Thursday 27 June 2024

My Weekend at Grammy’s by Laura Sukonick, an old fashioned made with bourbon, no garnishes

“I’m here,” I called as I walked my 8 year old self through my grandparents’ never-locked backdoor. I waved goodbye to my parents as they backed their car out of the long driveway. With their only child officially under her grandmother’s care, their weekly date night with each other had begun at 4pm. So had my weekly date night; with my grandmother.

        “HERE I come,” was the instant response to my greeting from my grandmother’s disembodied voice.  My grandmother didn’t have the winey, nasal tone that sitcom viewers are used to hearing in their Jewish American moms. Instead, she sounded like a prepubescent Louis Armstrong who was immersed in a closing statement in court. Her voice was gruff, but still shrill, and never without total certainty. 


            She pre-punctuated her important sentences with a fast inhale. During this inhale she would open and close her bright pinked lips several times like she was revving up her jaw before speaking. After about five revs of the jaw she’d floor it into a story at 70 miles/ hour.


            “Where are you?” I called, Marco/Polo-ing my way around the perimeter of her first floor.

            “I’m on the tor-let,” she called back. She always added Rs to words that don’t have Rs. I made my way down the hall to the powder room that Grandmom was yelling at me from. Taped to the shut bathroom door was a sheet of yellow legal pad paper with “TOILET BROKEN!” scribbled in blue ink.


            “What’s wrong with your toilet?” I called to the other side of the door.
  “Nothing’s wrong with it.”

              “Then what’s with the sign?”

                “I put it there so no one uses it,” she responded with casual satisfaction as the toilet flushed.


            Ten seconds later the bathroom door flung open. Framed in the doorway was Grandmom in a loose floor-length skirt, still drying her hands with a towel. Upon seeing me she gasped with excitement and threw her head back so that her open mouth was facing the ceiling. With the drying towel still in her hand she propelled herself out of the bathroom doorway. Once in the hallway she began slapping her thighs in delight. (The left thigh she slapped with her palm facing upwards. The right thigh she slapped with the towel.) Next she proceeded to shout Yiddish terms of endearment, slapping her thighs all the while to keep time. Like a spiritual, Yiddish, drill sergeant. Instead of “MARCH MARCH. MARCH MARCH,” She was shouting “SHAY-NA. PUH-NUM.” 


            Finally, she embraced me in an aggressively tight hug.  Clinging to me, and the towel, she shifted her weight back and forth from her left foot to her right foot. With each sway she let out a guttural “OY!”  This greeting ritual, which she performed on a weekly basis, was her demonstration of love that is so intense that it’s literally uncontainable. 


            “NU?” Grandmom asked me as we headed upstairs. She then immediately translated that to, “What’s doing with you?” As always I was eager to answer. I knew from experience that she would wholeheartedly celebrate anything I was currently excited about. That day I was giving her a run for her money.


            For some reason that is beyond comprehension, the new cool trend at my suburban elementary school happened to be collecting magazine advertisements featuring Absolut Vodka bottles. The coolest kids even had them in plastic sleeves, which they kept organized in 3 ring binders. I loved the idea of having something to collect, organize and trade with the other kids. The absurdity of what that item was did not occur to me.


            When Grandmom caught wind that I’d become deeply invested in collecting trash advertising liquor, at the age of 8, she laughed, shook her head, and then jumped into action. Together we rummaged through the huge stacks of Times Magazines that my grandfather hoarded by the dozens on his unusable desk. We even emptied the trash cans just in case the AARP was advertising my unlikely new favorite product. By dinner time I had myself a collection of Vodka ads large enough to garner the admiration of the entire fourth grade. We were over the moon about it. 


            We celebrated over our usual weekend dinner together: buttered noodles and caffeine free diet coke, with baked apples for dessert.


            “The food is GROWing on your plate, not shrinking,” she expressed to me with concern. This meant I wasn’t eating quickly enough to assure her that I was satisfied with the food. (To be fair, no one ever did anything quickly enough for her- the woman took a vacation like she was getting it over with, and expected everybody to follow suit.)


            “You don’t like it,” she worried. “I’ll make something else.”

            “It’s good! I’m eating,” I reassured her honestly with my mouth full. I knew I could’ve told her if I didn’t want it. My reassurance did not appease her. 

            “Eating?! You took one bite and looked ill. Now you’re turning green on me, like the wicked witch in Oz.” Grandmom liked to insert a movie reference into her statement when she felt she was making a strong point: 

            “Don’t forget your coat,” she’d exasperatedly remind me each Sunday when Mom and Dad came to pick me up. “Because come tomorrow- it’ll be Gone With the Wind, in the dump!” Her repertoire was mostly Hollywood classics from the 1930s.


Before long the phone rang.

            “CHRIST ALMIGHTY,” my grandfather screamed from his horizontal EZ chair in the living room, making himself known for the first of two times that evening.  Grandpop always shouted curses when a noise was louder than he preferred it to be.

            “Lauralah is here so DO NOT YELL,” she screamed immediately back.



            “Laura ’s here?”

            “JESUS CHRIST!”


            “Let it go,” Grandmom instructed me as usual. (Meaning the phone, to voicemail.)  But when the person leaving the voicemail turned out to be her brother, he barely got one word out before she lunged for the phone.


            “What’s wrong, Norm?!” s he shouted into the receiver that was still traveling to her mouth. Nothing was wrong. He called every day. She consistently greeted him this way. 

            Norm was Grandmom’s best friend and older brother. He was her only sibling. He was older; she was tougher. They grew up looking out for each other while their family endured antisemitism and poverty. Until the day she died she talked to him like she might have to drop everything and physically defend him at any moment.


            The conversation then proceeded as it always did: “Did you eat, Norm?” “What’d you eat?” Pause. “Was it fresh?” Then the indiscriminate grumbling of uncle Norm became audible from the phone speaker, to which, every minute or so,  Grandmom would respond with another “Absolutely.” She  pronounced it like “aha-bsolutely.” This proceeded for about ten minutes until the inevitable,         “Okay Norm. Gay Gezunt, Norm. Call me if you need anything.” And then one more, “Gay Gezunt, Norm. Bye.”  

         After dinner and baked apples, I dressed myself in one of Grandmom’s old fur coats as Grandmom summoned my grandfather at my request.


            “HERBERT” she yelled to him from the hallway. “Herbert, Laura wants to sing for us in the living room. Come here.”

            “Again?!” (He had a point. This was a weekly occurrence.)
“Herbert,” she warned him coldly, “DO not start.”


            Dutifully my grandfather began the four minute process of getting himself out of his EZ chair. He narrated his annoyance about the ordeal as he moved. Once he arrived in the shag carpeted living room, he began the four minute process of noisily sitting himself down on the sofa.

            When I was satisfied that my two audience members were accounted for, I explained that I would first be singing Hey Big Spender. I had recently become aware of this sensual tune because my cousin had learned it in her dance class and then taught it to me. I began swaying my hips and singing terribly while draped in Grandmom’s enormous fox coat. As if on cue my grandfather immediately fell asleep.


             I finished my first song to a standing ovation from Grandmom.  I then announced, “Intermission.” This was so I could feel like a sophisticated cocktail waitress while I scooped a diet coke can out of the refrigerator for my grandmother, and handed it to her in exchange for her dollar. She loved the gimmick and tipped me for my trouble. 


            “Intermission is over,” I announced. At this point my grandfather had an announcement of his own. 

            “That’s all for me, Sweetheart,” he said in an exhale, already on the crawl back to his horizontal chair in the living room. He would remain there until the following morning.


            After the show Grandmom and I played pickup sticks and Rummy500 (the latter of which she had just taught me the week before). Then it was time to get ready for bed.


            Inside her shower I found the usual supplies: a bar of dove soap, a bottle of Pert Plus shampoo, and an absolutely massive unbranded jar, with a screw top lid, of the thickest, most effective hair conditioner I have ever used to this day. I have no idea what it was. 


            “Leave your bloomers off, hon,” Grandmom called to me as I was putting on my pajamas in the bathroom. “Bloomers” is what she called underwear.

            “I know, Grandmom.” 

             “You need to air out your knish overnight,” she espoused. “It’s healthy!”

              With that we turned on the Golden Girls and climbed in bed. After Golden Girls ended she went downstairs and reemerged with two unpeeled oranges in her hand.


            “Here Dolly.” 

           I took one of the oranges knowing exactly what to do. I slid it under my left armpit and then snuggled myself under the blankets.

            “Did you really used to do this with your grandmother?” I asked her.

             “Aha-bsolutely,” she confirmed, slipping her own orange under her own left armpit.

            “We’ll eat them in the morning and it’ll bring good luck. You’ll see.”

             Five minutes later she was snoring loudly. When I touched her arm gently her body instantly jerked upright while she shouted, 

            “I’M AWAKE WHAT’S WRONG?!”

            “Grandmom,” I whispered, unfazed. I was used to her waking up in an explosion.

            “Huh mummulah?”

             “Can you tell me a story?”

             “Okay honey.”

             “About Arlo the horse.”

             “Okay, let me think of something.”


             I waited. And waited. And then suddenly she was snoring again.

           I could smell the Tropicana orange in my armpit as the familiar clank of her rattling pipes began to fill the room. 

            “It’s ok,” I whispered between her snores. With my two small hands, I softly guided her head back down to the pillow before whispering, “You can tell me the story next week.”


About the author 


At 36 years old Laura lives with her husband, her two cats, and her existential dread. In her spare time she enjoys reflecting on the often ineffective ways that she’s tried to deal with the hassle of being herself. For the last decade she’s worked as a psychotherapist. 

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