Living with my grandmother was always crazy. Her name was Isabel. She had auburn hair held back in a “French roll” and thin ringlets of hair curled on the sides. She admitted to having gypsy in her blood after I told her she always reminded me of a gypsy. She said our ancestors traveled across Romania in covered wagons. Mom never believed her. Who knows! She liked to tell stories. Grandma Bell, as she told me to call her in order to distinguish her from my great grandmother and great, great grandmother who were still living, was only 31 years old when I was born. We lived with her when I was four.
Grandma Bell laughed a lot, fussed a lot, and cooked a lot, but most of all, she loved me a lot. She gave me tea parties with sassafras tea and bought me coloring books, bubbles to blow, and little toys. Her favorite things were making dolls and doll clothes, drawing pictures, and singing to me. I can still hear her singing, “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night.” You might guess I would be confused about Santa Claus after that and you would be right.
My favorite place to hang out was under her dining room table which was pushed up next to the wall. There I would color or sew doll clothes from old socks. Grandma Bell taught me to first, cut out holes in the toe of the sock just right for my doll’s legs to go through. Then, I pulled it up the torso and cut holes for the arms. Next, I measured enough length for the neck and discarded the top part of the sock. Finally, I used needle and thread to gather in the neckline. Nothing fancy, but I did it!
The world was mine under that table, and from there I could watch everything. Once, my stepfather who married Mom when I was two, tried to get my mother and grandmother to drink something awful. Their faces screwed all up as they clasped their hands over their mouths. Dad said it was a special drink with raw eggs. Mom said, “That’s disgusting!” I hugged the wall as tightly as I could and knew right then that no one would ever get me to drink raw eggs. Little did I know I would grow to love eggnog!
When Dad married Mom, he got a package deal: my little brother and me who were a year apart, and then came another brother. Those boys were ornery from the get-go. When it was time for my bath one day, my brothers started giggling. Grandma Bell knew what they were up to, so she put a squirt gun in her pocket before she took me upstairs. When we got in the bathroom, she laughed and said, “I’ll fix ‘em.” Then she filled the squirt gun with water, crept over to the door, and listened. At the right moment, she aimed the gun through the keyhole and squirted away. We laughed ourselves silly at the sound of those boys falling over each other, yelping, and then scurrying down the stairs. “Yes! We did it!” Grandma Bell shouted. She was my hero!