"My name is Kyle, and I would like to tell you about my grandmother. Now she was never called Grandmother, Nana, or Oma. It was Grandma. Now, the story was that when my sister, Erika was born, my two grandmothers had gotten together to decide on what they should be called. Somehow they determined that my mother’s mom should be called “Granny”, because she looked more like a Granny, and my father’s mom should then be called “Grandma”, because she looked more like a Grandma. My mother’s father was called “Grandpa” – my father’s father had passed away before we were born.
When we got “the call” from my brother-in-law, Jerry at Daleview that Grandma’s time was near, I rushed here from Connecticut, where I live. Sitting vigil that night, my family and I started trading stories about Grandma to pass the time. Afterwards, my dad said, “you know, you should share some of them at her memorial service,” – and I thought about it. I mean, there’s no overreaching arc to tie the whole story together. My dad said it didn’t matter. So, here are some of the stories I told that long night in February:
- The simple pack of playing cards were very important to my family. I was never told why, but I’m sure it had something to do with my grandparents and the great depression, or that it was a compact game you could carry in your pocket or whatever. I do know, that if Grandma sat down with someone else, she ask, “well, where’s the cards?”
- Whenever there would be a family get-together like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a weekend, there would be my Granny, my Grandma, and my Grandpa. Looking back then, it was really a poor environment for us kids. We had smoking, drinking and gambling going on – usually it was all three at the same time! Even though it was penny-ante poker, it was played with all the ferocity of the high-stakes table at Atlantic City. To get under Grandma’s skin, Granny would call Grandma “Betsy” a bastardization of her Americanized name ‘Elizabeth’ – which bugged my Grandma to no end. To get back at her, Grandma would call Granny ‘Irma’ – her real name, but she preferred ‘Impi’. It was never malicious, and after the game was over, there would be no hard feelings.
- Now, again, these were penny-ante poker games… we’re talking 2 or 3 cents a hand. If they were holding a good hand, they’d maybe raise it to 4 cents… and a hush would fall over the table. What ended up happening is that we’d have huge containers of pennies throughout the house as a kid, as if the bank would take $400 in pennies…
- She taught us to play card games like solitaire, go-fish, gin-rummy, and gin. At the family marathon poker games, I’d sit down and watch and try to absorb this rich tradition of poker being played. Being the card sharks they were, though – none of my grandparents would share those tricks with me. Apparently that was too sacred for family.
- My parents’ anniversary is on July 5th. For some unknown reason around that date, they’d go off on a vacation without my sister and I to a place called the Stouffer’s Inn in Westchester county. My parents would drop us off at Grandma’s house to watch us.
- Since Grandma was working at the phone company back then, she would wake us up early in the morning, make us breakfast, then drop us off at Granny’s house for the day before heading off to work. When you’re used to fruit loops or frosted flakes every morning, having fresh scrambled eggs cooked in real butter (no margarine!), toast and bacon – was a fantastic way to start the day.
- After work, she’d pick us up from Granny’s house. Now, keep in mind that this was around July 4th, so there’s plenty of leftover illegal fireworks around. Behind her house was a small park, where the local teenagers hung out at. There would be the screeching of bottle rockets, and the steady thunder of firecrackers scaring the beejeezus out of us kids. To help us get to sleep, she invite my sister and I into her bed. We played this game together: she would start a spooky ghost story, and just at the cliffhanger, she’d pass the story onto my sister, who would continue onto the next cliffhanger, and she’d pass it onto me. When I was done with my segment, I’d pass it onto Grandma. Eventually, my sister and I fell asleep. Somehow we ended up kicking Grandma out of her own bed – and she would sleep in the guest room.
• “The Penguin”
- Later on in life, I was in my late teens or early twenties. My dad would take the family out to dinner. As was the case, everyone would pair up: my mom and dad, Erika and Jerry. Since I was driving now, I’d ultimately get paired with Grandma.
- I didn’t like it much at first, wanting to have a mate of my own. Eventually, after a few dinners out, I came to enjoy being paired up with her. I would practice my suave moves on Grandma, helping her with her coat or chair. Remembering that she liked “2 fingers” of Coke in her glass. She ate it up, her comment was, “Kyle, you’re a gentleman and a scholar”. I never found out what that meant. It was a ‘grandma-ism’ whose meaning was lost to time, like “Macdollahs” or “for Pete’s sake”.
- It was a rainy night leaving the Red Lobster in Farmingdale. I was trying to be chivalrous and hold out my umbrella so we could walk back to the car under it. Problem was, Grandma was about 2 feet shorter than I was. As a result, she’d have to take 4 steps for every one of mine to remain in sync and stay under the umbrella. I remarked that her shuffling along reminded me of a penguin, and she howled with laughter in the parking lot. So, I nicknamed her “The Penguin” and she would sign her letters or cards to me with the letter “P” only.
• Whale watching
- 2 weeks in the summer, my parents vacation in Cape Cod. Grandma would be invited, and she’d be miserable the whole time there, because she wasn’t able to nap and her schedule being thrown off. My dad would insist, “relax, ma – it’s a vacation,” but she couldn’t. it wasn’t her house.
- My dad took us on a whale-watching trip departing from Provincetown. He stayed on shore, and sent the rest of us onboard. Now, to see the whales, you have to travel great distances at high speed to get out into the ocean area. My sister became violently seasick and wanted to stay below deck. My mom said to me, “where’s Grandma?” and sent me to go searching for her. Now this old lady, whom you’d figure would be hanging on to some table below deck, or clutching the rail as the boat flew high into the air on these giant ocean waves… was at the bow of the boat with the biggest smile on her face. So, I stood with her, feeling every wave splash us in the face and getting that funny feeling in your tummy as the bow rose and fell in the swells of the ocean. It was awesome.
So, those are some of the fond, fond memories I have of my Grandma. I hope you get a better understanding of how I saw her and how she touched my life.
Grandma, I speak for all of the CT DeMilo’s in saying we all miss you very much.