A Woman of Many Trades

I sat in my aunt’s wheelchair, embracing the character I had created.  Grandma Ann, the judge, sat directly in front of me, overhearing the case.  My aunt sat to my right with a sour look upon her face as I railed charges against her, claiming her negligence led to my life-altering injury.  I had seen one too many daytime TV court dramas, and there was no turning back.

There was yelling and cussing, all in the name of good acting, reprimands for the cussing, and more acting.  For the first time as an actress, I was able to shed real tears, and my cousin worked up so much emotion during her own performance that she caused herself to throw up.

Visits with Grandma Ann were never boring.

When the cousins all got together with Grandma, one could be sure we’d put on a play.  Grandma was always the director, and we’d race around the house looking for the perfect costumes to illustrate Cinderella’s transformation from a woman in rags to a stunning beauty touched by the wand of a fairy godmother.  We could hear the collective sigh in the kitchen as Grandma put an end to the adult’s visiting and ordered them to watch yet another performance.

Grandma Ann’s imagination ran wild.  With the heart of an eight-year-old, she had a knack for creating the most depressing ‘children’s’ stories one had ever heard.  Her characters all had the odds stacked against them–a single mother working in a hotel, collecting scraps from the garbage to feed her kids; a wheelchair-bound young man who didn’t have a family of his own; a scroungy dog kept apart from the love of his life (maybe if his name weren’t ‘Spitball’ he would’ve had more luck)–and every story contained at least two episodes of the main character crying. One had a dog run off a cliff.

That imagination that created stories I can remember 20-plus years later also created details about Grandma’s life that I stopped believing.  As a child, Grandma Ann would make comments about her time as a waitress or a beautician–believable enough as she cut her own hair and gave me a perm.  Apparently, she was also a doctor and a lawyer and any other profession that fit the conversation.  Grandma was a woman of many trades, and she loved to share her experiences over and over and over.

The stories I loved to hear as a child weren’t nearly as endearing as a teenager, especially when Grandma came to live with us.  My tolerance for hearing details of Grandma Ann’s life wore thin, and I didn’t want to hear the same stories over and over.  I didn’t want to hear how Woodstock started the downward spiral of society, and I wasn’t interested in learning about Grandma’s different professions, especially since I was old enough now to know these stories weren’t true.

Grandma was born in Puerto Rico, had an eighth grade education, and gave birth to my father at age 20.  She raised a family, not a gavel as a judge.

Last night, I gave Caleb a haircut.  I’m always nervous when I undertake to shape his thick locks of hair, but I proceeded, anyway.  I watched the black comb in my hand pull out each section for me to trim, and I gave a nervous laugh as Caleb asked how his friends would know it was him.  And when I was finished, I looked over my work and smiled. “I could be a cosmetologist,” I thought.  And I thought of Grandma.

Grandma, I was a jerk.  You were the beautician you claimed to be, just as I am now.  We both earned our law degrees the day we stood up to defend our kids, and we became doctors the first time we took care of a sick child.  And of course, Grandma, you were always a writer.  You will always live in the stories you created, and a piece of you is in the writing of your son, and the words of your granddaughter.

I didn’t understand, Grandma, but I know now your many talents.  And I know that through our stories, we can create the happy ending that maybe we didn’t have or the unwavering protagonist that we hoped to be.  I know now that as old age grips our minds, our works of fiction might be all we have to keep us sane.  And I know for as difficult as you were in your old age, your heart was always for your family.

Thank you for your stories, Grandma, and for passing on the love of creating.  And thank you for your expert hair-cutting skills that you passed down; you’d think Caleb’s hair looked nice.  If only you were here today–I could save a lot of money on doctor’s copays.

14 thoughts on “A Woman of Many Trades

  1. Jennifer, that is wonderful! Your Grandma Ann was the first person I met at MECC and from day one she hugged me everytime I saw her. I'm so glad you have such great memories of her. I hope my grandchildren remember the good things about me instead of many I'd like to forget myself.

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  2. Grandma was a character! She lived first and foremost for her family and loved her children and grandchildren with all her heart. She had an imagination that exploded when all the kids came together. We think about and talk of Grandma often ; she is missed 😦

    Dot, your family and grandchildren could never think anything unkind of you!!

    You are what i want to be like when i grow up.

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  3. Daughter,
    Don't forget, Granma was a good Italian cook, a spanish cook as well as an American cook.
    I just hope if I live long enough that you will have written enough stories so I don't have to listen to the same one over and over and over…… The one famous story about Granma was the one about her life as an 8 year old that was dictated to me by her, for Sommer Owen…. and then I rewrote my own version. How about my rewriting skills?????

    Thanks Jen for writing this as it brings back memoriies of the good times with Granma.

    love you,
    Dad

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  4. Looks like I've stumbled onto a family ordeal, perfect. I'm a brother in Christ you've never met and am connected to you and yours. What a blessing I've received from your writing. Nothing better than a God given talent writing from the heart. Thanks

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  5. I too, wish I had listened a little more to my grandma's stories. This was a great post – makes me wish I had just a little more time with those who've gone before us…

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    1. Thank you. Unfortunately, the saying can be true that we really don't know what we have until it's gone. I'm trying to do better with those who are still in my life now.

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