All of them actually. I have three. Because I’m just lucky like that. And they are all fantastic in different ways. But in this case I am referring to my mother’s mother. For one thing she is beautiful – we are always inspecting her wedding pictures and things when we come to visit her, and then we tell her that she is more beautiful than Ingrid Bergman. And she laughs at us but dude, it is so true. Ingrid Bergman would cry like a little girl and slap on gallons of makeup if she saw how beautiful Grammy was on her wedding day.
Grammy loves books and old movies, and she is always telling us what we should read and watch. She tells us about Lauren Bacall and how hot she was with Humphrey Bogart, and she does impressions for us. “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” she says in a sultry voice. She tells us how Forever Amber was one of those books good Catholics weren’t supposed to read, when she was a girl, but she had a friend who read it anyway. She tells us how the nuns at her school used to sell rosaries and prayer cards at recess, and she used to tease them. “Look at this necklace! Look how pretty!” she would say, trying on a rosary, and the nun said gravely, “Oh my dear, that isn’t a necklace; don’t you know, that’s a rosary,” and Grammy said, “Oh Sister. I have not yet embraced the One True Faith.”
Every Christmas Grammy sends us books, and she writes in them, “To Jenny, Christmas 2008, with lots of love from Grammy xoxoxo”. One year – this was amazing – she sent me all of Edward Eager’s books. All of them, in a big package, and she wrote inside them all, “To Jenny with love from Grammy and Grandpa, Christmas 1995, xoxo”. She never forgets to put the kisses and hugs, and if you’re around when she’s thinking about them, she sings, “A lot of kisses on the bottom – you’ll be glad you got ’em”. She likes to sing while she is doing stuff, in an extra-dramatic voice. “Rose,” she sings, folding laundry. “Of Washington Squaaaaaare!”
This is the side of my family that really appreciates small details. My aunt Fayne (my godmother!) used to always send us cards with confetti inside, in the shape of cows, or birthday cakes, or whatever it was relating to the card she would send. My uncle Jimmy, who is a very cool painter, one time had a show, and my mother overheard someone saying, “Look! I can see the face of Jesus in the soup spoon!” which my mother reported, giggling, to Uncle Jim. And he was all, “Yeah. I put Jesus in the soup spoon.”
I’m bringing this up because I just read The Mummy Case, the third of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, and the copy I’m reading is a lovely hardback given to me by my grandmother for Christmas last year. This is the first time I’ve read it, and I discovered as I went along that she had put one-dollar bills inside the book at intervals. This is exactly the kind of treat that is so completely Grammy – it’s not the money, it’s the surprise. And I felt all snuggly and affectionate and had to let y’all know, my grandmother? AMAZING.
P.S. Her parents were amazing too. Like the most amazing people ever. My Nanny lived to be five days shy of 100, and still every time we visited her she would say to my mother, “Come over here and sit on my lap, honey,” and my mother would say, “Nanny! No! I’ll smoosh you!” and Nanny would look surprised and say “No you won’t!” And my great-grandfather that I never met read Rafael Sabatini and P.C. Wren, and one time carved a little monkey out of a peachpit and put it on a chain. I wish I had met him. He sounds like he would have been the best great-grandfather in the whole world.
P.P.S. Do I include Oscar Wilde in that “whole world” business? YES I DO. Did Oscar Wilde read Beau Geste and carve monkeys out of peachpits? Didn’t think so.