When most people hear the word “Grandma”, they picture a nice (or mean) old lady sitting in her doiley-ridden chair, scolding you for only visiting on holidays and buying you awful presents at Christmas.
My Grandmother was only the latter.
Vera Browning, who passed away on Sunday, was kind of like a second mother to me. During my childhood summers, she was the one who watched my sister and I while our parents were at work.
I’d spend many weekends at my grandparent’s house, even into my teens. A typical schedule would be Grandma admonishing Grandpa for having ready for me an ENORMOUS bar of Hershey’s chocolate. We’d watch Golden Girls, Empty Nest and Amen before Grandma would head off to bed and Grandpa would let me watch some awful horror movie.
The next morning we’d be off “garage saling” before beginning our thrift store/junk shop pub crawl. “If you wash it a few times, it’ll be good as new!”
For a treat, we’d go to McDonald’s and she’d make sure to stain her lipstick on the bun of her Filet ‘o’ Fish sandwich. If we were at home, she’d fix me tuna or braunschweiger on toast.
She always adored a bargain, she never paid full price for anything.
She was also a germaphobe and a neat freak. Dust was the enemy. Our hands were probably dry and cracked due to our being forced to wash them more often than a surgeon. Touching doorhandles was forbidden.
She loved to tell tales of her childhood in England, during the war.
“We only had one egg a week!”
When most parents were sending their kids out of London during the Blitz, Grandma’s parents inadvertently sent her INTO London.
I recall stories of Grandma and her sister running from snipers hiding behind trees and bomb shrapnel falling from the sky and crashing into her baby doll carriage as she was pushing it.
Grandma was social to the point of embarrasment. She’d talk to anybody, much to my teenage chagrin. She’d call across the store “Bryan, isn’t this the acne cream you said works the best!?”
Grandma would be my movie buddy where the embarrasment would continue as she attempted to ‘whisper’ questions about the movie to which she was constantly hushed.
If Grandma didn’t like a movie, she’d ask for her money back. Even after viewing the entire film!
If the movie was too loud, she’d ask the projectionist to turn it down.
She could also be quite critical, mostly with my mother. She was famous for what I call the Terminator Scan when she would greet you. As she said her hellos, she’d also subtlely examine you up and down, stop what she was saying and insult you in the nicest possible way such as “Oh, are we in need of a new pair of jeans then?” or “Don’t worry Bryan, those pounds will drop right off ya!”
She always had a lesson to teach or wisdom to impart.
“Always do something every day”, she could not tolerate laziness.
“Do a little as you go” about tidying up.
When someone was being cruel, “Take no notice”.
If it was cold, “pop it in the radar range!”
Or when I was doing something gross, I would be hit with “Gag a maggot!”, “Swine” or “Snot Swallower!”
This would always make me burst out laughing.
Grandma was a talker.
At dinner, she’d balance the perfect bite on her fork and as soon as she was done critiquing her friend Joan’s rude tone earlier that day, the fork would have been shaken empty.
Even when I visited her for the last time this past Christmas, and she was fading and bed-ridden, she couldn’t stop talking.
“Don’t ever grow old Bryan, shoot yourself first”.
I always pictured Grandma as someone disappointed with her life and full of regrets.
She once played a record of her singing for me. She had recorded a demo in England and was keen on pursuing a singing career.
But in those days, most women gave up careers for family and my grandfather whisked her away to the states after the war.
I could sense a lot of bitterness there growing up, and while I’m not sure she was always the world’s greatest mother, she made a fantastic grandmother.
Because of this, she always encouraged me to follow my dreams, take advantage of every opportunity and seemed excited for my world travels.
She was the one that took me to meet with my eventual acting agent.
Up until the end of her 79 years on this planet, we were very close. We’d email or talk on the phone pretty much every week. I haven’t deleted a single email from her in almost 8 years.
Grandma was a beautiful, proud, fiesty lady (“Growing old SUCKS!”) who was always the hippest gal on the block. Many people mistook her for my mother.
Her last days were filled with a lot of pain and suffering, sadly, and so it was a bittersweet relief when she passed away in a coma, peacefully.
I love you and will never forget everything you’ve taught me, Grandma! You’ve helped shape who I am today and I am forever grateful.