Memoir: "Grandmother"

The sheets are always soft, even with lint sliding across them. Squeezed between the large pillows are a few smaller needle-pointed ones. They are all shaped like blocks. Entering the room, I head straight to the bed. When I lay back on it I have the purest view of her wide-screen television. There are more channels than my grandmother realizes, and she usually flips between the news channels, CNN and FOX to hear the differing opinions. She keeps the volume on high, and I often have to subtly turn it down. I know my grandmother still has bits of her life together when I am in the bed…bits of her life that she can confine to the space in which she sleeps.

Because her sleeping schedule is so irregular, she could be awake at 3am watching the news, but she could be asleep at 12pm with the television still on loud. It is when this occurs that I take the switcher and I go onDemand. The first film I ever purchased on that television was Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore. The movie is the quintessential Rom-Com one might indulge in to feel a bit happy on an otherwise bleak winter day. It’s cute. It takes place at a high school, and Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie, a senior, falls in love with her English teacher. The climax happens when the teacher realizes Josie is actually an under-cover reporter for a Chicago newspaper attempting to find a story within the local high school. He becomes her story. I can always count on this movie to lift my mood, particularly the picturesque ending of Josie finally getting her first kiss with the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” playing.

Scrolling OnDemand I find myself coming across The Age of Innocence. My grandmother sits up a bit straighter.

“I wonder if this is based off of the novel?” she asks me.

“I’ll google it and see…it looks like it is! Have you read it before?”

“Oh yes. It’s a divine story all about Old New York…we need to watch it. The book was written by Edith Wharton. Go ahead and play it.”

I haven’t told her that these movies cost money to watch. I bite my tongue. She says she loves the movie. It’s completely her taste—set in the upper-class homes of Old New York, where people still ballroom dance and travel by horse and buggy. She keeps chiming in as the movie plays. I am mesmerized by Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting. Daniel Day-Lewis’s character, Newland Archer, plays a respected young lawyer who is engaged to May Welland, a young woman from a very well-known family. However, Newland falls for May’s cousin, the seductive and stunning Countess Ellen Olenska. Olenska has moved away from her husband and is living without him—an extreme taboo during this time period. Alas, here begins Newland and Ellen’s spicy affair.

“Do you see how manipulative May is in this scene?” my grandmother asks, as Winona Ryder’s character begins to read into Newland’s potential affection for someone else.

I fall asleep in my grandmother’s bed that night, and she doesn’t wake me up. She’s all the way on the other side of the bed and she doesn’t turn the television off.

When I visit my grandmother, it is usually either in the cold of the winter (as cold as Northern Florida can be) or in the extreme heat of the summer. It is in these time periods that I have breaks from school, jobs, friends and New York City.

She is getting older. I think about her death sometimes but I always envision it so far in the future. I tell myself every six months or so “you will be devastated when she dies; I don’t think you’ll even know how to handle it.” And then I tell myself, “but c’mon, that won’t happen for at least another ten years.” And then another year goes by, and when I am back home, I look outside of a taxi window and realize it will happen eventually. And I’ll probably fall to my knees when I hear the news, and I most likely won’t really get over it, ever.

My grandmother was once upon a time celestially beautiful, and this beauty has never truly faded. It has only become an older and more classic kind of beauty. She says that the secret to her youthful skin is Pond’s cooling cream. You can still buy it at the drugstore, and the ingredients are the same as they were in 1940, as far as I know. She puts it on her face every single night. In pictures I see her skin and it’s so white and creamy; if you touched it, it would feel like satin. Her eyes, her most striking feature, are light blue-green, the exact hue of an emerald-aquamarine ocean. Her hair is auburn, but in the light grows into a burnt orange. Her lips appear pursed all of the time. It’s taken me years to realize they’re just plump.

She speaks almost as though syllables are her words. “Divine” is her favorite word. When she pronounces it, it sounds like two words at once.

“Dee-VINE,” she announces.

She’s from the South. I do not know anything confirmed about her father, and I know very little about her mother. I know small things I have heard. I know that her parents got divorced in the 1940s, which was a very uncommon thing to do back then. My grandmother does not speak about her parents. I am afraid to ask more about them for fear of upsetting her.

When I visit her, I notice that it takes her longer to get ready to go out to dinner and that her bed is always a mess. And I notice that sometimes she seems completely out of it. She’s never forgotten my name, but she’s forgotten small details about where she may have placed something, or what she has to do for the day.

My aunt always warns me and says,

“She seems to be getting more forgetful…if you pick up on anything, will you tell me?”

She never misses her Bridge classes with her friends. But the thing is, she just doesn’t go outside. My cousin and I have conversations about it. He tells me he just doesn’t understand the point of being alive if you don’t even go outside and do things.

The time in which I feel most present with my grandmother is when we are in the bed watching a movie. It is during this time that we are experiencing something similar. Soon, she begins to assign me lists of movies to watch. One is called the Razor’s Edge, another is called The Young Philadelphians with Paul Newman. Each one, she tells me, is meant to teach me some sort of lesson. On Christmas Eve, I have an inkling to show her one of my favorite films. I tell her it’s called Lost in Translation and it takes place in Tokyo, Japan.

“It’s about two people who meet in a hotel and become friends but it’s always borderline romantic…but they can’t be together because they both have such different lives,” I say.

The opening scene is of a voluptuous young woman with blonde hair asleep on a bed. You can only see her backside with the city of Tokyo in the window outside. She wears pink underwear and it hugs tightly at the hips. I know my grandmother doesn’t like sexy stuff, but this is the sexiest it gets.

Halfway through the first scene, my grandmother asks me to turn down the volume because she needs to plan her bridge game for the next day. Bridge is the only activity in which she finds a sense of organization in her life. It also gives her the opportunity to socialize with ladies her age.

The movie continues, and I am intrigued by the love story unfolding between Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. Truth be told, it’s not the normal love story you see in these types of indie films—mostly, because they never have sex. They start off as friends, and they simply enjoy one another’s company. If they had had sex, it would ruin the film in a way because Bill Murray is married and so is Scarlett, although both do not seem to be happy with their marriages. Almost the entirety of the film takes place in a grey-white hotel.

Just as I’m about to turn to my grandmother to explain another scene, I realize she is asleep probably has been for quite a while. She has her hair up in curlers, with a bandana wrapped around them to keep them in place. I let her sleep as Bill Murray says goodbye to Scarlett, whispering a secret into her ear.

My bio: Palmer is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and an incoming MFA and MA student. She has worked as a paralegal since 2018. She has written for Refresh Magazine, The Online Journal for Person-Centered Dermatology, Sea Maven Magazine, Calm Down Magazine,The French Press Zine and level:deepsouthwith work forthcoming in The Remington Review and For Women Who Roar. Her instagram is @spdevsmith