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Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother

Posted on | February 6, 2017 | No Comments

My grandmother lived 10 minutes from us over a hill and through the woods, hard by a little creek in a house as small and ancient as she. Why we lived that close became a mystery to me, at least when I got older and the obscure corners of life started to unfurl themselves before me. My old man wasn’t a big fan of her. My mother would share stories about her mother giving birth at 17 and then slipping out the window in the Prohibition ‘20s to drink in the night life and leave the baby to her in-laws.  

But when we were kids, it was a treat to make that trip.

Grandparents are delightful because they’re grandparents; they’re not fathers or mothers to you; nor are they brothers or sisters or cousins. Grandparents sit at a comfortable remove in the relationship game, with faint smiles that suggest they realize they have inherited a power they never had earlier in lives.

Grammar was fantastic and funny and made a killer leg of lamb in the spring. She’d cook it for 8 hours, which, I later figured out, was the precise length of a bottle of vodka.

She cackle-laughed and often; a lifetime of smoking made her sound like a needle skritching across a worn 78. Cackle cackle cackle. Cough cough cough.

She waved to cars passing on the main street in front of her house and kept an immaculate English-style garden tucked under the towering redwoods. She had a small flower garden planted in an oval hole in the middle of a tiny lawn, whose edges were as tightly trimmed as a Marine’s head.

Locals called her house Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother’s Cottage, which infuriated me. Even as a kid, I thought that was the laziest goddamn nickname I’d ever heard; can’t people spend some time punching up something more clever and quick? Seriously.

She was that “sweet little old woman in the red cottage.” If they only knew. Inside, around cocktail hour, she’d tell stories and jokes. My favorite:

A woman in the grocery store checkout line is ogling a handsome young bag boy. He says “would you like me to carry your bags to your car?”

“That would be delightful,” she replies.

As they walk toward the parking lot, she admires him some more and says “You know I have an itchy pussy.”

To which the young man replies, “You’ll have to point it out to me, ma’am. I don’t know one Japanese car from the next.”

Cackle cackle cackle. Cough cough cough.

I think I was 12 when she first told me that joke. I wasn’t even sure what pussy was, but I knew she wasn’t talking about a cat.

She had books in her library detailing different names for breasts (“Headlights. Hooters” Those were just in the Hs). Penis-joke books. She had a worn corkscrew shaped like a little man whose penis was? Yep. that’s right. It was the first time I realized that adults had real humor.

Cackle cackle cackle. Cough cough cough.

She was married three times. The first, to my biological grandfather, was shot gun. Fresh out of an Oregon convent and living with family in Oakland, she obviously had a wild-child night and she took home a souvenir. That marital bliss or whatever they called it lasted a few years. Then there was the second guy (I can’t even picture him, and I never learned the reasons for their connection). He died in a car crash not long after the vows.

The third, made legit sometime in the 1930s, took root and stayed until death did they part. But Stan’s story is for another time.

(To be continued)


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