Someone’s up to no good? Must be They.

Why does They torment Grandma?

Damn you They! Pick on someone your own age!

House spirits come in many forms. Sometimes they’re just a nuisance, like the sock monster. Other times they’re playful, like I Dunno and Not Me in the Family Circus comic. Occasionally they’re sinister, like the ones on ghost hunter shows who throw rocks and chant the names of those they murdered.

The spirit living in our house is exceptionally evil, because it only torments one person — Grandma. It goes by the name of They.

They takes Grandma’s pens. It steals her cookies. It even makes her bathe! And just this week, They mysteriously cut the August and September pages off Grandma’s beloved kitten calendar. It’s the only thing she asks for every Christmas, so why on Earth would she deface it? It had to be They.

Grandma thinks I’m in cahoots with They. Why else would she says things to me like “I sure wish They would bring my flashlight back.”  Actually, I think she believes I am They — she just doesn’t want to flat out accuse me of stealing her things and damaging her prized possessions.

Up til now I’ve chalked up They’s shenanigans to good old fashioned forgetfulness on Grandma’s part. But the latest incident has me puzzled too. Did I sleepwalk down there and  delete 1/6 of that old woman’s year? I’ve heard of people doing weird things when they take prescription Ambien, but I’ve never woken up with scissors in my hand. And besides, I’m out right now anyway. So for the time being I’m pretty sure I’m not They.

I’m on alert for They’s next prank. There’s no stove to leave on downstairs so I don’t think it can cause serious trouble, but there are two phones, and I’m guessing They can dial 911 if there’s an emergency — like no bananas or the TV won’t shut off. You don’t think that could happen? Well obviously you’ve never lived with They.

Image credit: kurashov / 123RF Stock Photo

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Girl wins boy, loses boy, marries cross dresser

Grandpa, why do you like to dress up like a girl?
I look suspicious; wouldn’t you if you weren’t sure whether Grandpa had a thong on underneath his suit?

No this is not a World News headline. It’s the story of Grandma and my biological grandfather.

I was already thinking about telling it when I read Remembrance and remembering, one woman’s loving tribute to her father and stepmother. The following is not a story I’ll share at Grandma’s funeral, but it’s too good not to tell someone.

First some background: Grandma and Grandpa (not the guy in the picture) met in 1939 and married the following year. Everything was going great until World War II broke out and he left Grandma behind to serve at Fort Hood in Texas. Grandpa’s heart murmur kept him stateside, but they were still apart.

Being the industrious woman she was, Grandma decided she’d go back and finish high school since nobody would hire her without a diploma. Since she was married, she had to threaten to write a letter to the local paper about how the town’s school wouldn’t let a serviceman’s wife finish her education before they let her enroll. Once she was in, she got good grades and held a part-time job, dreaming of the day her sweetheart would come back and they could pick up where they left off.

What happened next was really sad:

When I told him I had gone back to school he was really not happy. At that time in his life he was very controlling and told me what I could do and what I could not do. I said well I wanted to come down to Texas but you told me there were so many Army wives in Mineral Wells there was no place to live and you did not want me living in Ft. Worth or working there. We had a big argument but I stood my ground and he went back to Texas.

The argument continued by mail, and a few months later Grandma was served with emergency divorce papers. Mad and hurt, she gave Grandpa his divorce.

By May 1945 Grandma had finished school and moved to Topeka to take a civil service job. One day when she was eating lunch at the dime store near work she ran into Lawrence Johnson, a man she’d met the year before when she waited tables at her parents’ cafe. He remembered Grandma and started chatting her up — asking whether she lived in Topeka now and if she’d ever gotten her divorce.

Heartbroken and alone in a strange city, it’s not surprising Grandma started going for drives and attending church with Lawrence. Before she knew it he’d asked her to marry him. She told him she still loved Grandpa but he told her she’d learn to love him. He had a job, a house and a car, which — back in 1945 when men were still scarce due to the war — made him a pretty good catch. In her life story she skims over accepting his proposal and their wedding and fast forwards to my Mom being born in November 1946.

Through frequent moves and job changes, for several years Grandma made the best out of a bad situation. But little by little the truth about Lawrence leaked out …

First Grandma learned he was adopted, which made her furious. Next she learned he hadn’t really been sent home because he was injured in the war but because he was “unfit for association with other men.” Then one day while collecting his dirty laundry (no pun intended), she found a woman’s bra and panties in the mix. When she confronted him, he lied and told her they were hers. When she got up the courage to ask one of his coworkers why they never bunked with him on out-of-town trips, he dropped the bomb: Lawrence dressed in drag and went out whenever he was away on business. From that point on she started planning how to get out of the awful marriage to the man she never loved to begin with.

Several more years went by, because it was 1961 before Grandma finally filed for divorce. Throughout the 15 years they were apart, Grandma kept in touch with Grandpa’s mom through letters. When Grandma wrote to her of her divorce, Grandpa’s mom passed that information along to him. He too was unhappily married and heading for divorce, and for once fate did them a favor. He wrapped up his loose ends in Western Kansas and headed for Topeka with nothing to his name. Grandma let him stay in her spare bedroom and laid the ground rules for their second-chance romance. Grandpa agreed to everything, and they remarried in August 1962.

By the time I came along at the end of 1964, Lawrence was barely a footnote. The picture above is the only one I have of him; he slunk off to live somewhere else shortly after it was taken. I adored Grandpa. He was the only one I ever really knew, and I was the only child he ever really helped raise. I can’t imagine what cross-dressing Grandpa Larry would have been like, but I don’t think he would have chased me with his dentures out, or let me hang out with him in his workshop, or taught me the song about the goat who ate the shirts off the line or called me his sweet girl. Luckily, I never had to find out, and Grandma never had to worry again about finding lingerie in the laundry basket that wasn’t hers.

Image credit: zhanna / 123RF Stock Photo

Cage the radicals and dial back the crazy

Free radicals have already taken their toll on Grandma's brain. But I need to find help before she takes an irrevocable toll on my sanity.

Free radicals have already taken their toll on Grandma’s brain. And I need to find help before she irrevocably impairs my sanity.

My mother committed my father when I was two. She took her life when I was 22. So when I made it to my 40s with a mere case of manageable depression, I thought I’d dodged the bullet.

But seven years down the caregiving road, I’m not so sure.

Lately I’ve been agitated a lot. I’ve been thinking illogically. Maybe even deteriorating intellectually. If I were one of those people who reads a series of symptoms then self diagnoses, I’d say I’m schizophrenic. But I know I’m not. My grandma is figuratively driving me crazy.

Over the weekend she announced she needed to go to the doctor for reasons I won’t elaborate on. (Let’s just say they are in no way life threatening.) So yesterday morning I dutifully called and made an appointment. When the receptionist told me they could see her at 1:30, my teeth clenched. I couldn’t get a driver that fast, and I was buried in work. But Grandma was downstairs throwing herself a pity party so I made the appointment. As I hung up the rest of the day flashed before my eyes. I took a deep breath then headed down to get her moving. I was agitated before I made it to the bottom stair.

The doctor visit kicked off with a shower, which Grandma had refused all weekend. Part of me said “it’s only 10:00 — this is not going to take three hours.” But the other part said “give yourself a break in between.” Once the ordeal was over and she was dried off and half-dressed, I told her I’d be back down when it was time to go. Then I rushed back upstairs to get as much work done as I could before phase two.

Of course Grandma called me an hour and a half before we left asking if it was time to go yet. And to tell me she’d have to have help getting her walker upstairs. And to ask me how far away the doctor was. I might as well have answered “we’ll leave for the pumpkin patch at Halloween o’ clock with the wheelbarrow.” But I still tried to make her understand. Finally I said, “I’ll come get you when it’s time to go” and hung up.

I tried to refocus on work, but before I could I’d jumped up and grabbed the blueberries out of the fridge. “Take that free radicals. Don’t have time for lunch. Are blueberries really going to keep me from turning into her? How late will I have to work to make up for this appointment?” Anybody listening would seriously doubt my ability to think coherently.

Guess what happened at the doctor’s office …

Betty White is not my Grandma

You won't find her star on Hollywood Boulevard, but I'll always be Grandma's number one fan.

You won’t find her star on Hollywood Boulevard, but I’ll always be Grandma’s number one fan.

“So you blog about your Grandma. Is she famous or something?”

It’s a reasonable question. And sometimes I wish she were famous — like Betty White. After all, they’re about the same age. But my Grandma is no Betty White.

She never had a glamorous job

Betty White was already a radio star in the 30s before she moved on to TV and movies. My Grandma worked for Ma Bell her whole career. She did meet Jimmy Carter once when she went to Washington as a representative of the Communication Workers of America. If you ask her she’ll tell you President Carter was a decent man, but the rest of those clowns in Washington were just a bunch of skirt chasers.

She never married anyone famous

Grandpa never hosted a game show like Betty White’s husband, Allen Ludden. But in Grandma’s eyes he might as well have been Steve McQueen. They got married the first time when she was 15 and he was 20 and would’ve never divorced if World War II and his jealous sisters hadn’t interrupted their lives.

They both remarried, but she stayed in touch with his mom. When Grandpa called her 15 years later and told her he still loved her, it was Katy bar the door. They both divorced, and he showed up in Topeka in 1961 with a used car and 20 dollars to his name. For the next 44 years they were unquestionably the love of each other’s lives.

She wouldn’t have starred in Lake Placid

Grandma was never a big movie buff, and she’s certainly no alligator fan. But she still has her autographed picture of Chuck Norris from the time he came to town for his movie shoot, and she never misses his movies when they show them on TV.

She never hosted Saturday Night Live

Hell, she’s never even watched Saturday Night Live.

My Grandma is no Betty White. She doesn’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and she’s not going to leave me a fortune. She’s grouchy and eccentric and stubborn. And some days she doesn’t even know who I am.

But Grandma took care of me when my teenage mother was still busy growing up. When I was nine, she bought me Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. She always let me play on her typewriter, even when she had work to do. And I never remember her sending me to bed without supper.

When I was older, Grandma  paid my college dorm fees and bought my first house so I could afford to finish school after my daughter was born. She kept that house when I fell in love and ran away to England to get married because she knew I’d be back. And when I did return, she never once said I told you so. Well OK, maybe once.

Whenever I’ve needed something — pocket money, new shoes, a mom — Grandma has been there for me.

I at least owe her a blog.

Image credit: zlajo / 123RF Stock Photo

This post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

The slippery slope to sitting around in your skivvies

No matter how comfortable I get working from home, this will never be me.

No matter how comfortable I get working from home, this will never be me.

I work from home a lot lately, which means my office wear usually consists of comfy shorts and my tie-dyed shirt du jour. Dress for the job you want, they say. I want to be an independently wealthy recreational blogger, so I think I’m right on track.

But a funny thing happens when you stop dressing up every day: there’s much less wiggle room to dress down. Some days it’s a thin line that separates me from showing up at the local Price Chopper in a muumuu and house shoes. Luckily I have Grandma’s example to keep my fashion sense from completely bottoming out.

Grandma was a snazzy dresser in her day. She had color-coordinated polyester slacks and blouses in every color of the rainbow, and a costume jewelry collection that spilled over into every spare inch of closet space. For every chunky necklace there was a massive pair of bejeweled clip-on earrings — I never saw her wear one without the other.

Once Grandma retired, she stopped buying her suits at Montgomery Wards and became a connoisseur of garage sale style. Grandpa was always building something out of cast-off lumber, so he dutifully remodeled their house to accommodate her ever-expanding wardrobe.

One day when we came to visit, the front door was  gone. He’d walled it up and used the entryway space plus a good portion of the living room to create a walk-in closet with built-in shelves and easy-to-reach racks. Unorthodox for sure, but Grandma needed storage space, and besides, they had a back door.

When Grandpa died, the task of moving Grandma’s wardrobe fell to me. At first we agreed she’d pare down her collection, but when it came time to start the giveaway pile she broke down in tears. “These are my clothes and I want all of them,” she cried. “Then we’ll take them all,” I promised. Loaded down with armfuls of hangered clothes and musty boxes, my daughters and I carried every last item out to the U-haul and packed it inside.

After the move, it didn’t surprise me when Grandma covered the majority of her clothes in long plastic sheets. We both knew half the pantsuits didn’t fit, and a lot of what was left was just too fancy to wear around the house. A dozen or so pairs of pants and twice that many tops became her go-tos; the rest she kept for the simple comfort of familiarity.

Grandma washed her own clothes for a long time, including the slippery pajama-pant slip things she wears under her slacks to make them slide on and off easier. It kind of reminds me of when we used to powder Barbie’s legs to make her hotpants easier to yank up; just not as messy. Now that I do her laundry, Grandma brings it to my attention whenever a pair of slip pants is missing. Every time I assure her nobody stole her “garments,” which is what I call them, partially because it’s a word my Grandpa always used, and partially because I really don’t know what the hell they are.

Lately Grandma’s opting out of wearing pants all together. When I reminded her about an appointment a few days ago, she said she was ready to go. “In those?” I asked fearfully. By now I take most of her dressing idiosyncrasies in stride, but I was not prepared for a public trip in the pajama slip pants. They’re loose, they drag the floor, and all it would take is one false step for those suckers to drop to the ground,  leaving Grandma in nothing but her Depends. The mere thought made me panic.

“No I’m gonna put my jeans on before we leave,” she assured me. I wondered if Grandma even knew what jeans were since she hasn’t owned a pair in the 40 or so years I’ve known her, but I was relieved. She hadn’t completely abandoned the ritual of getting dressed to go somewhere, which meant for now  I didn’t need to add it to my to-do list.

Grandma is entitled to wear whatever she wants around the house. It’s just sad to have watched her simply give up caring what she looks like or who sees her in her underwear. In some sense I understand where she’s coming from, since I don’t put on makeup or dry my hair on days I work from home. But there’s something psychological about getting up, putting on fresh clothes and keeping a clear distinction between being productive and just being.

Just for good measure, I think I’ll dress up tonight for my daughter’s birthday dinner. There’s nobody to impress, but I’ll feel better. Plus it’ll put a little extra distance between me and the muumuus.

Image credit: caraman / 123RF Stock Photo

If I were Grandma for a day

If I were Grandma for a day, I'd haul my butt out of my chair, live life and act like I'm happy to still be among the living.

If I were Grandma for a day, I’d haul my butt out of my chair, live life and act like I’m happy to still be among the living.

Say I woke up one morning in Grandma’s chair…

I’d take a look around and not see much — but I could see. I’d look at my hands; they’d be wrinkled and arthritic. I’d try to stand up, and it would feel like I’m on a different planet with double Earth’s gravity. My struggle to merely stand would tell me any activity beyond walking to the bathroom is foreign to my 88-year-old body. But I’d be alive, and I wouldn’t spend the day sitting in my chair.

The first thing I’d do once I was on my feet is make a beeline to the shower. I’d step in and turn the water on and feel instantly more alive as it flowed over me. I’d scrub my skin. I’d wash my hair. I’d get water all over my face, and it would feel wonderful. I’d step out ready to take on the day.

Once I dressed, I’d take a look at what there was to eat. The only fresh thing I’d see is a banana, which I’d eat. Still hungry, I’d head upstairs to see what’s in the fridge.

Nobody would expect me to be upstairs, and their jaws would drop when I asked what’s for breakfast. Chloe would say “Pancakes Grandma. Want some?” and I’d say yes, can I have a couple. Once they were on my plate I’d slather on some peanut butter, pour on syrup and enjoy every hot, fresh bite. I wouldn’t belch a single time during breakfast.

Once I finished eating I’d ask everyone about their plans for the day.  They’d be headed to the dog park with Pickles, so  I’d ask if I could come too. It would take me awhile to walk down to the park benches, but I’d make it. Once I sat down I’d spend the next few hours with the sun on my face, listening to the birds and watching the puppy run around like crazy. There’d be people  talking. Dogs  barking. Children squealing. I’d be scooped up in the experience of living, which would be much better than sitting in the basement with nothing but a reading lamp on dosing in and out of sleep waiting for another day to pass me by.

The uphill walk back to the car would be hard, and I’d have to stop several times to catch my breath. Eventually I’d make it to the top. We’d leave the windows open on the ride home and a hundred different smells and sounds would whiz by. There’d be movement and anticipation and choices to make about how to live the rest of the day. I’d spend time with my family and take in details about the lives that usually go on above me while I’m sitting  alone in my chair.

Soon it would be lunch time, and I’d try Indian food for the first time in my life. The spices and textures would be different from what I’m used to, but their intensity would penetrate my ancient tastebuds and I’d experience flavor for the first time in a long while. Memories would flood back from times in my life when I ate something delicious or spit out the first mouthful. I’d remember fresh baked biscuits and butter straight out of the churn. And ice cream — months and years and decades full of eating cold, sweet ice cream.

In the afternoon when everyone was running errands I’d entertain myself by sitting in the garden. Despite my eyesight I’d see dozens of flowers in all shapes and colors — some ready to bloom, others losing a petal or two every time the wind rustled them. There would be birds galore flying back and forth from the feeder, and squirrels scouring the ground below for seeds the birds dropped. A few butterflies would dance around the flowers, and I ‘d even catch a hummingbird out of the corner of my eye looking for nectar in the flowering catnip that’s taken over the entire front porch.  I’d breath deep and take it all in.

Later in the afternoon when everyone came home, I’d sit at the table while dinner’s being made, listening to the kids talk about school and work and boyfriends and their new favorite songs. I’d tell them about the 1950s when nobody had televisions and we all sat around listening to radio shows. They’d tell me nobody listens to radio now, instead they stream music through their computers. I’d ask them if they’d help me look for Benny Goodman streaming on the Internet, and they’d say yes.

After a delicious dinner with fresh corn, rice pilaf and some kind of fake chicken that actually tasted pretty good, I’d watch the kids play cards. There’d be a lot of rules so I’d just enjoy watching them laugh and argue over who laid their cards down first and cheer when somebody won the round.

Eventually I’d look outside and notice it’s getting dark, and I’d realize how tired I am. I’d been awake and alert all day, and I’d sleep like a rock that night. I’d tell my family I love them and head back downstairs with all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the day whirling around in my head. I’d realize how much more alive I felt after sitting in the park, spending time in the garden and enjoying my family. I’d sit down in my chair, and Fluffy would jump on my lap. I’d dose off petting her, still thinking of everything I did that day.

The next morning Grandma would wake up and look around. She couldn’t see very well, and every ounce of inertia would be back, weighing her down. She’d decide not to bathe or go upstairs or talk with her family. She’d just sit in her chair in the dimly lit room, dosing off and waking up now and then while another day passed her by.

This post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

Image from 123 Royalty Free.