My grandmother was one of the most influential people in my life. She would come over almost every day of my childhood to help my mother. She taught me how to sew and use her sewing machine. No matter how bad we had been when she babysat, when my parents would come home and ask how the evening had gone, I could hear her from my bedroom saying, “they were angels.”. She was one of the people I always felt was on my side.
My grandmother was born in 1904 in Philadelphia and raised in Atlantic City in the hotel her mother and stepfather ran. As she would tell it, she was sent out to the lobby of the hotel as a young child to, “talk to the people”. “You need to give the people what they want”, she would say, and clearly from her telling she was a darling of the lobby.
She would tell stories of making crocheted items and selling them on the boardwalk as a small child. In high school she danced on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City as a Dawson’s Dancing Doll for Professor Dawson. She never learned to cook as she was not permitted in the hotel kitchen for fear she would get hurt, but she did make a few dishes which I loved, and which I still make today.
And she had her sayings. When I think of my grandmother so many of her sayings come to mind. She, like many of us, had her expressions, which are now firmly entrenched in her grandchildren.
When my grandmother would expel gas, she would giggle in a girlish way and say, “My grandmother always used to say, where ever you be let your wind blow free.”
When I was a child and would walk down the street with my grandmother I could barely keep up because she was such a fast walker. She would stick her elbow out and say, “grab a wing chicken”, and I would put my arm though hers and we would walk down the street together. Her walking and me almost running to keep up.
Another saying of my grandmother’s grandmother was, “wait till I get my hat”. It was an expression that meant I’m always ready for anything, just wait until I get my hat. My grandmother never wore a hat but she loved to think of herself as a getup and go kind of girl.
My grandmother was always full of energy and would say about herself, “I’m just full of pep.”
When my grandmother was admonishing me for something serious, playing with myself at five years of age as I lay on our family room couch watching TV or six years of age playing with dolls, she would ask with a mixture of disappointment, hurt and anger, “Do you want me to tell all your friends that you…..” fill in the blank. She never really told my friends anything, but it was her way of marking sure you knew she was serious and inflicted some serious guilt.
Like a favorite saying, my grandmother had a dance she loved to do. Her favorite was the Mummers strut. The Mummers strut is a set of steps used in the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia every year on New Year’s Day. It did not take much for my grandmother to break into the Mummers strut in the family room anytime she wanted to dance, encouraging us to join her.
Like Eva Tanguay, a vaudeville star, and a favorite of my grandmother’s, she envisioned herself like Eva Tanguay’s famous, “I Don’t Care” song. While she did not know all the words, she would sing the chorus, “I don’t care, I don’t care” while she did the Mummers strut. She also called herself a “happy go lucky” just like the lyrics of Eva Tanguay’s song.
“Age is just a number”, she would say, “I feel like a young girl”