One night, as the eldest grand and I were crawling through slow traffic toward the roller skating park, I began to belt a little ditty I learned from my grandmother. Sung to the tune of “Humoresque” —
Passengers will please refrain
From flushing toilets on the train
While standing in the station I love you
We believe in constipation
While the train is in the station
Roses always make me think of you
[Note: I googled the first line and found out Grandma wasn’t quite as clever as I thought. I assumed she’d made up this song. Turns out, Oscar Brand beat her to it. Similar to the effect of the old game “Telephone,” the lyrics have been changed from his original, so apologies to the songster.]
The grand: “Um…what is that?”
Me: “A classic song.”
Her: “Where did you get that?”
Me (proudly): “My grandmother.”
Her: “Sounds like you.”
This pronouncement pleased me much more than it probably should have. Buoyed by the fact that she was still looking at me and, thanks to highway traffic and her inability to escape, I went on to sing a few more Grandma Tunes. Then, the memories cascading through my heart and mind, I began to tell stories about her.
Grandma had it rough. Rough. As a girl, she was unloved and abused by her mother. But she was a tough cookie and went on to live 85 years and raise four sons (one who preceded her in death) who practically worshiped the ground she walked on.
As I talked and Grandgirl turned slightly in the seat to watch me more closely, I remembered one of my favorite stories about Grandma. When my grandfather died, Grandma was 75 and had never driven. Even at that age, she took lessons, bought a little car, and got herself where she needed to go. One day (this was in the late 60s), she saw a woman she knew walking down the sidewalk. It was raining, so Grandma pulled over and called her to the car.
The woman seemed a tad reluctant, but got in and they chatted as Grandma headed toward the neighborhood the woman indicated. As they approached, Grandma asked for directions to her house. The woman told her to just let her out on the next corner. Grandma protested – it was still raining, but the woman was insistent that it was far enough and wouldn’t give any more information. She climbed out on the corner, expressed her gratitude and good wishes, and went on, as did Grandma.
Later, it hit her. I remember her face clouding with anger as she shared with me years later. The woman, her friend, was black. These two women were from a different time. Suddenly Grandma realized the woman hadn’t wanted Grandma (a white woman)’s reputation sullied by being seen driving a black woman to her home. She was so angry at herself for not realizing at the time what was happening that even as she told me, she was still fired up about it.
“If I’d realized,” she growled to me, “I’d’ve driven straight up her driveway, walked her arm-in-arm right up to her door, and kissed her smack on the lips when I said goodbye.”
Grandgirl’s face had been reflecting the same shock at this type of racism that I’d felt the first time I heard the story. Then, at the finishing line, she exploded in laughter just as I had lo these many years ago. I had never been more proud of this feisty little Irishwoman I was honored to call Grandma. She was the kind of person I hoped to be one day.
Grandgirl turned in the seat, still smiling as she looked out the windshield, the red of the taillights in front of us reflected on her face and in her eyes. “She sounds just like you,” she said.
Those five words burrowed into my heart and blossomed there. I thought about the little heart beside me, how it now held another treasured story to be retold another day to yet another generation. About two feisty Irish grandmothers.