Being 64 by (1 Story)

Prompted By Special Birthdays

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In a few days, I will become my grandmother.  That’s Grandmother January (Annie Naomi Andrews January), who was sixty-four years old from the time I first knew her ‘til the day she died many years later.   The frames selected for me by Eye Gallery’s owner a few months ago when my eyes needed a break from fifty years of continuous contact lenses have helped make this moment a little easier.  Their shape resembles Grandmother’s; and when I put them on for the first time and looked in shock at the mirror, our likeness was complete.  But they were glasses Grandmother could have only dreamed of.  Red — and way cooler – but no cooler than she was.

In a few days, I will become my grandmother.  That’s Grandmother January (Annie Naomi Andrews January), who was sixty-four years old from the time I first knew her ‘til the day she died many years later. 

Her neat two bedroom cottage on Amherst was a haven for me and my cousin Sue as six to twelve year olds.  Sue would come up to Dallas from Houston on Continental Trailways and we’d get ferried over to Grandmother and her neighborhood full of kids, her precious porcelain-headed cloth dolls in fancy nightgowns, and the rolling Canasta games played around her dining room table with four or five partial decks.

Some in our family would maintain that Grandmother herself had been playing with a partial deck for several years.  And, yes, there was some evidence for that later on in the plates of food lovingly set out on TV trays in front of large framed photographs of each of her three grown children.  And one could argue that being able to tell her the same tired joke over and over again and hear her unforced, bell-like laughter each time was further evidence.  Just as there might be something in the note on the flip side of her car’s sun visor saying, “Put me up!  You got a ticket for running a red light you couldn’t see when I was down!”

But here’s the thing: she was one of us – absolutely at our level.  Happy participant in our games and permissive of our secrets.  Willing to cook up some fun at the drop of a hat and teach us the mysteries of the bobbin on her Singer sewing machine, the way to iron without getting burned too much, and how to make fudge that didn’t always turn out as hard as Gorilla Glass.  Her contribution to our political education was enormous when, upon the occasion of the 1960 presidential convention we watched at her side, her concern that the Pope would be running the country was counterbalanced by her delight that LBJ was on the ticket.  Her contribution to our understanding of our extended family was also huge, as you could count on her telling us the stories that no one else would.  Most importantly, though, we could do no wrong; and our very existence was joy to her.  The “Sentimental Journey” song and dance number Sue and I put together was perfect in her eyes for performing at her Lovers Lane Methodist Sunday School class: the Sweet Potatoes.

Many years after Grandmother had departed this earthly skein, my Aunt Kay was de-accessioning and let me know I would be receiving Grandmother’s silver flatware and serving pieces.  Of course, a story came with it.

Granddaddy’s dream to live on a ranch in goat county near Sabinal was not Grandmother’s idea of Utopia.  (Thomas More’s, that is, not the ironically-named little town of Utopia not far from Sabinal.)  Although my older sister Susan remembered the time she spent on the ranch as the best time in her life, Grandmother waited for the day when Granddaddy recognized that he couldn’t manage it by himself and that it wouldn’t support hired help and finally sold it.  When that day came, Grandmother insisted on being paid her half of the proceeds from the sale and put much of it into King Richard pattern Sterling silver flatware, serving utensils and a carving set.  Fifty years later, when the box of silver came to me, it still contained a tiny Oilfield Diary in which every piece of the service for eleven (?!) that she had cobbled together was carefully recorded in Grandmother’s hand.  A December 20, 1950 receipt from a San Antonio jewelry store showed her first purchase.  Need I say that each time I set the table with this silver for a special occasion, Grandmother and all that she was is there?

And each time I go into my favorite Asian restaurant and see the food, flowers and coins laid out before the Buddha or the photograph of another loved and inspiring teacher, I think on this woman who shamelessly insisted on preserving and caring for her legacy; and I hope that I live to become more like her, full deck or no.  If I do, I guarantee it’ll be when I’m sixty-four.

Profile photo of Jan Fox Jan Fox
In the 1950's, storytelling on the schoolbus was my entertainment. By the mid-1970's, storytelling in the courts had become my profession. Today and always, storytelling set to music and sung from the heart is my joy.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Jan, this is wonderful! Funny and poignant, thank you for introducing us to your grandmother. I laughed out loud about her Canasta games played with partial decks, followed by the suggestion that she had been playing with a partial deck for several years. And how lucky you are to have her sterling silver, with a record of when she got each piece.

    Welcome to Retrospect! It’s a delight to have you here!

    • Jan Fox says:

      Suzy, thank you for calling attention to the things I treasured around her. I’m pretty sure you would have felt right at home around that canasta table. When you make it to Houston, we’ll pull out the silver and enjoy it together!

  2. This is such a well integrated mix of being humorous on the one hand and profoundly poignant on the other. You bring in so many great details to fill the reader’s mind with a vivid picture, starting with the second paragraph arrival at Grandmother’s place. The little asides, such as identifying the two different Utopia’s, are masterful in enriching the narrative without side-tracking from the main thread. The place settings–how they originated and where they are now, as well as where you are going–are all a wonderful metaphor for the journey we all take through life, if we are fortunate enough to have long ones. This was a gem to encounter.

    • Jan Fox says:

      Dale, thank you for this in depth response. It is so remarkable to start poking around internally in the process of writing and find out who lives there and how much they’ve given you.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Lovely generational tale of your fondness for your grandmother (love how she acquired her silver flatware), now that you have reached the age she was when you best remember her. You paint a vivid portrait of a wonderful co-conspirator. I can see why you loved her so much. It didn’t matter if the deck was full or not. She was fun and always there for you. That’s what mattered most. Welcome to Retrospect. Thank you for adding your voice.

  4. Welcome to Retro Jan, and thanx for your lovely and poignant story!

    Your stays at your grandmother’s cottage with your cousin Sue sound like heaven for you two young girls, and in my mind’s eye I can see the canasta tables and those porcelain-headed dolls.

    I have a few pieces of china and silver that were my grandmother’s, and altho I’m not sentimental, those I’d never part with!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    The joy of conspiracy between grandparents and children is perfectly captured here (I often hear advice to skip being a parent, and go straight to the grandparent phase). It made me wish I had experienced that—she sounds like a gem. And I loved the fact that she was always 64–find an age and stick with it! Maybe I’ll follow her lead.

  6. Susan Bennet says:

    Hello Jan, I thoroughly enjoyed your sweet and well-written story. “In a few days I will become my grandmother”–just about the best lede I’ve ever read. (Ever a journalist?) Some of us ladies love our silver and dishes, I’m with Grandmother January on that!

  7. Whenever I hear the age “64” the Beatles’ song runs on rewind for a longer time than I would wish. Your story gives that song depth, breadth and color by sharing who your grandmother was as a person and a special character and who she was to and for you. My own grandmothers were not a big part of my life, but I watched my own mother strive to be the kind of grandmother you describe. Rather than fudge, she taught her grandchildren ginger bread men and women. Thank you for bring up these memories.

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