My Grandmother's glasses

Born in 1898, I think about all that she saw through these. She wore them as long as I can remember - they're in all the shots of her from when I was a kid, right through 1983, when she passed away.

 

She was the first generation of our family on my mother's side that was born in America. Her parents lived through the Potato Famine in Ireland before they came to the states, but died in the flu epidemic around WW 1. One of her brothers and her sister lived in the US, and her oldest brother went to Australia and stayed there, serving in their army in WW I.

 

She had five children - my Mom, my aunt and my three uncles - and took in two others to her apartment when they were young women and needed a place to live. She raised them all as a single parent after her husband left then died, sometime in the 30's.

 

She worked at Bond Crown and Cork as a bottle cap inspector, and it made her pretty deaf early on, but she would never go for a hearing aid. She would bring back reject caps for me and my cousins to play with. She took two busses to get to work and back, but when she got older, my Dad would pick her up and give her a ride home, because he was working second shift then.

 

She lived with my parents after they bought their first and only house in 1949, a semi-detached row house in Wilmington, Delaware. One of my uncles lived there for most of my life, too, and my father's father for a while. Add me and my brother and it was a full house and a good life.

 

Every Saturday, when I was a kid, we would take the number 10 bus (Delaware Avenue) downtown to see an afternoon movie. There were six theatres there then. My favorite was a great art deco place, called the Warner. After the movie we would walk around downtown for a while, then have dinner at Govatose's, in the little tap room around back that had about six seats at the bar, three booths and two tables. Her friend, Mae, was the barmaid, and it was a pleasant little room, maybe 15' or 20' X 20', tops.

 

We would always get a booth, usually the same one. It's probably why I always ask for a booth in restaurants, but I never really thought of that until just now. We would always get hamburgers - they made great ones in the restaurant - with chips and a pickle on the side. I would have a Coke and she would have a Piels beer in a tall glass, her favorite.

 

We would watch Sea Hunt with everyone on the TV above the bar, then it was time to catch a bus or a cab back home. By the time we got cross town - not really far, I walked it often - the Jackie Gleason show was wrapping up.

 

We would also go to Atlantic City for a week in the summers, back when it was a beach resort and not a casino place. We stayed in the Normandy Hotel, ate all of our meals out, which I thought was pretty exotic, beach during the day, and then we would go to the Steele Pier and walk the boardwalk at night. We saw the famous diving horse a lot of times, and once we were on the Grady and Hurst dance program that was live TV back to Philly.

 

There was a Planter's Peanuts shop on the boardwalk, with big Mr. Peanut figures attached to the roasters in the windows, looking like their arms were cranking them around and around. She used to go back with her sister to watch the Miss America pagent when it was there, too.

 

My parents had their date night on Saturdays when I was in junior high school and high school, and we would have minute steaks on bread for dinner every week, then watch The Prisoner TV show on public television. After that she'd watch Lawrence Welk. After a while her eyes got too bad to see how the steaks were done, so we had to hang around the kitchen while she made them, because when they burned they'd really smoke the place up. I'm pretty sure she knew why we did it, but she never let on.

 

She would only put her teeth in for pictures. I don't think they fit too well. She could eat subs on hard rolls though, and almost anything else, without her teeth. She must have has really tough gums.

 

After she retired, laundry became her full-time job. She washed everything as soon as you took it off. The year I was turning 20 I worked as a greenskeeper at a golf course, and she washed my jeans every night. At the end of the year you could pull the fabric apart with your fingers. I played a lot of tennis then, and you had to wear white. Nobody's whites were as white as mine, I promise you - even my canvas Jack Purcell's.

 

My mom had a lot of operations when I was a little kid, and you stayed in the hospital a lot longer then. I was remarkably close to my grandmother, maybe because of that, but probably because she was such a great person.

 

She lived to see my wedding in 1981, and two years longer after that. My only regret is that my son never got to know her. I'm sure my mom was such a great grandmother to him because of everything she saw and lived.

 

My Dad used to go to her grave every Saturday as long as he could still drive, and trim the grass around her marker with clippers and fill the urn with fresh flowers. He and my Mom are buried right next to her.

 

Here's to you, Grandmom - your glasses are still in the living room, and we never pack them away. Every time we see them, we see you.

 

 

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Taken on March 5, 2007