When I was young, I spent a lot of time with her. She and my mom were extremely close, which meant we did a lot together. The three of us travelled, sometimes to Detroit (which she referred to as ‘Detroyit’ or ‘God’s country’), but generally roaming all over the U.S. We drove on all of these trips, and my grandmother unilaterally controlled the radio. She liked country (‘country and western’ as she called it) to the exclusion of all other music. Even then, I hated that shit. But I loved her, and I loved her stories, so I would ask her to tell them over the warbling of some sadfaced cowboy.
My grandmother was outspoken before it was fashionable. One of my favourite stories involved her getting a teacher fired for hitting my mom. My stubbornly Canadian mother refused to adhere to American spelling after moving to Detroit in grade school. One teacher took extreme exception to our extra ‘u,’ and decided a yardstick to the hand would break her of that pesky vowel. That shit did not fly with my grandmother, and that teacher found herself on a new career path.
Her temper was not limited to stick-happy teachers: she shot one of her husbands. To hear her tell it, she only meant to scare him; he was cheating and she threatened him with one of his guns. It just happened to be loaded, and she just happened to shoot him in the hand. No charges were filed; Detroit police had bigger fish to fry, and the happy couple even got back together – for a little while.
My grandmother was the original cat lady. Not only did she have a house full of cat figurines, she referred to the cats that constantly surrounded her as her ‘babies,’ despite the fact that my uncle, one of her actual babies, has an extreme allergy. She refused to buy things unless they were in the shape or had a picture of a cat. She even went so far as to drive a Mercury Cougar. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing a singing ‘cat-mas’ tree meow the tunes of your favourite Christmas songs, then you’ve never celebrated the holidays with my grandmother.
Along with cats, she also loved men. She married upwards of five times, more if you count common-law. While we agreed on many things, the need for a man to be happy was not one of them. When I finished university, she asked me if I had a boyfriend. After expressing genuine disappointment when I said no, I explained to her that I had a degree. She looked at me with grandmotherly concern and said, “That’s too bad, honey.” You can imagine the face I pulled.
When I was in high school (and in a long-term, monogamous relationship), my grandmother drove me to the doctor so I could renew my year’s worth of birth control. We had a very open relationship, so I didn’t think it odd when she said, “Stephie honey, do you use condoms?” After I assured her that I did, she responded, “Why? It’s like wearing socks in the bathtub.” Best safe sex talk ever.
My grandmother was many things to many people. For me, she was a never-ending source of stories, and she showed me that life is more fun when you embrace your inner nutbar. She was one of a select few with Stephie privileges, and while she wasn’t perfect, she never apologized for being herself.
I must credit my lovely friend Holly, who has an equally lovely blog, for the idea for this post.