Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jan and Dean - Little Old Lady From Pasadena

Holidays when I was a kid were great as long as we were home. I have tried to recreate that for my family. But you know, you make your own traditions. Things change with time.

But the times we went to my grandmother… Gertrude’s house… yikes. Not good. Gertrude was a very no nonsense woman. Moreover, she did not like kids. I was not exactly a little lady. She did disturbing and crazy things. Like insist on drying you off after you’ve had your bath…. What I don’t know what dry feels like? Will I rub my own skin off? I think it was more of a deal where she couldn’t wait for me to be in bed and out of her hair. Escape!

Whenever she had to go to LA to visit her mother, I was sent along. Going anywhere with Gertrude was a life and death experience. As an adult I was summoned to accompany her on a trip to my mom’s house from California to Ruch, Oregon. They did not want her to drive alone. Swell. There we were on Mt. Ashland… on a grade so steep that it has bail out pits for semis that burn up their brakes. Gertrude stops in the middle of the truck lane. Dead stop. I say “What are you doing?” as I crane my head around looking for death on 18 wheels. She turns to me… oblivious… and says “Grandpa always told me to shift into low on a downgrade, but to be sure and stop the car first.” So I said “GO!”

On that trip and every insane journey with that woman, she told me the same exact thing. I know the words by rote. “You mother and father should have stopped with two children.” I am baby number five. “I simply can’t understand why they did that! Children are too expensive. You eat up all their money.” About that time my mind went to its happy place and avoided further words.

Going anywhere had its punishments on top of possible death on the freeway. Here again, she repeated well worn words. “Well we have to go to (fill in the blank of any type of store you’d like) and I know you expect to get something. So what do you want?” In all the years I was stuck as her diversion, I was never able to convince that woman that I wanted nothing from her more than to be let out at the edge of the freeway where all I had to fear were serial killers, rapists and drunk drivers. We hit Robinson’s in L.A. one day on the way to GG (great grandma).

I was determined to not get a blasted thing. She was determined to force me to accept something. “Well you must need something… what about underwear or a negligee?” The idea of buying a lingerie with my grandmother mortified me into losing my resolve. In desperation I looked around me and saw shoes. I found the cheapest, ugliest shoes that were ever designed and pointed them out. I left with them and later burned them in the burn barrel. Sorry cows! We all have to make sacrifices in this world. On the way home she rolled my head up in the electric car window, nearly snatching me bald on the right side of my head. She claimed she was concerned about the wind on my neck. Does wind hurt you? Well electric windows do!

She was a nightmare on holidays. They began with a comment. “That’s not a good color on you.” Or “That dress makes you look fat.” I’d think okay… I know where I am and wander off to find my delightfully evil cousins. At least they were fun and likely to set fire to something or drag me into the alley for a toke… which of course then made my grandmother one of the most hysterically funny people on earth. I had co-conspirators to share my glee and secret thoughts were passed back and forth across the table. Still hold a grudge against M for killing my turtles. Criminal!

But always there was Great Grandma. Now she was a lady to a tee. Even did her gardening in a huge hat and elbow length gloves to keep from getting a tan. Never weighted more than 95 pounds her entire life, but ate like a mastiff with proper table manors. Married Morris and lost him in the Spanish Flu epidemic… never remarried. There can only be one Edgar. It was GG who named me.

I spent my summers with GG. Drug me to all her endless social functions. She made me curtsy when I met someone. Okay… that was a bit of a drag, but you know I did not mind so much. It made the other old people laugh. She made me take an afternoon nap well into my teens. She would set up my crib that she bought when I was born for me to sleep in… until I was so big that my lower legs stuck out between the bars… with the hand embroidered quilt she made just for my visits.

She would ask me what I wanted for diner and make it. She not only cared to inquire about my life, but made it seem like she was fascinated with it. She had a brilliant mind and had interests in science and history that enthralled me. When she died at age 103… she was still sharp as a tack and never confused our names or faces. She even read the newspaper daily. Her house was full of books and great smells. A cast iron cat sat on her fireplace base. GG’s house was more than a house, it was my summer home and I loved it and her very much.

My biggest regret in regards to GG is that she never got to see Boo… who was 2.5 when she died. I lived too far away. I had called her a couple of months before to tell her that I was coming in the summer. She very calmly told me that she would not be there but to kiss him for her. I can’t honestly say that I was surprised when they called to tell me she had passed away. 103 is an incredible long life.

As for Gertrude, who was never called grandma… well she really wasn’t mush of one. I think that Gertrude always envied how much we loved GG… was mystified by it. I should say that I did love Gertrude in spite of her lack of enjoyment of my company. She was a shrewd business woman who had a one track mind attached to a bulldog’s under bite. She was formidable and imposing. But she understood duty and never failed to perform it when called upon. A card carrying Daughter of the American Revolution who held every office in Job’s Daughters and Eastern Star. There was no school function that she missed for any of her eight grandchildren, though she hurried through them like her girdle was in a serious twist. She showed up when it was time. Yet the difference between Gertrude and GG is clear… GG was always there… 300 miles away or right next to me… and like my mother, she is there now in the whispers that blow up to my head from my heart.


  1. Is anyone even in Eastern Star anymore?

  2. dmarks-- No one I know. But Job's Daughters is still going strong. Bear was a Job's Daughter. All my sisters were. I was not.

  3. It is a pity that we have to choose our ancestors at an age when we are hardly ready to make such momentous decisions. - Peg Bracken

    Funny, I was writing about my Nana again today. Well, for good or for ill, at least there are the stories.

  4. Cricket-- Yes. Gertrude was different and I don't mean that she was a bad person. She was not an affectionate person is all.

    GG was a saint. But I must admit that the stories I have about Gertrude make me laugh more than the ones about GG. Each has her purpose in my head.

    I must be missing them because of the holidays. I did smell gingerbread yesterday and that was a treat GG loved to bake.

  5. Your post makes me miss both of my grandmothers... who were closer to GG than Gertrude.

  6. This is definitly a time of year that brings old family bonds and stories to the front of our minds, isn't it.
    Both Gertrude and GG sound like characters in their own ways. And it is funny that you got to be everyone's little traveling companion :-)

  7. Gertrude sounds like my ex-mother-in-law. One time she came up from Mexico after being gone for six months and the first thing she said to me was, "Oooooh. Aren't you getting a little bit fat?" It's like she didn't know how to start a conversation except for with an insult. All you can do is feel sad for people like that.

  8. Cube-- Lucky you... 2 GGs! They are a wonderful sort.

  9. laura b.-- Yeah, I was used like that for lots of things... to keep my dad from spending too much time at the market looking at magazines, to make sure other women knew he was taken, to keep the Medusa from spending more $$ than we were allowed on the credit card.

    I am sure you are right... the holidays bring back all things that glitter in our past, be they dark or bright.

  10. Churlita-- Gertrude and her daughter, my Auntie were both that way. I got so that I expected it and in the long run... I did learn how to let an insult slide off me.

    But yes, they are not happy people and it is very sad.

  11. My grandmother was a great woman and I lived with her half of my youth. But a few years before she died I had to take her car away from her, she sure didn't like that.

    The idea of buying a lingerie with my grandmother mortified me into losing my resolve.

    I went into an adult store with my mother because she wanted to and it was pretty interesting, but by then I was in my 40's so it wasn't any big deal.

  12. Billy B-- I was 14 at the time and she used to give me the most strange nightware. Everything very sheer. I did not want to shop with her for that. Embarrassed the heck out of me to open that stuff in front of my family. She was different to say the least.

    But GG was great. I could never have asked for a better woman to have in my life to help me find my way. I learned a great deal from her about how to be good to myself and to keep my head held high.

  13. GG and gert together make for an interesting study in contrasts. thanks for sharing them with us.