Some people are larger than life, and I don’t necessarily mean that in the heroic sense. These people are hard to capture on paper or through impersonations, and nothing but a face-to-face, ear-to-mouth encounter with them will ever do them justice. My maternal grandmother is one such person. Anne Moore, known to her brood affectionately or not-so-affectionately as Grandee or sometimes the ol’ Grand, is someone I wish you could all meet. Words really don’t describe; and yet I find myself attempting to do just that. Grandee has been riding some serious health waves lately, and those waves have left a lot of wake in lives of those who know and love her the best.
I wish I could just gush on and on about how amazing her impact has been and how very much we want to emulate her, but life is not always so idyllic or simple, as any one of her children would affirm. But those are not my stories to tell. Those are not stories I would like to tell anyway, as each carries a weight I’m not sure I could bear. To be honest I don’t really know much of Grandee’s story either, though I am certain that to know her story would help throw the light of understanding on the stories she gave to her five children.
The only story that is mine to share is that story that emerges from the intersection of her life and impact on mine. A less than grand story, but a story that has shaped me in small ways and a few significant ways.
Grandee taught me the proper use of euphemism by her consistent lack of euphemism. We all need to be shot straight at times, and I appreciate Grandee’s confident candor. But there are delicate subjects that beg for euphemistic grace, like someone’s weight, appearance, and style of dressing. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of Grandee’s zingers like, “My, my, you have gotten thick in the middle” or “Are you really going out like that, you might as well wear a paper sack” instantly learned the insulating skill of euphemism.
Grandee taught me how vast and broad the scope of the quiche can be. Any holiday at Grandee’s Smurf House, so called because it was painted in smurf blue for as long as I can remember, featured the quiche in all its colorful combinations. Quiche with spinach, mushroom quiche, sausage quiche with asparagus. At the time I could not appreciate her cooking, but when she did cook, Grandee could cook a quiche. I wish I had been foresightful and thoughtful enough as a five year old to ask her to teach me her recipe.
Grandee passed on to me a love of Jeopardy. More time than I count I remember walking into her house to the deafening volume of Alex Trebec only to find Grandee propped up in her garage-turned-bedroom in bed with a Coors Light or two or three at her bedside. There was no talking, no interrupting, no playing done from 7 to 7:30 in her house. For all her narcissism, Grandee was brilliant. She truly was. And I like to think that part of my love of knowledge somehow got passed down through her.
Smoke-smelling, age-tinted used books from the Library, these were her constant gifts to me. She would walk in the door with a brown paper bag of books, a waft of smoke and Musk in a cloud following closely behind her. “Aimee Boo, you always had my legs. Did I tell you that even after I had my children, I still only weighed 100 pounds? Do me a favah, get your ol’ Grand a beer, eh? Oh, I brought you some books. Come, give your Grand a kiss.” Granted, I never read them for fear of the second-hand smoke, the same smoke that my mother and her siblings lived in. Yet as I get older, I think I have some slivers of Grandee in me. Prayerfully not the alcoholism or the chain-smoking or the myopic lens of selfishness, but the love of books, cheap books, is living on strong in me. I find myself chuckling in thrift stores at my excitement to find used, old books for a quarter or less. Just like the ol’ Grand, after all. Except for the 100 pound thing. Oh, and my chicken legs have filled out some over the years.
I know Grandee’s aging and approach to death is anything but neat and clean and sweet and nostalgic for my mother and her siblings. It’s painful and raw and an unlocking of skeletons better kept locked up in a closet or let out on a counselor’s couch. They are heroes to me, fighting to love someone who very clumsily and crudely loved them, fighting to make peace with an upbringing that was anything but peaceful. It’s easier for me, a generation-removed from the dysfunction and direct daily contact with Grandee, to see things through the lens of humor, to toss out the ugly and cling to the few glimmers of love and hope and light I saw in her. It’s easier for me to hope that age changes people, that somewhere under the Grand-Canyon deep trenches of bad habits and selfishness, Grandee’s heart wishes it had been different, that she had been different, aches to receive forgiveness. I know that there is a God who forgives without question, loves without conditions, comforts without shame. I long for her to know that love, even now on the edges of her life here.