Chapter Two: There Are Things I Don't Remember
I don’t know if I have a terrible memory or have just gotten good at repressing things, creating a black hole that just eventually sucked most things in. My grandmother, on the other hand, constantly amazes me with her memory. She used to always tell me stories about things that happened before I was born, when I was “up in Heaven sucking on oranges.” As she gets older, her short-term memory continues to deteriorate, but the woman can still whip out an incredibly detailed story from when she was seven.
In college, an essay assignment inspired me to get some of these stories down, so I asked her to tell me a story. She sat across from me at her kitchen table, one hand holding a can of Budweiser, the other pulling at her lip, searching her eighty-three years for something interesting to say. She was wearing her white button-up Coca-Cola shirt with thin red vertical stripes that my uncle must have given her years ago, but she still wore all the time.
“My wedding day,” she said. “You couldn’t make story out of it though. Dad’s brother stood on our porch roof when I was coming in the house, it was August 16th, a hot, sweaty day, and he threw tapioca on me. Tap-i-o-ca! It all went down my dress, ‘cuz I had a queen-skin collar and it all went down my dress, all stuck in my...akk. What a mess I had. But you couldn’t make a story out of that. I was mad,” she says as her face flashes me a stern look to prove to me that it was not, in fact, a funny event. But I was still wondering what a queen-skin collar was.
After a slight pause she continues, “But he was studying to be a priest so I couldn’t holler at him. Hmm...let me see. I know a lot of funny stories about Grandpa that I didn’t think were funny at the time. We went on vacation, this is nothing to write about, we went on vacation, Kathy was only a little baby, a little one.
“Well, she could have been in a stroller. So we’re walking the boardwalk and Grandpa decided he’s going in for a beer. I had to wait on the boardwalk. He went in and started talking to somebody and forgot I was out on the boardwalk. But me being a damn fool, I sit there and waited a couple hours, just standing there in the hot sun, getting madder and madder, and when he came out, well you couldn’t holler at Grandpa ‘cuz he got mad at you. I said, ‘I’m so mad.’ He said, ‘Well if you’re mad, we’re going home.’ I didn’t want to go home. I could’ve killed him. A couple of hours I stood there waiting, started talking to a man with a beer and forgot I was standing there outside with the baby.
“That’s not funny. That’s not a funny story. Needless to say, we didn’t go home. I didn’t get a beer, though, either. But in them days, in them days, girls couldn’t go in the taverns like they do today.” After a pause she adds, “But it was on the boardwalk,” in a tone that made it clear she thought that particular social standard was on the ridiculous side.
“Now how many years ago was that? Kathy was only knee high to a grasshopper...I suppose you couldn’t write about that either.”
She always has a smile on her face when she tells a story, and you can see her drift off, back to whatever time it is she is talking about. Right then she was in a world sixty years ago when her husband of over fifty years was still alive.
“We had an old car going down to Seaside,” she continued, “we had this old car, this old black car, it was always running out of water because of the radiator. The boys and Grandpa had to go to the bathroom, so they peed in the derby. When he ran out of water, steam was all coming out of the radiator, he takes the derby full of pee and puts it in the radiator. He gets back on the highway and starts down the road again. Terrible. He was a nut really”...she trails off, still staring off into space and softly whispers, “really.”
I didn’t know what a derby was either.