My dad constantly says, “The world is your oyster.” His mother’s name is Pearl and she wears pearls. I learn a real pearl is born out of irritation when sand gets nestled in between wet slimy pockets inside a shell that stays snap shut. I don’t know what he means, but I like pearls. They are pretty and they are girl’s balls.
My Grandmother is a heroic survivor. At three years of age, her older brother Jack plays with her on the windowsill of their 3rd floor New York tenement building. Suddenly, somehow, she has fallen three flights onto her head. She survives. This is the first proof that Pearl, my impressive grandmother, is indelible.
At 15, while getting off a streetcar, her skirt catches on the moving vehicle. Pearl is dragged, on her knees, a block and a half in downtown Manhattan until someone notices. She survives. Proof again, Pearl is invincible.
She meets a boy in school. He likes her. She has a date or two with him when he brings her home to meet the family. He has three brothers. Something real ignites when she meets the second son. She realizes a better match with the younger, shyer brother. In high school, Pearl is President and Harry is the Treasurer of the Kinetic Club, which promotes sociability and Good Fellowship. They win dance contests. Yet he was the shyer brother?
She marries Harry, the love of her life. They know Harry has polycystic kidney disease and isn’t going to live a long life. Together they co-create Interstate Restaurant Supply in 1929 and with a $200 investment from the older brother, they are in business.
In 1945 Pearl has two children when she buries her beloved. She loses weight and seeks a good father for her children. A number of men after the war show interest in a ready-made family. She picks Milo Weingast, only if he changes his name to Guest. He performs on stage before the war. He plays piano, speaks many languages, sings, and has a sense of humor. He wants to travel, and see as much opera as she does. He is a handsome Austrian who scales the Alps to escape Hitler and gets his mother out of harm and to the states safely. He has swagger.
I remember spending weekends and holidays at the house on Ellenwood. I sleep in the double bed pushed up against her double bed. We rest under the picture of the beautiful ballerina putting on (or taking off) her pale pink toe slippers. I’m told repeatedly how often I kick her at night. She always says, “I don’t mind that your feet always find my ribs.”
When I’m young, Grandma and I play the dictionary game. We talk about many words during each visit, what they mean, and how to use them. I love these word games and reading together. She has a book club and reads voraciously.
It’s from Grandma I learn not to be a liar. She has a plastic headband covered with a chocolate brown velvet ribbon made into a perfect bow atop the half-moon shaped hair accessory. I sit on it. I break it. I don’t tell anyone I broke it. When they ask me if I knew how it got broken, I say no but begin crying. They can tell I know more about the headband and keep talking until they get me to talk. They punish me, not because I broke it but because I didn’t tell the truth. They say, “You won’t get in trouble for breaking it, only for lying about it. It isn’t what you’ve done or not done, it’s lying about it that is the problem.”
While living in the Laguna Woods Leisure World, we are going out for a meal. In her car, as we leave the neighborhood and wait to turn left she says to me, “Lisa, when you have sex with boys do you talk to them in bed?”
I tell her, “We crack jokes. We laugh about funny sounds. We tell each other what we really want.”
“Once a month Grandpa Milo used to sit at the kitchen table and say, “Well dear, it’s time to do that mom and pop thing.””
They always had separate bedrooms, but once a month he would enter her chambers. This is also the day I learn she believes she gained weight during her marriages because sperm made her fat. “Did you swallow it?” I ask.
She tells me Milo fell in love with a woman on one of his Mexican fishing trips.
She asks him, “If you are in love, you should go and be with her.”
He says, “No, who will take care of me when I’m sick and dying? I will stay with you.”
He stays another twenty years. Right before he dies from cancer of the bile he says, “I want you to know I’ve had prostitutes throughout our life together.”
She lives another 19 years!
Near her end, she admits to me that every day since Harry died in 1945 she sits beside the picture she has of him in her bedroom and talks to him about the children and grandchildren, the family, and what is happening in the world.
I find, the day she finally dies at the age of 97 in 2006, a Girl’s Graduation Days book hidden deep in her desk. Going through the pages I discover she is Class Historian and Class Prophet. She publishes in the school paper a little piece about an Organ Grinder and another one about An Afternoon In the Library. She wins an award for her typing skills and earns a certificate for stenography. All the dictionary word games and talk about words, all the years she hears me say I want to be a writer, she never tells me she used to write.