My earliest memory is washing dishes with Grandma Ruth.
She’d back a chair up to the sink for me to stand in and every dish she washed, she handed to me to dry. There were always camellias floating in water on the windowsill in front of us and Grandma was always talking. She used bright green Palmolive soap and dish rags with yellow borders. As I got older, she let me take over washing while she dried but she kept doing all the talking.
As kids, Grandma would halt a Saturday morning’s play with Jordan and Alston, to make us sit for a bible lesson. This was burdensome to us because certainly we would be attending Sunday school the next day. This was our only day off. Ellen and I would try to sit quietly but Jordan and Alston would disrupt our class, seeing who could contort their bodies into the weirdest position without leaving their chair. Grandma would gently nudge us to pay attention, but she would also let out one loud blast of a laugh first. When we were old enough to read, she resorted to bribery. “I’ll give you a dollar to read the bible for ten minutes.”
I’d ride around in the car with her while she looked at (and approached) other people’s houses. She feared not the red warning signs and taped off areas. I’m not sure she understood the concept of trespassing. Grandma would call me on the phone and talk for so long that I’d go for a jog or clean my room while she recounted tales and life lessons she’d learned without ever pausing to take a breath.
Grandma would stay with Ellen and me when our folks left on a business trip and I always used this time to further study Grandma’s behavior. She did lots of funny, strange things and when you pointed them out to her she would laugh at herself, but then stand by her thoughts. One time, as we got ready for bed, she covered up the knife block with a dishtowel and said, “In case of burglars.”
“You don’t want them to steal the knives?” I asked.
“I don’t want them to find the knives and hurt us with them.”
“I think burglars bring their own weapons.”
“Haha!” she’d blast out and then she looked at the knife block, agreed with her actions and sent me off to bed.”
When I was old enough to be auctioned off for baby making, Grandma began pedaling a photo of me around town, looking for my husband. Most notably she asked me to call a man named Gus who she had met at the Folly Beach dump because he had a pet parrot that spoke Russian and she thought this was special. On a lunch outing with Ellen and me, she asked our waiter if he thought I was pretty.
Before he could answer, she directed an open palm towards Ellen and said, “If you don’t like her, I also have this one.” This carried on for a long time and she’d get frustrated when I wouldn’t “do right.”
For a character as large as Grandma, it’s difficult to choose the most distinguishable memories. There are too many great ones. Too many great stories and quotes and eccentricities.
She’d come in and rearrange your furniture while you were out on vacation.
Her eyebrows would involuntarily rise when she took a bite of food.
She gifted you things you’d seen sitting in her bookshelf for fifteen years.
She’d wash her own cat’s face with a wet rag and warm water.
One time someone broke into our house when I was home alone, so I slipped out the back door and ran to Ari's house to call for help. I was terrified. Imagine the confusion to see Grandma leaving the crime scene with Mom’s casserole dish and a few magazines.
All this time Grandma had been talking and laughing. Always laughing. She was so easy to make laugh. Towards the end when she stopped talking all together, she would still look at me and laugh at my facial expressions. Ellen would say “Ello Grandmotha!” and she’d respond with that blast of “Haha!”
It had been over a year of her not speaking and I couldn’t tell if she knew who I was. She acted like she liked me but she was a polite woman and maybe she just thought I was a friend or the neighbor. A few days after our wedding, Brett and I went over to see her and Bob. Mostly we talked to Bob. Grandma was looking at a newspaper and not really listening but she’d smile politely when I looked at her. When we got to talk of the wedding day, she perked up a little. She always did love a wedding.
“Bunny,” Bob said to her, “They’ve gotten married. Laura got married.”
Grandma lit up and looked at me. “Are you serious?” she said to me, like suddenly she remembered trying to sell me off all these years.
“We got married last weekend!” I said, and Grandma smiled a giant Grandma Ruth smile and said “Well Congratulations!” with a giggle in her voice and she beamed at Brett and me. She was so happy. She stayed with us long enough to see a photo from the day and then she kind of glazed over again and sunk back into her chair.
It’s probably not something she could recall a few hours later but I really cherish that moment. She knew me again for just a second and I got to tell her something she’d been waiting years to hear. It’s a really happy last exchange before she danced off to go be with her beloved "sweet baby Jesus."