I can only smile when I think about the times I spent with Mildred- (“Millie” for short) my maternal grandmother. To me, she was Grammy when I was little, and Gram when I got a little older. She had charcoal curls and the stereotypical old lady glasses with the bifocals and swirly plastic rims. She wore elastic band jeans, velour jogging suits, and toe-less sneakers. She adored Lawrence Welk, Jimmy Buffet, and Hee Haw. She loved to have us over for dinners, and I never told her that her homemade corn-beef hash made me cringe.
I remember the excitement I had when I’d spend the night at her house and she’d let me stay up late to watch not only Love Boat, but Fantasy Island, too! “The Plane! The Plane!” I loved watching Mr. Roarke and Tattoo greet the guests who arrived on the tiny airplane. I was glued to that show, although I never let on that Fantasy Island actually scared me more than a little. (I remember one episode about a possessed, evil ventriloquist’s puppet. That one traumatized me for years.)
Gram always made sure that she had all of my favorite things when I’d go to her house. She bought my favorite Vermont Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, and she’d let me have as much as I wanted. We drank Tab and played Canasta and Chinese Checkers. She had rhymes for each of her color’s moves: “Yellow, yellow, kiss a fellow,” she’d recite as she made numerous jumps with her yellow marble. If she didn’t have a move, she’d have another tune- “White, white- what a sight!” Her painted fingernails sometimes bumped a marble off the board and she’d slap her own hand. I remember her hands and the rings she wore with the slender stones.
She took me shopping at a local store called Grand City. She loved to shop and had fun looking for good deals. She usually bought embroidery thread or tatting string; she was quite talented in the handmade arts. After shopping, we’d enjoy lunch at the little restaurant nestled inside the store. She knew the manager, Lucien, a Frenchman who greeted us with a very proper “Good afternoon, Mildred. Enjoying lunch with this lovely young lady?”
She’d let me order a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of mac & cheese. She would tell me stories of my mom when she was little, and stories of my grandfather, who died before I was born. I loved hearing about the house they all grew up in, and how spoiled my mother, the baby of the family, was. I especially loved the story of my mom’s visit to great aunt Helen’s house, and how she always hinted around for a snack. “You know what I really like?” my young mom ask the oldest aunt. “I really like those crackers that come in the bright yellow box…. those are so good, especially when your stomach is growling.” She told me stories of my mother that filled in background I could not get anywhere else.
Whenever Gram ate, she always spilled something down the front of her shirt. She would always use soda water to feverishly try to blot the spot. Every time I spill something down the front of my shirt, which is more often than I should admit, I believe it is Gram’s way of sending me a quick “hello”.
Gram had a lot of neat things in her house, but perhaps the most memorable was her covered glass candy dish, which she kept fully loaded with colorful candies. Sometimes it held those orange or spearmint jelly candies, while other times it held those round, pink chalky candies called “Canada Mints”. One year, her friend Lilian gave her “ribbon” candy, and it looked so bright and colorful in the glass dish, I thought was almost too pretty to eat. That candy dish beckoned all the kids who visited Gram, and she always knew who was getting in the candy dish because the glass lid always made a sound when it was removed and put back on the base.
With a steady hand, I would try over and over to lift the lid without making a sound. Sometimes, I’d take the cover off with the swiftest of movement- straight up in the air and squeal with glee at the silence of the act-. Putting it back on, however, was another story. I could rarely replace the glass topper without hearing it clink. There was no sneaking candy from that dish- and Gram had supersonic hearing in my childhood years.
When my Gram died, a quarter of a century ago, my Aunt Nancy moved into her house. It was soothing to the soul to know that the house that my mother grew up in would still be inhabited by Gram’s offspring- particularly her eldest. When I visited the house the summer after Gram’s passing, I noticed that there was a new, plastic version of the glass-topped candy dish. I inquired about the classic dish, but no one seemed to be able to tell me what happened to it. I remember feeling unsettled, like there was a disturbance in the universe.
This past summer I was wandering through a vintage thrift store- one of life’s small pleasures. On a shelf in the back, among a plethora of glass treasures, I spotted it: my grandmother’s candy dish. Goose bumps broke out up and down my arms. Gram was sending me another one of her quiet “hello’s”, but this one was more than stains on my shirt– this was her standing at the door, welcoming me in. She was waving and smiling.
I brought the candy dish home and filled it with candy. I challenged my three children to try to remove and return the lid in silence- and none of them succeeded. I told them of my grandmother’s candy dish, so that they understand the significance of this dish, which now sits proudly on my corner table, filled with candy.