Stories, memories and a half-filled candy bowl

My grandmother, the woman who always had Cool Whip and diet 7up and coffee ice cream in her fridge, who always put too many chocolate chips in her cookies, who never forgot a birthday or the $20 bill that went with it, died very early Friday morning.
She was sick, and her heart wasn’t pumping right, and she occasionally slipped off into a brief sleep while talking to you. That wasn’t like her. When she was healthy she could talk circles around most people, and that says a lot considering my family.
She could make you laugh, not by telling jokes but by telling it like it is, or at least as she saw it. If she thought someone was tight with their money she’d call him a hundred dollar millionaire. If she felt unwelcome at someone’s home, she’d say she felt like a skunk at a lawn party. And if she didn’t like what someone was telling her she’d say “Go #$%& in a hat and pull it over your ears, you look better in brown curls.”
That was her way.
But she’d go to bat for someone in her family, no matter the cause. For her, and maybe for the rest of us, family trumps right or wrong.
She and her husband Al — he died more than 10 years ago — raised four children in a shoe box of a house on Annawamscutt Road, back when the little houses outnumbered the big ones in that part of town, back when going to the beach meant walking to Mussachuck or down to the end of Annawamscutt, not piling into the car and driving to Newport or Narragansett.
My mother and her three siblings all grew up in Barrington and tell great stories about their younger days, about the time Peggy hit Tommy square in the head with a baseball bat, or the time Janey sat on a bees nest, or when all four of them used to go over to Crescent Park in Riverside.
My grandmother, Margaret Hallock, or Marge or GG as the great-grandkids knew her, still recalled those stories and more.
She once told me the story about how she went driving one day, which doesn’t sound like much of a story unless you knew she never ever had her license and never ever got behind the wheel. She told me the story straight-faced, matter-of-factly and almost had me believing it. Almost.
When I was little and needing an afternoon break from school I’d go to the nurse’s office and tell her my stomach hurt and that she should call my grandmother since my mom worked a few days a week. My grandmother would excuse me and then she and my grandfather would pick me up in their orange-colored Ford sedan and take me out to lunch, usually to some place that served cheeseburgers or hot wieners. That always seemed to make my stomach feel better.
Food was a bit part of my grandmother’s life and subsequently it was a big part of all our lives. She cooked, well sometimes and more than enough always. On Thanksgiving she’d fill the table with a huge fresh bird from Belwing and two dozen (or so it seemed) side dishes. Stuffings, potatoes, sauces, vegetables, breads and a bowl filled with baby onions floating in a white soup. I never ate the onions.
But dinner was just a prolonged stop on the way to an excessive amount of desserts. Pies, cookies, nut breads and more than a few dishes filled with M&Ms and hard candies, and boxes of thin mints.
Grandma used to feed her dog Toby handfuls of M&Ms, which makes my wife — a veterinarian — cringe. But I swear that dog, who was badly crippled when he was hit by a car, was the happiest dog I have ever seen.
We all knew Grandma was sick and struggling over the last two months, so we each took time to visit with her. I drove up to Somerville, Mass. — she was living with my aunt — about three weeks ago.
We had coffee ice cream cones and talked about the shopping trips to Ann & Hope, Fourth of July cookouts and her great-grandkids.
It was a nice visit and it’s all I’ve been thinking about since early Friday morning when my mother called with the bad news.
It’s those stories, I suppose, that we’re left with when the bodies fade and hearts fail and loved ones disappear.
Stories, memories and a half-filled candy bowl inside an apartment.

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4 Comments

  1. Kathleen Daley said:

    josh,you are a beautiful grandson and your grandmother was so proud of you.I love your story and grammy will be missed by many.she made everyone feel loved she was a special women,kathy

  2. Bruce Burdett said:

    Josh – Never met your grandmother but feel I know a bit about her thanks to this heartfelt tribute. It’s always the little things, like those creamed onions, the extra chocolate morsels, that really matter. Very sorry for your loss.
    Bruce Burdett

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