One Tough Old Biddy
My 86-year-old grandmother had surgery two days ago. She’s had cancer four times, each time in a different place. Doctors believed they could get it all with robotic surgery to remove the offending part, but cancer’s always scary, especially when ninety isn’t too far down the road.
I talked to Nanny two days before her surgery. She wasn’t nervous, she said, because she’s had surgery before, and it wasn’t that bad. Instead, she wanted to hear about my ill-fated blind date.
As I drove to the hospital, I thought about her life. My grandfather was a World War Two fighter pilot. After the war, he got a job in Miami, Florida, and moved his family there from Michigan. In the 1960s, he purchased a 300-acre cattle farm in the tiny town of Milner, Georgia. So somewhere in their mid-forties, around the time they were having their first grandchildren, at a time when most people were starting to think about life getting a little easier, they literally bought the farm. She went with him to that little town, and she became a farmer’s wife. It was hard work.
I remember the compost pile she kept and taking the scraps she collected in the kitchen – potato peels, onion skins, egg shells, coffee grounds – to dump in that pile.
I remember the tin cup she kept next to her kitchen sink and how she was right about water tasting better from that cup.
I remember trying to pee off her back porch like the boys did. My mom was horrified. Nanny cackled.
I remember her teaching me how to easily get through the strands of a barbed-wire fence: stepping down on the lower one with your foot while pulling up on the one above it with your right arm and sliding your body through. But for God’s sake, don’t get anywhere near the electric fence.
I remember her putting me to bed at night when I stayed at the farm. She would grab one of my feet and say, “Let’s see how many fellas you have,” while pulling on each of my toes. A toe popping equaled one boyfriend.
She had nicknames for each of us. Mine was benign: Gracie. My poor cousins weren’t so lucky. Barbie was Bubba, and her little sister, Dana, was Goo Goo. My uncles fared even worse: they got the names Pork, Weirdie, and Pooper. They’re now men in their sixties answering to those names.
I remember how she loved to stay up late. We watched Johnny Carson together when I stayed with her. She would open a can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, and we would dip cinnamon graham crackers into that can together for a midnight snack.
And this: she became a farmer’s wife around the time she became a grandmother. At a time when most people start doing a little traveling, she moved to a place that was nearly impossible to leave for even a day. What if a cow got out? Or a coyote got into the chickens? Or some wild dogs got after the heifers?
When they were in their mid-seventies, the farm became too much work. So they sold it and moved. She was sad to leave the farm, but he found a house in a fly-in community and had a hankering to buy a plane, so that’s where they went.
Pa died three years ago and left her alone for the first time since she was sixteen. She’s missed him horribly, and when a person gets to that age and faces this kind of surgery, the thought crosses your mind that this could be when she follows him for the last time.
But one thing I remember about my Nanny that I haven’t mentioned. She’s a tough old bird, tougher than any of the biddies we used to chase in her chicken pen. She came out of that surgery saying she felt great, and she went home twelve hours later.
In a day or so, she’ll be asking me how many fellas I have.