My Grandma recently asked my Mom to help her clean out her closet. This is an unusual request for the 97 year-old who has stingily retained Depression Era frugality. However, together they filled a bag with unused flip flops from the seventies, some old clothes, and at least thirty pairs of nylon pantyhose. Her one condition for parting with these items was that I use them. While I am looking forward to receiving forty-year-old rubber flip flops, I am much less delighted about a fistful of used nylons. For my Grandma, pantyhose are like gold and never to be parted with. As a girl, I would stare at the hand sewn mends running the lengths of her ropy calves. The mends made scarred ridges in nude nylon. If a pair wore past the point of repair, they were spared the garbage can and instead stashed in a crumpled brown bag in the garage. Come summer, she would use them to tie back her tomato plants. Something else belonging to me was in the closet. Among the old clothing, my Mom discovered a buried essay of mine.
In second grade I participated in the "Best Older Friend" essay contest which was held by my parish school. We were encouraged to write lovingly about our "older" friend, and whoever wrote the most accomplished essay would win a day trip to be enjoyed by the writer and her muse. The previous year an eighth-grader won for writing about his friend, the parish priest. Everyone swooned; I wasn't impressed. In fact, I was fairly confident that I would surpass his efforts.
I proudly announced to my parents that I was going to write about our neighbor whom I considered old and a friend. After all, we would eat loads of popcorn together while watching movies, and occasionally she'd bring me on outings to Pioneer Village or the zoo. I had a good time. My intention was dashed as my parents awkwardly explained that I couldn't pick a friend who was merely in her thirties. I gave it another shot and decided to write about my Grandma. While "friend" may not be the term I would have ascribed to her, I did see her almost every day when she'd hurry to our house after cleaning the retirement home. She usually had a sheet of brownies and some stain-free laundry under her arms. We'd spend the afternoon rolling and delivering papers. Not that it was a race, but Grandma bested us at both of these tasks. Yes, Grandma was my new, best older friend.
I knew my essay would have a winning simile that would push my essay onto the shortlist. I was going to compare the wrinkles in her hardworking hands to those in the perfect chocolate cookies she regularly baked for us. Curiously, when I read the line, a tear would come to my eye, but everyone else remained fairly stoic. In the end I must have been overlooked. I don't remember, but I imagine that probably a 7th grader took home the prize and enjoyed a delightful day trip with her friend. I'd like to give it another shot, though, and if worthwhile, I'll post the second grade version. To be fair, a novel could be written about Grandma, but here is a slice in the next post: Namesake
A Disclaimer for Those Who Know My Grandma: In writing about someone still living and very close to many hearts, I realize that my perceptions and facts may vary from yours. In fact, I am very interested in how many differing characterizations can exist for the same person and events. However, I want to make it clear that I am writing a memoir piece that leans heavily on the arms of fiction. Please post any corrections, variations, questions, etc. I'd be interested in learning from you.