled crayon and construction paper cards. I'm sure a dozen Emilys or more passed through her room.
I was the only kid in my family who met our step-grandfather. They were separated, had been for ages, but she would still stop by and visit him, drop off some essentials he needed or maybe some food, from time to time. As a father the man had hated children. Don't ask me - I don't know - maybe in his dotage he softened, or maybe I was quiet, or funny, or he just liked me despite being a scrooge. When I came along on her visits, the abusive old man would give me books.
For the past two weeks she's been in and out of emergency care. First she had fluid in her lungs, then vertigo so bad she couldn't walk but had to crawl from room to room. Last week it seemed she turned the corner. My sister was visiting her every day to make breakfast and keep the poor bed-bound woman a little company, for an hour, in the mornings. I was in Virginia.
Two days ago she shit her bed and the shit wasn't just shit. There was a lot of red. A lot of blood.
She and an aunt went to the emergency room and my grandmother got re-admitted. They did a colonoscopy this morning. Things don't look good. They found a mass, at least one - I don't know much. They're biopsing, I guess, testing for malignancy. I don't know anything - right now, none of us do. If it's cancer, if it's early, if it's not, if it's anything.
She's 86 years old.
This is the woman who has been deathly allergic to bee stings her entire life and still, every time she got a sting, would try to convince my mother it would be OK if she just took two benadryl and waited long enough.
She crushed two digits of one finger on her left hand in her garage door and waited four hours before she called my mom and asked her to come take a look.
She doesn't trust doctors, doesn't like medicine, needs new hips, a new valve in her heart, and has refused to have her hemorrhoids treated because her first husband, who has been dead for 50 years, told her the surgery to fix them often doesn't work.
When she said that to my mom, my mom asked "What, Mom, you don't think anything in surgery has changed in 50 years?"
The snark - I guess you see I get it naturally, at least.
I never tried to get too cutesy-gooey-close to my grandmother because I knew this day would come.
I didn't expect to be living at home with my mother when it happened.
When she found out I started smoking, 18 years old living in a dorm, I stopped getting $5 with my birthday, Christmas, Easter post messages. She refused to give me money if it might go to cigarettes.
Even in 2008, I couldn't get a pack I'd smoke for $5 or less.