Gram in three parts
Tales from North Scranton
Today I’ve been thinking about my grandmother. She’s been dead for seven years now. She was the closest person to me and my biggest fan. She never knew how to say “I love you,” and the first and last time she hugged and kissed me as an adult was the day I drove her to the hospital to die. Still, I knew in my bones she loved every ounce of me, and I miss her terribly.
But today is not about sap. Today is about remembering her absolutely ridiculous life-one so sheltered, yet so eventful. I wanted to tell you three things about her. Hopefully these combine to give you an idea of who she was.
Gram lived in New Jersey for one week. The only time Gram left Pennsylvania was when her oldest son, my uncle, was a baby in the early 50’s. My grandfather, who was much more adventurous, had a job offer in New Jersey from Gram’s sister’s husband. Gram and Ba (what we called my Grandfather) packed up their family and as Gram tells it, moved to New Jersey for exactly one week as a trial run.
While in a shared apartment with her sister and brother-in-law, two things happened. The first was Gram’s sister decided to drive gram into Manhattan one afternoon to show her New York City. (big mistake) Gram recalled this being the worst trip of her life. And even though I feel like the geography of this story is off, I will tell it as relayed to me. Gram remembered they drove across the Pulaski Skyway and that it was “a piece of crap.” She also remembers taking one look at New York and “yuck,” which is what she would say when she was so overcome with disgust that other words failed her.
The second thing that happened is she broke her foot. As she told it, she was alone in the two bedroom apartment with my uncle. She was carrying him across the room when she twisted her foot, “heard a crack,” and dropped to her knees in pain. The most amazing part of this story to me as a young person was that she never went to a doctor, she just let it heal. The part that amazed me as an adult was that she didn’t drop my uncle.
New Jersey ended much like every other outing Gram and Ba shared: Gram threatened to leave and go home and Ba capitulated and followed reluctantly behind.
Gram dated George Burns. Not that George Burns, but you could imagine the fun my sister and I had with this one when we were little. The story of her love affair with George Burns changed every single time she told it, with more salacious details emerging each time.
The official story of Ba and Gram’s love story was this: Gram was dating George Burns when he went to war. While he was gone, Gram met Ba, they fell in love, and they got married. George Burns returned to discover he had lost Gram and was heartbroken. But the story gets fuzzy when you consider some of the timelines.
According to the official marriage license, Gram and Ba were married in March of 1954, exactly 6 months before my uncle was born. Okay, that explains the marriage. No shade, as almost every women in my family-myself included-was married under the same, um, circumstances. But, Gram’s date of birth listed on the marriage license is 1931. She was born in June, 1934, which made her 19 the day she got married, but she wrote down 22. We never understood why. To this day I have her birth certificate with the clearly altered year-which she must have used for this application. There’s a reason they fudged this, I still don’t know what it is. Gram was definitely born in 1934, as she spoke often about her 10th birthday falling on D-Day.
Then there’s George Burns. So the original story left out an important detail. My grandfather, Ba, was good friends with George Burns. As she told the story and as more and more detail came to light, it seemed Gram and Ba were involved in some shadiness while good ol’ George was off fighting the Nazi’s. Of course as a teenager, I romanticized the hell out of this. In my version there was even a fist fight. George and Ba had it out over Gram, which may be true, but I can’t remember if I invented that detail.
Here’s some other details floating around: there was a ring from George Burns. They were engaged. There was an ultimatum floated to George Burns. George Burns was “a womanizer.” Ba was conspicuously innocent in all of this. Whatever the story was, my teenage self was happy to have it. It made this woman who never left North Scranton seem fascinating, and it helped me to know Ba, who died when I was only a year old.
Gram was swapped out with a “gypsy” as a young child. (I will be using the term nomads here in place of “gypsy,” since the term is offensive and it’s doubtful these people were actually Romani. They were probably just wanderers, but Gram always referred to them as gypsy.)
This is perhaps the biggest piece of lore surrounding Gram’s youth. When she was young, probably five or six, her family moved slightly north of Scranton to a small, rural area called Milwaukee, PA. Here they seemed to be off the grid a bit, which is another story for another time. Gram had no birth certificate at this time, no record of her existence.
As she told it, a band of nomads wandering through the area stopped at her house. Now, Gram claims she was actually the little girl with the nomads and that she was then swapped out in some sort of bargain. And it was from then on that she lived with the family that would raise her and eventually become my grandmother. Well, as you can imagine, my sister and I were fascinated with this. We poked and prodded for any detail beyond the swap, but were never given any.
Then, one day as an adult, during one of our many hours-long phone calls, Gram revealed the source of the swap story was never her. This was a story she was told by her mother. A mother who, by all accounts, Gram never felt she belonged to and never felt loved by. This put a ridiculously sad spin on the story and I never pressed her again. If she was a nomad swapped out with another, she was our nomad and we loved her dearly.
I hope you enjoyed hearing her stories today.
Thanks for remembering with me :)
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