How my 13-year-old self rolled my eyes and huffed out a sigh whenever Grandma Merrill would call me that. Now I find myself saying those very words to my daughter. How did I not see how much my grandma loved me?
Grandma Merrill – Ann Clark Merrill – was born in January of 1900, so it was always easy to remember how old she was. She was the 11th of 12 children, the second to last daughter who remembered traveling from Utah to California by covered wagon when she was ten.
When she was born, no one owned a car. Women were not allowed to vote. She and Grandpa raised their family in Anaheim when Disneyland was nothing more than orange groves. She lived through World War 1, the Great Depression, World War 11, Korea and Viet Nam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the moon landing, Watergate. She witnessed her husband’s death as he fell from a ladder, victim of a heart attack, while picking peaches. She outlived her daughter, my aunt who died too soon. She was always cold, and even when she’d visit us in Houston in August, she would wear her cardigan.
Though never much more than five feet tall, she was a woman of no small opinions. She carried the stereotypes of her day, pronouncing them loudly in public places. She was convinced that Michael Landon utterly ruined the majesty of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. She had an expectation of how we were to behave, and let us know with a certain look or purse of the lips if we had not held up our end of things.
Two stories capture her for me. She often apologized to my sister and me for having passed on to us what she called “the Clark fanny.” We were all round in that posterior area and she taught us exercises to reduce the spread. One consisted of sitting on the floor, legs straight out, scooching forward across the room. The other began in the same position. One would then raise one’s fanny of the floor (arms locked at the side with palms on the floor for support) then smash said fanny into the floor. I suppose there was a hope that all that slamming would blast the fat to bits. It didn’t. It’s no wonder she had both hips replaced. Perhaps no wonder that I just had one replaced as well.
When I was a young adult I lived in New York and my parents were in New Jersey. Grandma came for Christmas one year, and we rented a van and went into the city for a fancy dinner. Grandma had her usual Manhattan before dinner and loved the meal. As we were finishing dessert, she caught the waiter’s attention. “Young man, do you think you might get me a cigarette?” She smoked with elan, in her orthopedic shoes, all 4’11” of her.
Pretty brazen for a woman who never learned how to drive, who did not know how to write a check when suddenly widowed in her mid -60’s.
But that was Grandma. The minute you thought you’d figured her out, the minute you thought she would scold you, out would come “sweet love.” And she meant it.
I do too.