07 April 2013

Happy Birthday, Nano

On what would have been her 95th birthday, I'm happily recalling fond memories of my grandmother, Thelma.

My first thought of her this morning was remembering that she gave us a wake-up call every day for many years so we wouldn't miss the school bus, largely because I would ignore my alarm clock and fall back to sleep. Being the eldest, I was expected to motivate my sisters and brother for the walk (or run) down the street to the bus stop at Becky's driveway where we would wait for (or chase after) bus #307. Unfortunately for her, the chore usually ended up on the shoulders of my more responsible, younger sister, Lisa.

Thinking of those phone calls helped me remember many a weekend spent behind the white picket fence at 1311 East Breckenridge, and how I often wish we could relive those days with her.

Once, when she was standing at the sink shaking a can of V-8 we told her that she was "shaking more than the can". She didn't find any humor in that remark and she made sure we knew it. I'm not positive, but at that moment we may have seen her weapon of choice for dispensing discipline and keeping order: the flyswatter.

Often, after having experienced that rare display of frustration with us, we'd hide behind her black sofa, the kind from the early sixties with silver threads woven into the fabric, to pout or perhaps "make her miss us." One of the long, hipster sofas with a slanted back, it provided a perfect "cave" between it and the wall for three little brats to find refuge.

Because we could be a hard-headed, determined lot, she'd usually come to the living room in order to coerce us out of our isolation, and ask, "Would you like an ice cream and a Pepsi?"

What child wouldn't want a sugar buzz? We'd follow her to her kitchen, where for as long as I remember a bird cage hung from just inside the kitchen door, with a little yellow inhabitant that wouldn't sing songs like Nano had hoped. Oh, it would chirp and make noises in the mornings, but for all of the "practice" with the 45 RPM Hartz Mountain canary records she played, Sunny never produced a song. None of the canaries named Sunny did.

Gathering our "rewards" from her white Coldspot, she'd position us around the kitchen table where we could sit and drink our Pepsi-Colas and eat our swirly chocolate or strawberry ice-cream -- the kind sold ten to a bag at A&P or Kroger in little plastic cups with cardboard lids and wooden "spoons" -- leaving space for her to start preparing dinner in anticipation of Papaw returning from his day at Pillsbury. And, more likely, where she could keep an eye on us.

To begin, she'd pull the snap-bead chain of the flourescent fixture on the ceiling. As it flickered to life, she'd fetch a paper grocery sack out of her pantry, carefully tearing it open so it would lie flat on the kitchen table. It was always fascinating to me, watching how she could peel a tomato, an apple, a potato or just about anything with that Old Hickory butcher knife, (one Papaw sharpened so many times that the blade, blackened with years and years of service, had become concave), skillfully leaving a long, unbroken ribbon of skin in a rumpled pile. Watching her with that same knife and a whole chicken was another experience altogether.

"How do you do that, Nannie?" She would just smile and wink.

Once the peeling was done, she'd set in motion the other tasks to put food on the table. And typically, boredom would send us kids back to the console television to watch afternoon cartoons in the living room. In a while, we could smell the fruits of her labor, often accompanied with the rhythmic hiss of the the Mirro-Matic on top of the stove.

After Papaw came home, they'd drink a couple of Blatz beers, no doubt purchased from Jesse Schook's Beer Depot on Kentucky Street near Barret Avenue -- with the foul-mouthed Mynah bird -- and Charms Blow-pops. He'd drink his from the bottle, but she'd pour hers into a glass and sprinkle it with salt from one of those orange and green "Indian" shaker sets.

It seems like I asked her why she salted her beer, and if I remember right, it was to get rid of the "suds." Truth be known, though, she salted a lot of things I would've considered "no-salt" foods until I tried them her way, like watermelon.

I haven't salted my watermelon in decades. I rarely eat watermelon for that matter, but I'd love the chance to do it with her one more time. Happy 95th birthday, Nano.

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