Life with Grandma was a peaceful one. A lot of the clutter and chaos that had defined our lifestyle when my siblings still lived at home moved out. While not especially meticulous, she kept the house reasonably tidy. She was frugal, quiet, helpful and loving.
She cooked some weird, old-fashioned stuff, like watermelon rind pickles and candy made out of orange peels. Grandma picked buckets full of wild Russian olives to can. She knew how to make wine out of the berries that grew along the banks of the irrigation ditch. Unfortunately, she was not the creative and passionate cook that my mother had been. I tried to stay away from home on macaroni and cheese night. Her mac-n-cheese was the color and consistency of shoe leather. When it was just at the peak of chewiness, she squirted about a half a bottle of ketchup all over the top and baked it an extra fifteen minutes, just to guarantee its unpalatablity. Grandma’s cooking may have lacked pizazz, but to her credit, she never left pans soaking on the back of the stove.
Everything about her appearance was practical and understated. She did not use makeup or perfume, always wore the same pair of black orthopedic shoes, and never spent more than thirty-five seconds in front of a mirror. Mostly, her wardrobe consisted of clean snap-up-the-front house dresses that she purchased mail-order from the “Monkey Wards” catalog.
Under the surface, however, ran a precious vein of pure feminine gold. One day she bought herself a very expensive formal gown, went to the beauty shop to get her hair done, and then had her portrait taken at the local photographic studio. “Every girl should do that once in her life,” she said. For my sixteenth birthday she bought me a pretty pink hair brush and told me that if I brushed my hair one hundred strokes each night, it would shine like a new colt. In her spare time she devoured Harlequin Romance novels and told stories of how she fell in love with my grandpa.
Grandma saw and admired in me youthful beauty and hope. She listened to my ridiculous boy chatter. She knew all about my dreams of domestic perfection, and never once rolled her eyes. For my high school graduation she bought me my own expensive formal gown. In my mother’s absence Grandma became a dynamic influence in my life.