I have become like my grandmother. We called her Gramps, and I liked just about everything about her except one thing, and that seems to be the thing I imitate.
I could have imitated her cooking and my family would be pleased as punch. Instead I have imitated her most irritating habit. She could NOT go out a door and climb into a vehicle in a single trip. Even if she’d been offered a million bucks to NOT go back in the house, she’d say, “Wait, I just have to run back in and get a grocery sack to hold the money.”
My grandfather, who we called Pops, and I would be in his ancient white Dodge Dart with the motor running, and he’d start grumbling, “that damned old woman,” because she wasn’t getting out of the house quick enough to suit him. He could barely see because he’d gotten lye in his eyes making soap decades earlier, so we had to leave about 45 minutes before church was scheduled to start in order for him to drive 25 miles an hour and get us into town in time – on time being with about twenty minutes to spare.
My grandmother would come out the back door, step down the first step, turn around and lock the door, step down the second step, close the screen door and make sure it latched, step one foot on the sidewalk, hesitate, look perplexed, arch her eyebrows into a V, roll her eyes skyward slightly like she was pondering something. Then she turned around.
Right at this exact moment, every single Sunday, my grandfather would unleash a string of obscenities that would make any sailor proud. “That damned old woman,” and then start listing every flaw she had, “she comes out the damned door looking like an idiot and forgets some son of a bitching something. Every damn time it’s the same old shit…”
Meantime she’s unlocked the door and disappeared inside. We wait a couple of minutes, me in the back seat snickering at his rage and that delightful cussing, thanking God for the wonderful entertainment He has given me on this fine Sunday morning.
The car is still running, and my grandfather leans his whole body forward, elbows all the way up in the air, and LAYS on the horn with both hands as if he can get it to sound louder and more insistent by putting his whole body into it. Still no Gramps.
“DAMN HER!” he shouts. “DAMN HER TO HELL!” As I’m typing this I am laughing so hard I can barely continue because I can see the empty doorway of that white house, hear the engine knocking, and see the back of my grandfather’s balding head with the wispy white comb-over, the air heavy from his rising blood pressure.
Finally Gramps appears in the doorway, opens the screen door, steps down on the first step, turns and locks the door, steps down on the second step, closes the screen door and latches it, steps down on the sidewalk, hesitates, looks pensive, tilts her eyes up and to the right, and my grandfather LAYS on the horn again. I have tears rolling down my eyes I’m laughing so hard in the back seat. My grandmother scowls at him and waves a dismissive hand toward the ground. He stops the horn and yells at the top of his lungs, even though the windows are rolled up, “COME ON, OLD WOMAN!”
She just looks at him, trying to remember whether she’s forgotten something else. She takes a hesitant step forward, then another. Stops, looks worried. Turns around and heads back toward the steps. I lay down in the back seat with my knees in the air and hold my chest, rocking side to side laughing.
My grandfather bangs the dashboard about six times with his fist as hard as he can. She goes back into the house and comes out a few minutes later with a dime-store see-through scarf thrown rakishly around her neck. Pops has not stopped cussing and ranting since she headed in.
Gramps walks toward the car with determination, head held high and shoulders back as if she is some dignitary with places to go and people to see. She opens the car door, hesitates, looks back toward the house. My grandfather yells, “Get in the car, damn you!” She waves her hand toward the ground again like she’s warding off some pesky child or swooshing at a fly, harrumphs with indignation, and climbs into the car.
“Let’s go then,” she says in a voice that leaves no doubt that she’s disgusted but it’s beneath her, on Sunday morning, to say so.
In the back seat, I’ve laughed and snickered so hard that I’m exhausted, and none of us talks on the way to church except for my grandmother mumbling under her breath, “I just don’t see why…what’s the big hurry…plenty of time…” She’s nearly deaf so she thinks no one hears her.
We get to church twenty minutes early – just like clockwork. My grandfather waits in the car while Gramps and I sit through the long Latin service. I amuse myself by reliving the morning’s entertainment. When church is over, everyone is cordial as if cussing and damning and yelling and horn-blowing hadn’t been going on earlier.
I have enjoyed some belly laughs writing this – my mascara is running. What I’ve described is the habit I’ve picked up from my grandmother. I never climb in the car and leave – I always forget something. Sometimes I get out of the driveway, but I have to go back, turn off the car, grab the keys, unlock the door, run through the house looking for whatever I forgot, and run back outside. The sad thing is that my kids are NOT amused waiting for me in the car. I wish Pops were here to entertain them.