My grandma is 92. Don’t ask her either, she’ll tell you.
She’s a petite, no-nonsense Italian woman. After marrying my grandfather, an Armenian, she had no way of communicating with her mother-in-law, who was from “Ze Old Count-ree™” and spoke little English. So, my grandmother learned the Armenian language, how to cook Armenian food, and volunteered at the Armenian church where she became one of the “Junior Ladies of the Baking Angels”, a title she retains to this day (which proffers endless amusement):
Grandma: I have to go bake at the church tomorrow. I’m one of the Junior Ladies.
Me: Are there any Senior Ladies?
Grandma: Yeah, they’re the old people.
Me: How old could they possibly be? 100?
She’s survived everything, from the 7.3 Kern County earthquake of 1952 where the brick buildings around her collapsed, to my grandfather suffering a fatal heart attack behind the wheel in 1969 weeks before my parents’ wedding, to my mom’s nearly-identical accident in 2004 when my Nonny became my surrogate mom.
She worked at a packing shed as a floor lady, packing boxes of grapes in an ever-so-careful fashion to maximize weight and minimize space. Imagine that episode of “I Love Lucy” with the chocolates. That was her, every day, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to drive from town out to the fields—until age 75.
I remember how my mom got the call on her brick cellphone (pre-Nokia days) when I was just a kid on summer break from elementary school. My grandma was tripped up by an ill-secured wooden board and broke her hip. My mom corralled me into the car and gunned it across town, to find my grandma sitting in a wheelchair in the parking lot and frowning outside the packing shed. They didn’t call an ambulance out of sheer incompetence, but were perfectly capable of calling us to come collect her. We laid her in the backseat of her car and she was driven by my other grandpa at speeds unsafe for any Saturn to the ER.
Her hip was replaced, and that was that as far as work was concerned. She loved that job, and consistently says how much she wants, to this day, to go back and do it. “If it wasn’t for this damn hip, I’d be working out there now,” she says.
She has since supplanted that irrepressible urge to work by coming to my parents’ house five mornings a week to clean and do the wash, volunteering at two churches and at the Armenian Home for the Aged (where she’s older than most of the residents). We’ve tried to get her to slow down or pay someone to handle the house tasks, but she won’t hear anything of it. She still cooks, drives, rakes leaves, washes her car, and probably gets more done in a day than I do in a week. She’s alert, sharp, and will sneak an ice cream bar from your freezer under your nose and feign ignorance.
When people ask her about her health, she has the best responses. For instance:
Concerned individual: “Oh wow! Ninety-two years old. How’s your heart?”
My grandma: “I don’t have one.”
And then she erupts into laughter.
Today, on her way into church to sell donuts (like she does every Sunday without fail), she tripped, fell, and cut her chin open. The paramedics were called and tried to take her to the hospital, but she resisted, insisting on driving herself home. They wouldn’t let her, so she had them call my parents to come pick her up and take her to get stitched up. I just spoke to them on the phone, and she was pissed (“DAMN SLIPPERY SHOES” I heard from the backseat as she attempted to use my dad’s cellphone) but we joked about the irony of spraying a bunch of blood on the front entrance to the church.
Everyone’s grandmothers I know are nice, sweet little old ladies who bake cookies and knit afghans (the blankets, not the people). Mine does that too, but it’s all just a front. She’ll just as easily reach for a third glass of red wine or punch you for getting out of line.
That’s why I’ll always love my Nonny.