Elizabeth Esse Kahrs
My grandmother Evie, my mother’s mother, lives next door and sometimes joins us for cocktail hour. She arrives promptly at 5 p.m., in her Caftan, demanding either a Pink Lady or a Grasshopper—she’s usually good for at least three of them. Grandma Evie likes to tell stories about my mother as a little girl, especially when she has a few drinks in her. We’ve heard them all by now—like the time mom was two, on Uncle Galen’s farm, and had fallen right into the pig dung. Or, the time she was three, and chased after a rat with a fork, stabbing it till it lay bloodied and motionless on the kitchen floor. Each time grandma tells the tales, she changes them up a bit here and there, adding a little more background, a little more aftermath. But she’s at her absolute best when describing the way my mother mangled her words as a child— “nogrit” for yogurt, “garnade” for grenade, that sort of thing.
Nothing gets to my mother more than this.
My mother was a late talker and when she did speak, she tended to mispronounce her words, substituting a “y” for an “l” (yeg) or an “l” for a “y” (lello) or an “r” for a “w” (wabbit). It was a glitch is all it was, probably caused by the countless ear infections she’d had as a child. But my grandmother took particular delight in it all, running mid-sentence from my mother, writing these things down on her calendar before they could be lost to memory.
Sunday afternoon, Grandma Evie is over the house for dinner, reclined in the Barcalounger. By 5:30 p.m., she’s already into her third Grasshopper, and she’s let her duster rise up above her knees, so that we can see the knotty blue veins deposited throughout her lower legs.
“They say you can get some kind of saline shots for these,” she says, motioning her glass toward her lower body, her shins like two stumps of moldy blue cheese spread out from her knees.
My dad pretends to read The Wall Street Journal and I pick at a cuticle.
“I see we’re a talkative group today.” She takes a gulp of her Grasshopper, leaving a crème-de-menthe mustache.
“Katherine.” She calls over to me. “Tell me what you’re doing in school these days.”
I can hear mom clanging around in the kitchen, her nonverbal signal for get-your-ass-in-here and help, but I can’t be rude and leave Grandma Evie.
“Well grandma, in English, we’re doing this pilot program—it’s called boing language.”
“Boing what? What is it? Some kind of new math?”
“No, grandma. It’s a new way to teach the parts of speech. We get these dittos and they have sentences—and you have to fill in the blanks with the correct boing word. Like, if it says “the blank went blank down the blank”—you have to write, “the boing went boinging down the boing.”
“Well, I’ve never heard anything so ass backwards in my life. George—did you hear that? George! Are you listening to this crap they’re teaching your daughter?”
My father looks up from his paper and gives me a leveled stare. I shouldn’t have poked the bear.
Mom calls us to dinner, and we lumber into the dining room to take our seats. Emerging from the kitchen, she drops two dishes on to the table with a thump: mashed potatoes and corn casserole.
“Want some help, mom?”
But it’s too late; I’ve blown my opportunity. The tension rises off her like steam, and she motions for me to remain seated. Her next trip out, she brings the roast beef.
“George, can you sharpen the knife?”
Sighing, my father gets up. He shuffles his way to the basement stairs.
“Smells like cat shit down here, Katherine. You need to change the litter.”
Mom begins filling plates. Dad plugs in the knife sharpener. The high-pitched twang envelopes the room. I wince, clamp my teeth shut, and cover my ears.
Dad begins to carve.
“No bread?” Grandma barks. Everyone ignores her.
While mom serves the meat, dad disappears into the kitchen and returns with a bottle of wine. He pours some for everyone, including me—just a little, then sits down and raises his glass for a toast.
“God bless us, everyone.” He downs the entire glass.
We start to eat. Dad spreads horseradish sauce on to his meat; mom mixes the corn with her mashed potatoes.
“This is a great dinner, Carolyn,” dad says, chewing and smiling.
“Yes, it is,” I say, forcing the enthusiasm, using this opportunity to redeem myself.
“Carolyn,” my grandma says, “Do you have any nogrit?”
After dinner, dad, grandma, and I retreat into the living room. I hear mom thrust open the dishwasher, the rattle of plates and silverware. I had offered to help, but she’d said she wanted to be alone. Grandma sits in the Barcalounger, a Pink Lady by her side, her face lax and droopy.
He places his index finger to his lips. “Shhh.”
Grandma’s eyes close. Her head drops off to the side and a spot of drool forms at the corner of her mouth.
“Come on.” My father whispers, waving me into the kitchen.
Mom is at the sink, scrubbing a pan. She turns around, a Brillo pad gripped in her hand, a trail of blue, dirty, soap trickling down her wrist.
“Jesus, I thought you were her.”
“She’s asleep,” I say.
“Well, thank god for that.” She returns her attention to the sink.
Dad grabs a beer from the fridge and I grab a soda. We share the paper at the kitchen table.
Mom wipes her hands on a dishtowel. She opens the medicine cabinet and takes out a bottle of Milk of Magnesia.
My father looks up.
“You having a bad stomach, honey?”
“No. I’m just going to refresh grandma’s drink.”
Elizabeth Esse Kahrs is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. She has been a columnist for Parents and Kids for the past six years. Her work has appeared in the
Grandma Evie is not my grandmother! Although, my grandmother did enjoy an occassional Grasshopper or Pink L ady--but only one. I have children and perhaps it is because I'm a writer, I've taken an almost perverse pleasure in documenting the words they say incorrectly. I do mark them on my calendar, and I do conjure the words up from time to time to torture my kids privately, and sometimes, in public. Grandma Evie is an extension of that.