On this coming Wednesday, I’m singing Bill Wither’s Grandma’s Hands in a little concert. The song got me thinking a lot about my own grandparents who played as much—if not a stronger—role in forming the person I am today than my parents did. So I thought, why not create grandparent trading cards? Maybe you can create your own too, and they can face off against each like Magic cards or Pokemon. May the kookiest granny and gramps win!
Below are my prototypes, complete with stats (I decided to write about them in the present tense, although all except one grandmother are now dead). Here goes.
Name: Elmer Huck (German Russian)
Born in: Western Nebraska
Died in: Western Nebraska, 2007
Sun sign: Aries
Dreams and aspirations: To become a preacher or lawyer, but was too afraid to go to high school. Became a pig farmer instead, and hated every minute of it
Super power: Storytelling (own stories and classic fairy tales), making sure no one has too much fun
Hero(s): Martin Luther and John Calvin
Likes: Jewish culture. Convinced his mother was Jewish (may or may not be true). Most of the stories he makes up are half Shetetl (Mama goes to the market with a pail to buy a carp to make gefilte fish…) and half 1950s suburban goyim America (…and returns home to her ranch style home where her children, Bobby and Suzy, save the carp by hiding it in the guest bathroom).
Speaking German, but is German Russian and German he speaks is a 17th century dialect. Does a good Hitler impression if Hitler lived in the 17th century. Think about it.
Talking to himself in the mirror, sometimes gets into arguments
Dislikes: Fun in any shape or form, except for storytelling
Weakness: Allergic to everything which for some reason means he can never be without his trucker’s hat or flannel shirt, even when visiting Arizona in August, where it’s 110 in the shade
At Christmas, he: is sad he never got any Hanukkah gelt, longs for the rapture
Favorite topic of conversation: How spoiled we grandchildren are (was born in a migrant camp, supposedly only had bones to play with). This gets on our nerves, but then he tells a story and everything is ok
“Next year we’ll all meet in the promised land, God willing, God willing.”
“You children! When I was your age all I had to play with was bones. Bones!”
“Esther! Mama! I need to see your eyes!”
Biggest disappointment: Finally took allergy test in his 70s and found out the real number of allergies he had was: zero
Name: Esther Huck (German Russian)
Born in: Western Nebraska
Died in: Still alive, lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming
Sun sign: Virgo
Dreams and aspirations: Trying to go to town as often as possible, life on the farm is dreary and hard
Super power: Can make a mean krautburger, with or without cheese, bake delicious cookies, knit, sew, or crochet anything, and lots of other cool grandma stuff
Never went gray, not even now in her 90s. My mother also has this weird genetic anomaly. Hoped I did too, but I’m starting to go gray at the temples. Ack!
Not exactly a super power, but she has 19 brothers and sisters, 9 biological and 10 step siblings. Mother died when she was 12 and, as the legend goes, her father (German Russian) met a woman (German Russian) at the funeral parlor whose husband (German Russian) had just died. She also had ten kids because, back then, that’s how German Russians do.
German Russian great grandfather at German Russian funeral parlor: You have ten kids, I have ten kids. Why not get married?
Hero: If pressed, would probably say our heavenly father
Likes: Going to town, having fun (not a good combination with my grandfather), making crafts, being loving
Dislikes: Being her stepmother’s slave after her mother died, having to cook a clean for all the hired men after she got married at 17
Weakness: Too nice, people sometimes take advantage
At Christmas, she: is likely being very nice to all the neighborhood children (likes to keep cookies in the freezer just in case)
Favorite topic of conversation: Not much of a chatter, but she’s peaceful to be with
Direct quotes: “Oh, Elmer! Stop!” (Whenever he insisted on “seeing her eyes” or did his 17th century Hitler imitation)
Biggest disappointment: Leaving Western Nebraska for Cheyenne, because Wyoming is “very windy” and she doesn’t know anyone other than her son and his family and she’s too shy to make new friends 🙁
Name: Roberta “Bobby” Lee Dean (Conklin)
Born in: Wessington Springs, South Dakota (on the wrong side of the tracks)
Died in: Phoenix, Arizona (in 2007, on the right side of the tracks)
Sun sign: Leo
Dreams and aspirations: Wanted to be a writer, but gave up early. Main aspiration after that: World domination, but willing to settle for family domination
Super power: Dismissive, soul-crushing laugh, excellent cook
Hero(s): Jackie O and Nancy Reagan
Likes: Reading, favorite writers John Irving, Truman Capote, Charlotte Bronte, John D. MacDonald, and P.G. Wodehouse (thinks Jeeves is “a hoot”), jewels and finery, booze, especially Tom Collins and Screwdrivers at cocktail hour and Bloody Marys at brunch
Dislikes: Detests all men except my grandfather who she considers a “living saint” (my father did not fare as well), favorite description of men is that they are “buffoons that must be catered to”, loves to buy my sister and I female Madame Alexander dolls, but not their male counterparts, which means we have Juliet but no Romeo, Cinderella but no Prince Charming, a bride but no groom, tons of barbies but not a single Ken. When I ask why she never buys male dolls and/or say please, please, please can I have Romeo for Christmas, she uses her super power dismissive, soul-crushing laugh. Only known antidote: years of therapy
Weakness: Alcohol. Father was a poor barber and abusive alcoholic, but later sobered up and made a fortune in ranching. Eaten up by hatred of him.
At Christmas, she: gets extra, extra drunk, which, at some point, usually involves rolling around on the floor and lots and lots of hyena-like laughter
Favorite topic of conversation: How she would spend her father’s money once he finally kicked the bucket (he lived to be 97), the beauty of Paris in the springtime
“You can never be too rich or too thin.”
“A woman is not a woman without at least ten bangles on each wrist.” (actually, my aunt said this, but I’m sure she agreed)
“What you need to do girls (i.e. my sister and I) is snag yourself a rich man, get him to marry you, and then secretly make fun of him for the rest of his life, which hopefully won’t be too long.” (Lesson one from the Bobby Dean Golddigger’s Academy)
“Judge each man by the quality of the jewels he gives you, girls.” (Lesson two from the Bobby Dean Golddigger’s Academy, where we also learned the following:
ruby, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, gold and/or platinum=ding! ding! ding!
pearls and opals=questionable, give him another chance, he may still learn
semi-precious, sterling silver or, god forbid, brass=dump his ass)
Biggest disappointment: Did not succeed at world domination or family domination
Name: Everett Eugene Dean
Born in: Wessington Springs, South Dakota (on the right side of the tracks, family has their own wing in the local museum. Population only 956, but still.)
Died in: Flagstaff, Arizona (1996)
Sun sign: Taurus
Dreams and aspirations: To become a doctor (he did), to garden successfully in the mountains (didn’t work out as well).
He wasn’t supposed to become a doctor, as that honor was reserved for the eldest son (he was the youngest). But his mother saved the egg money to send him to medical school because she knew he would hate farming. Sweet and true story. Btw, he and my grandmother grew up just over the hill from where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in “Little Town On The Prarie”. Homesteaders to the core, who came from “a long line of ranchers and cattlement”, as my grandmother liked to say when arguing why my sister and I couldn’t possible be vegetarians. Funny that she pulled the South Dakota card when she hated the place.
Super power: Early to bed, early to rise. Could sleep through anything, reason given: he fixed airplanes in Africa during the war. Convenient super power since it meant he always slept through the worst of my grandmother’s drunken shenanigans
Hero: His mother (aww…)
Likes: Gardening, wood carving, collecting and polishing gemstones, playing the electric organ, breeding hothouse orchards, the guy was one hell of a hobby person
Dislikes: Not sure, probably democrats
Weakness: Congenital heart defect, had a pig valve and a pace maker and a six way bypass. Was supposed to die in 1974, but made it all the way to 1996. Grandmother always telling me, Your grandfather was supposed to die in 1974, the year you were born, which makes me feel proud and, for some reason, also a little guilty. Don’t know if it’s true, but remember her always telling me this in master bathroom with brocade velvet wall paper and bidet and brass scallop his & her sinks because you know, Paris. Phone also by bidet and mini fridge with booze inside so if you want to make an appointment with dentist while sipping champagne and cleansing your anus at the same time today is your lucky day. Also in bathroom: Aqua Fresh toothpaste, green Vita Bath (pine scented), Opium (perfume, not drug, grandma strictly a booze hound), Chanel no. 5, Clinique lipstick in Baked Coral, because life is about choosing brands and sticking with them. Sometimes cockroach comes up from brass drain in sunken bathtub, big cockroach, when flies, very loud. Grandmother tells us, They come up from the Phoenix canals girls, the Phoenix canals.
At Christmas, he: made one mean peanut brittle. Loved whacking it with that little hammer.
Favorite topic of conversation: Was a quiet guy, did sometimes mention gardening
“Do you girls have your period? Roberta, they have their periods. Make them a steak or something, they need iron.” (Yes, it does disturb me that this is the only quote I remember from my grandfather.)
Biggest disappointment: No idea. Did I even know this man?