The author introduces his Granny, a funny gal with an edge.
During my storage dive yesterday, I found a bunch of photos of me and my late great-grandmother, Jesse Wiener. She was Granny to me.
My first memories of Granny are from the basement in the old house in Revere. I’ve written about that basement as my hiding place, but a decade before I took the space over Granny lived there.
We would sneak down there in search of doughnuts and cereal in the little boxes. I’d bring my friends downstairs and ask her to do the teeth trick, where she’d push her dentures out and back in again.
She had a couple different dogs during that period. One was a vicious little scamp named Gigi, who met an untimely death after swallowing a pill Granny had dropped on the floor. I forget the second dog’s name, but I do remember he was docile and ugly. In fact, the day he arrived Granny laughed so hard over his appearance that she went into a crying fit.
One night my mother had Laurie Cabot, the witch of Salem, over to read palms. She refused to read Granny’s palm because Granny wouldn’t stop laughing at her. That’s how the story has been told over the years, anyway. I believe it.
I do know Cabot was in my house, because I snooped a bit that night. I was supposed to be in bed but there was too much commotion and noise that evening.
That was the 1970s for ya.
Granny eventually moved to an elderly apartment building at the other end of Revere Beach. She was always sick with one ailment or another but her wit was still like a double-edged knife.
One Christmas, as she struggled up the stairs to my mother’s place, my mother yelled down “Merry Christmas!” Granny yelled back, “Oh, fuck you.”
Granny used to delight me with stories of her younger years. She ran a nightclub in Boston that a lot of drag queens and mobsters hung out in. There was the story of a large snake found in a bathroom toilet, and when the movie “Johnny Dangerously” came out she laughed herself to tears. The mobsters in the film were just like the characters she used to deal with. This part especially hit home for her:
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Yes, she told me, the mobsters did do a lot of nodding.
I especially appreciated Granny’s humor because she had a hard life.
Her husband had a fatal heart attack in the 1930s and she never remarried. She brought up my Nana and two great-uncles on her own. In the 1950s, she was hit by a car on Revere Beach Boulevard and lost most of her money in the ensuing hospital stays.
She lost a lot of people in her life, including my brother. I’ll never forget, as long as I live, the night my brother died. Granny was driven to my mother’s house late at night and when she came in the house and demanded to know what was the matter, my mother told her. I’ll never forget how she collapsed into a pile of rubble right there.
But she was made of leather, and she bounced back. She always bounced back.
Though there was a lot of love from her to my grandmother and my mother, the relationships were also pretty volatile. A lot of abuse was passed down the family line. Saying so will piss off some of the people in my family. But it’s the truth, and those who might take offense are already pissed at me, anyway.
But that’s not her fault. I’ve learned that in many ways, a person can’t avoid the addictions their genetic code comes embedded with. Nobody becomes an addict because they woke up one day and decided it would be a shitload of fun. We evolve into addicts because we’re trying to smother deep emotional pain.
I inherited something much more important from Granny: That biting sense of humor. It has gotten me through the roughest moments of my life. I can never thank her enough for that.
Granny spent most of the last year of her life in a rehab center after going through surgery. I can’t remember which limb was being rehabbed. While there, she discovered her long-lost brother was also a patient there. That reconnection was a gift of the wildest sort. It’s a drag that they would only have weeks to enjoy it.
I was very wrapped up in my own sordid world that year — 1994 — and I never got around to visiting her. I was a self-absorbed idiot knee deep in other, less important things that seemed pretty important at the time.
You might say it was revenge that she died a couple hours before my 24th birthday, on Aug. 25, 1994.
I don’t consider it revenge, though. Some would lament having their birthday ruined, but to me it wasn’t ruined at all.
In a strange sort of way, I’m honored that she picked the hours before my birthday to leave this world. She had suffered enough. It was time for her eternal reward.
Spending that day remembering her and all the wonderful stories was a pretty good way to spend a birthday. I wouldn’t change it for the world.