My grandmother was a firecracker until the day she died. Her nails were always painted fuschia, even in her seventies. And her skin, soft and thin between each wrinkle, smelled like baby lotion and Freedent Gum. She always had a wild cherry Luden’s tucked beneath a crumpled tissue in the pocket of her pastel pink sweater, which she would stuff in my hand and wink when my mom wasn’t looking. I thought I was getting a real treat.
During her last years at the upscale assisted living facility where my mom also worked, she got her kicks stealing Oreos off the dessert cart for my sister and me. She’d swipe clothes from the laundry room with names like Fanny Mae or Matilda Jean stitched into the collar for my mom. And she insisted we take at least one roll of single ply toilet paper from her shared bathroom every time we visited. My grandma was Robin Hood with a cane.
Before my mom moved her there, my grandma lived with us for a couple years. Though she spent the majority of her time watching soap operas in her blue velvet rocking chair, there were a couple of occasions when she called a cab to drive us to Big Lots for discounted Cabbage Patch Dolls and orange cream soda pop. Her ass was on fire and she couldn’t sit still even when the years wanted to catch up.
Aside from my sister and me, the only things she cared about were The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, shopping, and Elvis. Mostly Elvis and his swaying hips. In her mind, he really was a king. She knew every record, word for word, and owned every movie. I think in some ways she loved him more than my grandpa. Each year, she celebrated his birthday and mourned the anniversary of his death. She kept his obituary in her jewelry box, but part of her believed he continued to live happily on some remote island, because The National Enquirer said it was true. Some days we couldn’t convince her otherwise.
She wore lipstick and fur-lined coats to the grocery store, swore like a sailor, and told me that cookies and milk were a perfectly acceptable substitute for dinner, as long as my mom didn’t know about it.
Her duplex sat on Lagrange Street, in the heart of Toledo’s poorest neighborhood. She stayed there, in the neighborhood that she was born and raised, even when it wasn’t necessarily a safe place anymore. Shootings and stabbings happened almost every day on her block, but she’d be damned or dead before she’d let her kids sell it.
Before she lived with us, and when she was well enough to care for herself, she would have me sleep over with her. We’d listen to crime calls on her police scanner or watch wrestling together on the big faux wood television, rooting for our favorites like The Macho Man and Hulk Hogan. One time she even took me to a WWF event at the Toledo Sports Arena and I got to see Jake the Snake wrestle live. I can smell the dripping sweat and buttery popcorn after all these years, if I close my eyes.
I insisted on going to see my grandmother one last time after she passed away, even though my mom tried to convince me that I shouldn’t. I didn’t believe it was true: my grandma was too wild to leave me. But at seventy-six, her fire fizzled.
In the hospital, I stared at her lifeless body, cheeks sunken and thin lips gaping from her last breath. I kissed the skin on her forehead goodbye, no longer soft, but cold and hard. The last bit of air was long gone from her lungs and her fingers were rigid, but her nails were perfectly pink.
Nothing stopped her from having a good time: not her age, her kids, or even the stuffy nursing home. I knew that she had one hell of a good time while alive. And maybe, if she sweet-talked the right guy in heaven, she’d finally get to meet The King.
Love you, Grandma Pink!