The other day, my mother and I spent the day with my grandmother–my ‘Mammaw’. I’ve always been compared to her, physically and otherwise. We are both petite, at almost 5′ 2″, I am almost an inch taller than her and the rest of the family all tower over us at 5′ 5″ and above. In her younger days, Mammaw was quite the baton twirler, from what I am told. Since baton twirling was out of vogue by the time I was in school, I shook my ass on the dance team. Close enough. I began collecting shoes when I got my first job at the age of 15. My mother never understood my affinity for shoes and she said she never understood it, growing up, when it was her own mother that took the same delight in growing a shoe collection. I suppose that would go hand in hand with the love for shopping that we share but that is a fairly common hobby. Although, she seemed to share my shopping mantra of “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission”, a philosophy that, evidently, got her into trouble with my Pappaw in much the same way it did for me with Husband.
She is 87 years old and, as such, there are certain rules pertaining to proper etiquette–not hers, yours. To my knowledge, these guidelines have not been put in writing until now and this may not be a complete list. Based on my observations over the years, when spending time with a Mammaw:
- Even if she has just let out the longest, loudest burp that was so disgusting it caused you to throw up in your mouth a little, YOU HEARD NOTHING.
- If the sound of the gas she is passing woke you up in the next room, even if you are almost completely certain that she just sharted—YOU HEARD NOTHING.
Act natural. Continue what you were doing. My children have, on more than one occasion, broken this protocol. When everyone else has their heads down, pretending that they didn’t hear her backside trumpeting, and a child announces, “Ewwwww, Mammaw just farted”, do not laugh. Ignore the comment and redirect the child, IMMEDIATELY.
Above all, you can’t get mad. Ever. Even in such scenarios as:
- You come home to find your kitchen looks like it has been readied for a rave foam party and the bubbles are still pouring out of your dishwasher. Turns out, she put liquid dish detergent in there, instead of dishWASHER detergent. You thank her for doing the dishes and then laugh and tell everyone about it when and where she won’t hear.
- You realize her method for putting dishes away boils down to just finding a place that the dish fits.
- On a daily basis, you think you are going crazy because you could SWEAR that you had put your coffee cup down right there but it is gone and you walk room to room, retracing your steps with a confused look on your face. You even talk to yourself: “I know I put that damn cup on that table. What the hell? Did I? Yes, of course I did. I guess I didn’t because it is gone. What the shit did I do with my damn coffee?” You walk into the kitchen and she has just finished rinsing it out. You may repeat the suggestion that if the coffee is hot she should leave it alone but understand that she will forget and this will happen again in about an hour. You must keep it with you or, if you must walk away, assign a babysitter.
You can only laugh with her, not at her. When my mother and I were visiting her last weekend, my mother came out of the restroom and asked my Mammaw where the hand towels were so she could dry her hands. My Mammaw searched around the bathroom, muttering about someone taking her hand towel off her sink and then said, “I guess we’ll have to make do” and reached into a drawer, pulled out an incontinence pad and handed it to my mother. I plan on implementing this hand drying method with my future guests by just sticking a few on the counter, next to the sink and replacing a couple of times a week. Less laundry for me!
She asked me seven times in seven minutes how old Number Four was and, as protocol dictates, I answered her each time like it was the first time she’d asked. I’d add to that all the times she has forgotten my name over the years but, to be fair, she has like 12 or 13 grandchildren and probably 20 great-grandchildren. We are a family of MAY-JAH breeders. I’ve had times when I need to yell at my own kids and I call them every other child’s name and even gone down the list of dog’s names, so I can’t even rib her about that one because, on top of having a hundred names to remember, she has the whole onset of dementia. The fact that she gets my name right at all, much less more than half of the time, earns her a gold star.