Saturday morning cartoons and the smell of sausage frying in the kitchen were disrupted by a very loud thump, thump and thump.
There she laid at the bottom of our basement stairs. Writhing in pain with one hand up by her face and the other pinned under her crumpled body. She was laying perpendicular to the steps, facing us awkwardly, her face to the side and pressed flat against that cold cement floor.
Our eyes met, she immediately saw the panic in my face as I instantaneously recognized the pain in hers.
“It’s my fault grandma, it’s all my fault!”
“It’s okay,” she assured me, “Mamaw fell because she’s clumsy.”
“No, it’s because of that pig I gave you!” I convinced myself.
Mom encouraged me to leave the room and go into the living room, giving my brother strict directions to distract me. I went, angrily crying and throwing a tantrum like only 6-year-olds can.
The tantrum was louder than the approaching sirens of paramedics. Through tears I watched strangers burst through our door, working on grandma and getting her onto one of those straight boards and eventually into a transport bed.
My Grandma Whitaker, “Tiny”, lived with us for several years following the death of my grandpa. I never really knew him, he had died when I was only 2, but me and grandma were tight.
Tiny was a name that was a bit ironic. Grandma was as round as she was tall. As a young woman, she was very petite and had a tiny frame. You could still see that in her even in her older age, but she had plenty of padding around it.
I had only ever known her as a “bigger” grandma. Being a child, hearing other people call her Tiny was a bit amusing to me, and to others as well from time to time.
A neighborhood bully who was four years older than me and always seemed jealous that Bryan was my brother and not his, once stood at our fence taunting me. Bryan wasn’t around, of course, because this boy would have been sucking up to my brother.
I was playing in the dirt right off the back porch as David lobbied insult after insult at me from 30 yards away and behind the chain link. He had come to ask where Bryan was, but when I couldn’t tell him, the bullying commenced. I don’t remember the specific insults of the barrage, but I do remember the final one…
Grandma had come to the door and shouted to the bully “Go on David, go on home and leave him alone…”
To which David hurled back, “Shut up, you old fat ass!”
I chucked a handful of dirt and rock his way which landed somewhere in the yard well short of the fence.
Call it really poor timing on his part, because at just that same moment Bryan had come around the side of the house in time to hear him say this to our grandma. Bryan sprinted towards the fence verbally threatening David as he went.
The bully turned coward, tucked his tail and ran.
As Bryan ran after him, grandma was yelling “It’s okay Bryan, come back! I AM A FAT ASS… I AM A FAT ASS!”
My grandma was cool like that.
I have lots of pictures of her and in most she is noticeably not your everyday grandma. In some, she is holding fresh fish dad had caught which she was about to clean. In others, she’s sitting at the table playing games or purposely showing her false teeth to be silly.
She loved eating squirrel meat, playing gin rummy and singing folk songs. She loved to play my old memory card game, never taking it easy on me. I am fairly confident she won every time we played. No mercy.
I remember coming home every day from morning Kindergarten (just half days back then), to a sausage biscuit and chocolate milk.
A lot of the time she and I shared, we were home by ourselves. My parents both worked and Bryan was in school.
I hate to admit that I sort of liked pushing her to the limit though. She was sort of funny when she’d get aggravated. Like the time I asked if I could bring a few Hot Wheels into the living room to play with while she was watching her soaps.
“Just a few” she said sternly.
I came down with a shirt full. When hands weren’t enough to carry all that I wanted, I would roll the bottom of my shirt up to make a sack that I could then fill with any number of Hot Wheels or GI Joes I wanted to bring down from my room.
“I told you just a few.” she scolded.
“This is just a few, I didn’t bring them all!” I angrily shot back.
I learned three things that day;
1) I learned a few means 3 to 5.
2) I learned Grandma don’t do backtalk.
3) I learned picking your own switch from the tree is more torturous than the actual whipping.
Sometimes, we’d nap together. This is where voodoo comes in.
My grandma loved to lay on her side on the love seat (yes, she was that short), and I would literally climb up on her side and take a nap while All My Children blared from the TV set.
When her shows ended, it was her cue to start dinner and my cue to watch Scooby Do.
I’m 40 and I still remember those times so clearly. To the point that I can smell her dinner, and how safe and loved I felt napping on her. Literally ON HER. I can still feel the anxiousness of that time of day, knowing Bryan would be home from school soon, mom shortly after that and dad shortly after mom.
The memory is even more vivid this time of year, Christmas time.
Schools have those Santa Shops at Christmas time and like all kids, I was so excited to get to shop for my grandma and my family.
I don’t recall any trinket other than the one I picked out for grandma. I was convinced that it lead to her fall.
She was a really shiny and neatly painted porcelain pig. She was laying on her side in the grass and had a little blue bird resting on top of her. She had a chubby grin and my grandmother’s demeanor. I could relate to the security and comfort of the little blue bird.
As classmates, teachers and others went through my Santa Shop buys, they’d stop at the pig and ask “Who is this one for?”
What at first were replies of “my grandma” with pride, gradually turned into “my grandma” with shame. It seemed everybody but me had thought the pig would be an insult to my grandma.
I gave it to her for Christmas anyway, and doing what grandmas do, she smiled and claimed her love for it without ever knowing really why I had picked it.
And now, here she was on the cement floor of our cold unfinished basement one wintry Saturday morning, in a pose eerily similar to that porcelain pig.
I was convinced, that in some magical way… I had brought this tragedy on her.
She spent several weeks in a sling and after hearing my “Why I Chose It”, she spent years reminding me how much she loved it.
She would eventually move out and play a lot more games of gin rummy and memory with her other grandkids. For those few brief years she was with us though, she was MY grandma alone.
She spent many years living in assisted-living apartments and not many years before she died, my fiancé and I paid her a visit. Grandma and I shared lots of stories with Amber, none of which were the Santa Shop gift story.
Grandma took a sip of her coffee and instructed me to go into her bedroom and bring her reading glasses. I followed her orders and as I reached for them laying against the bedside lamp, there on the other side of the table was the porcelain pig with a little blue bird on it’s side.Share this to: