By January of their senior year, my parents were married. Although I didn't come along for another year-and-a-half, parenthood was a constant struggle for them. They held down steady jobs while juggling the difficult balance of being young adults and becoming young parents. Desperate for guidance and support, they turned to my grandmothers who lived nearby.
Although my two grandmothers only lived a few miles apart, they were rarely in the same room together. Remarkable in their own right, both stepped in to make sure I was well taken care of. By doing so, considerable pressure was lifted from the shoulders of my grateful parents.
The time I spent with my two grandmothers differed in activities and experiences. My grandmother Dorothy was a very creative woman. In me, she recognized a shared loved for storytelling. Our days were filled with imaginative tea parties, watching soap operas, and crafting elaborate tales together. At night, we would perform living room shows for an audience of none. She would play the piano while I would dance and sing. After our evening ritual of eating Mallomars, we would crawl into bed only to watch my grandmother's favorite television shows. She introduced me to the world of Sonny and Cher, Carol Burnett, and my favorite, Lucille Ball. Although I was young, I recognized the look of envy on my grandmother's face once the TV was turned off and the day came to a quiet end. I wondered if my grandmother Dorothy secretly wanted to trade lives with one of the performers she loved to watch. It was on one of these nights that she gave me a piece of advice I’ve held on to since: “If an opportunity doesn’t exist, you have to create one for yourself.”
My grandmother Tina filled my young ears with constant sage advice, including her favorite saying, “You better live each day as if it were your last because someday it’s gonna be.” She taught me many practical things including how to treat a bee sting by rubbing tobacco into your skin, how to win every hand of gin rummy you played, how to find the best bowling ball in the bowling alley, and how to make things by hand. “If you make it yourself, it makes it more special,” she would say during our long macramé sessions.
As a child, I often wondered why my two grandmothers weren’t best friends. To me, they were the wisest, most fascinating people I knew. I posed the question to my parents and was met with stares of awkwardness and uncertainty.
“They live so close,” I said. “How come they don’t visit with each other?”
My mother smiled and said, “They come from different worlds.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but they only live a few miles apart.”
“Your grandmother,” she said, taking me by surprise. “She was a beautiful woman. Always so glamorous and kind.”
“Did you know her very well?” I asked.
“No,” my grandmother replied, “but we wanted to know each other.”
“I think you would’ve been friends,” I said.
My grandmother shrugged and replied, “Maybe we were.”
It wasn’t long after that when my grandmother Tina passed away.
To say I miss them is an understatement. Yet, their spirits live on in many things I do and say, especially in the variations of their advice I pass on to anyone who will listen.
Whatever they’re doing, I imagine they’re watching out for each other, secretly planning to let the other one win.