Lil

by Kim on November 30, 2009

My Dad’s mother, my paternal grandmother – had over 50 grandchildren (See: Being a Middle Child #7 of 14). She did her best to make each of her grandchildren feel special, but with that many it was not an easy task. I do remember cheering at a Pee-Wee football game (See: Football Boogie ) and when doing the cheer “Teams in a huddle, Captains at the head. Out comes the coach and this is what he said . . . ” I bent over to be in a huddle and the back seam of my corduroy cheerleading pants ripped. My Dad took me across the street from the park to my grandmother’s house and she stitched up my pants so that I could return to my game. That is one of the few memories I have of being with her alone and having a typical interaction that most grandmothers and granddaughters probably have. Usually there were dozens of cousins there whenever we visited her. I can’t remember sitting on her lap at all or having her visit our house. We had giant family Christmas parties in one uncle’s basement and Grandma would give out 50 envelopes with $1 each in them. All of her grandchildren were remembered equally and fondly, but I missed out on something in that relationship.

Lil at our house for Christmas

I saw my other grandmother only 2 times in my life. She ran off with another man when my mother was a baby and proceeded to rob a train with him. She spent some time in prison (See: Archiving Photos and Videos, But Most Importantly Preserving the Family Story ). She visited our house when I was in 8th grade and I remember almost every minute of that visit, almost like it was a few days ago. My mother  tolerated her mother’s visit, but avoided her hugs and refused to call her “mother”.  She called her Ruby instead. Ruby seemed interested in getting to know us, but didn’t ask detail questions about our activities. She wasn’t around long enough to become very acquainted with the details of our lives.

When I was first married, I heard that Ruby was bitten by a rat while sleeping in her apartment and was hospitalized. Though I didn’t know her, it bothered me that my grandmother was living in such conditions. I received a small bonus at my first job for Christmas and sent her the check that I received. Afterwards, she started writing me telling me bits and pieces about her life.  I visited her  when I was pregnant with my second child. She lived in the projects in Washington, D.C. and when I parked my car to walk to her apartment, I was very nervous. I didn’t know how to start to build a relationship with her. I was intrigued, but didn’t feel I could ask her many questions about her past. We had a pleasant visit for a couple of hours. She did show me a china doll that my mother had when she was a child and introduced me to some of her friends. I wanted to ask her a zillion questions, but instead settled for a few moments of politeness and a short getting-to-know-you session. I remember most that she stuttered when on the telephone, like my mother did, and also made a circle with her thumb and forefinger, weaving them around each other when she was nervous. She was a nice lady, but it was hardly an intimate relationship.

Lil and a Photo of her late husband

While I didn’t have grandmothers present in my life, I did have Lil. She was my mother’s best friend and though not related to us in any way, she was a very special person in our lives. My mother met Lil when my Mom first moved to Ohio to work in factory there. My mother lived with her brother at first, but my uncle moved on and my Mom didn’t know a soul in her new town. She met Lil at her boarding house and they fast became friends. They behaved like sisters.

Lil didn’t drive and lived in an apartment downtown. She was not married and on Sunday, at least twice a month, my Dad would go pick her up and bring her to our house for the day. Lil usually asked him to stop at a grocery store and she would pick up a quarter bag of candy or a box of donuts for our family to share. Sometimes, she would make her famous deviled eggs or pineapple pie to bring. Lil was part of our family celebrations whether it was Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mother’s Day, or all of our birthdays. At the end of the day, we all piled into our car to take Lil home.

One Easter morning, the weather was bad and we were unable to have out Easter egg hunt outside. We improvised and held it indoors. Lil fully participated and allowed us to hide eggs around her chair. Lil was about 5 feet tall probably weighed 200 pounds. She had a very cushy lap to sit on and she was comfortable to cuddle with. That day, we hunted eggs for hours and Lil ended up having an egg in her chest pocket of her shirt dress for quite some time. She laughed until tears rolled down her face, because it should have been obvious that an egg was there. But with her extra padding, no one realized where the egg was hidden until she revealed it. It was an especially good hiding place.

Lil and her pie at Thanksgiving

When I started dating Paul in high school, he and Lil fast became friends. They would conspire against me and gently tease me on her visits. For graduation from high school, she gave me a pearl necklace for a gift. It was very special to get that from her. I knew that she didn’t have much money and that she had sacrificed to give such a gift.

When Lil became older, she had several health problems. I visited her whenever I came home from college. She would sit with me and tell me stories about her life. She told me about her marriage. She knew a man for several years and was deeply in love with him. He was married. He was a doorman for the “mob” during prohibition and made sure that no one entered the speakeasy and gambling facility. My home town was called “Little Chicago” because of the gang activity there during Prohibition. Lil made deposits at the bank for the mob, carrying the money in the pockets of large overcoat to the bank. No one suspected that she was a participant in illegal activity. After several years, he divorced his wife and married Lil. He died after a couple of years of marriage. I heard that the mob family in town paid for her apartment until she died.

Lil died when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. I lived in Texas and couldn’t return to Ohio for the funeral. Before I left for Texas, she gave me a rattle for my yet-to-be-born baby. My heart ached to not be there for her at the end. She exemplified what it was to have a grandmother. And as Barbara Bush said, “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and just being there.” Lil was there for us.

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