When I was a little girl, Mom took us to Grandma’s house at least once a week. Of course Grandpa lived there too, but it was Grandma’s house. For the most part, it was a slow, quiet place to be. Grandma’s house never had a speck of dust or a newspaper out of place, she had a small box of strange toys, a swing that barely moved, and a bowl of wax fruit on the table. If we behaved ourselves, Grandma threw candy at us.
Grandma saved a little cardboard box of toys Aunt Annie played with when she was a kid; by the time I was big enough to remember, Aunt Annie was a teenager, and mainly laid around on the davenport twirling her pony-tail with her pointer finger, blowing bubbles, and looking at pictures of Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. Ricky and his brother David had a TV show, with their parents Ozzie and Harriet; once Ozzie hurt his back and he spent the whole show grabbing his backside, saying, “Oh, my sacroiliac,” with lots of people laughing it up in the TV-show background.
Aunt Annie and her cousin-girlfriend, Joey, took me to an Elvis Presley movie one time; a whole bunch of girls in big, full skirts jumped up and down, screamed, and grabbed the side of their heads through the whole movie. It was the goofy-daffiest thing I ever saw. Maybe Aunt Annie went so goofy at the movies like that ’cause her old toys were kind of boring. The only good thing was a red, stuffed pony with a brown nose and little bits of old brown yarn for a mane. Bonita always made a be-line to the toy box and grabbed that pony before anyone else got a chance; she never let go of it until it was time to go home. Sometimes, when I stayed overnight, I played with the pony, but to tell the truth, it wasn’t as much fun without Bonita.
Grandpa made a big wooden lawn swing, big enough for three or four kids to swing on, but it was against the rules to swing high. Grandma lifted me up beside her to show me how the swing worked; she put her feet flat on the ground and pushed with her heels, the swing moved back about an inch, then floated forward again. Grandma just sat there leaning back with her eyes shut, breathing in deep, so all the sweet smell from her flower garden got caught up in her memory.
“Grandma? Do you want me to show you how to pump?” Maybe nobody showed her how a swing was supposed to go. Mom told me Grandma’s real Mom died when Grandma was a little girl, after that she got a wicked step-mother just like Cinderella. Grandma opened her eyes and looked at me without moving her head.
“This is a relaxing swing,” she said. She wrapped one arm around me, and squeezed me in close. I sat there, surrounded by her soft grandma skin, trying to get the hang of the relaxing swing, all the while feeling like my legs were just jumping inside like they did when Ricky Nelson was singing on his TV show. When Grandma went back in the house, I backed up the swing’s seat ’til it rested way up my back, then jump-plopped my butt up on the seat and got a real good swing going. Pretty soon Bonita and I were pumping that swing, standing up on the seat with Loren and Vickie between us. Loren laughed out loud and Vickie got those blue eyes all wide, never even taking her two middle fingers out of her mouth, both of them with wisps of blond-white hair blowing back off their faces. Now that’s the way a swing’s supposed to work.
I never understood why, with all the stuff Grandma and Grandpa grew, why a bowl of wax fruit, apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, sat on their dining room table. I liked those Nik L-Nips from Glebe’s , so maybe Grandma’s waxed fruit was tasty too. Every time I went over to her house, I picked up each piece of fruit, ran my fingers over what looked like real fruit skin, smelled them, and sometimes just touched them with my tongue. One day, I couldn’t stand it, I just took a bite out of the apple, and Bonita took a bite out of the peach. I had to see what that fruit tasted like. When she saw those teeth marks, Mom was mad as a wet hen. She told us to get outside, and to stay off the swing.
Bonita said, “Mom?” she was super sorry, I could tell by the way her eyes were looking up from under her chestnut bangs. That wax tasted horrible; all I could think about was getting some water.
“Don’t even call me Mom,” Mom said. “Now get out of here.”
“Rita?” I said to Mom, ’cause that’s what Grandma called her. “Can I have a drink?” Bonita was already going out the door, looking all hang-dog; she just stopped like she got shocked by an electric fence; her head popped up and her eyes just about fell off her face. Right at that very moment, for some reason, I thought, Hey, her face looks just like Mom-Rita’s. I stayed quiet though, ’cause that look on two faces at once told me I better zip it and high-tail it outa there.
Grandma had a secret stash of hard butterscotch candy, she hid somewhere in the kitchen. Maybe Deanna knew where it was; lots of times she was in-on grown up stuff. Sometimes, when everybody sat quiet and nice, Grandma got the candy out and threw it right at us, then she ducked behind the kitchen doorway, to trick us and make us think it was like manna from heaven, only a little bit more hurty than I imagined getting hit in the head with magic bread. It was impolite to ask Grandma for candy, and I knew better than to scrounge around in someone’s cupboards, even Grandma’s, so I waited and hoped. Grandma almost always thought I was good enough for butterscotch.
Nowadays, I understand the value of a relaxing swing. I like to put a bowl of fruit or vegetables from the garden out on the dining room table that anyone can bite into anytime they want, and I have my own stash of old toys and candy waiting for good children. I get called Mom, Granny, Grandma, and G-Mom, a little confusing, yes, but I love them all. It took a lot of years, but I discovered a secret Grandma and Mom kept from me: No matter what they do, grandchildren are always good.