(No words of wisdom intended - I just miss her.)
Mike, Terry, Jenny and I spent every summer of our growing lives at grandma's house, overlooking a lake in rural Michigan. She was crazy and brilliant, and it was up to us to figure out the difference. She booted us out of the house any time it was sunny and we could wander wherever we wanted, as long as we stuck together.
"Don't bullshit yourself," my grandma would say to me when I was 9. I remember sitting in a dry tub, clothes on, while grandma lectured me for hours - not about having been caught playing with a lighter in the forest, but about being unable to admit it when caught. "You can bullshit everyone else, even family, but don't lie to yourself, or you'll never know what is real and what isn't."
I pouted and later my cousin and I boldly lied to each other about how we weren't doing anything. It was a seed well planted.
The first (of two) times I remember being slapped by my grandmother, rings and all, was in the middle of her yard - she was sitting on a stool, waiting, and beckoned me forward. Stealing my younger cousin's diary and gloating about reading it was, apparently, far worse than stealing grandma's quarters to buy candy. Her disappointment was a physical presence, and stung more than my reddened, shocked face.
She rode a classic hog style motorcycle and had a ham radio tower in her back yard. She swore frequently, but seeing's how she was from the poorest parts of New York City, it made sense that she "didn't take any shit".
She taught me morse code one summer, and for my final lesson, she had me say the result aloud: "Your ass is grass and I'm the lawnmower." She laughed this great booming laugh to the sky as I blushed, as if making her grandson say "ass" was the greatest comedy in the world. Yet you were always in on the joke - she made room for you to laugh at yourself.
She'd say "How'd you get to be so smart?!" with pride when I justified my behaviour on her terms. "Don't take apart something you don't know how to put together!" she'd shouted as I started anxiously at the ruins of her watch. "How will I know unless I take it apart?"
She once asked 6-year-old me if I understood that she was gay, and then elaborated that she was attracted to women. "Duh!" Climbing into bed in the early morning hours made it obvious that Carol was like a grandfather.
So was Lois, who lived upstairs. Lois and Carol pretty much despised each other and were never seen in the same room. How did grandma keep all that going? Her (pre-divorce) kids didn't love the arrangement, but to my cousins and I it was as unsurprising as an apple rolling down stairs. Grandma was a force of nature, with her cowboy boots and dangling 4-inch cigarette holder barely held in her lips.
She's gone (they're all gone), and I miss her. I didn't see her enough as an adult, but who ever does?
* Go to tiny url dot com slash skgram1 to see photos of her; skgram2 to see the cousins; skgram3 for the tattoo inspired by.
PS My favorite community in the world: Penguicon. Non-profit, volunteer run weekend convention in Michigan for nerds of all stripes, 1,400 and counting. They're my family, tool; this year, I am honored to chair the event. YouTube: "What is Penguicon?"