To all who knew her,
Grandma. The picture that immediately pops into most people’s minds when they hear this word is of a little old lady, grey hair, glasses, holding a plate of cookies. She’s saying something along the lines of “have a cookie, sweetie,” while she wraps you in a warm hug. This may be some grandmas personalities and behaviours, but not the grandma I’m thinking of.
At this point, those who knew her are confirming her name, maybe laughing or shaking their head, “Grandma Bouvee.” You all guessed it, this is that letter.
She’d dye her hair a bright red color that made her wrinkled skin look green under certain lighting. She’d always rave about how children loved her, she’d sing gospel songs off key, she’d try to get her guests to reuse those paper plates after she’d washed them. She was my grandfather’s opposite in most everyway.
Growing up, us kids were all a bit afraid of her, she’d get angry over the smallest things, once yelling at a cousin for quacking at the ducks, once scolding the adults for moving the ducks to the coop with their hands… during the start of a storm nonetheless. I remember placing my hands on the electric fence one time, first quickly, and then completely when I didn’t feel any zap of electricity. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, watching me, and then a minute or so later ZAP. Not a typical grandma.
There were apple trees in the front yard, and she’d hand us all a bucket when we were getting ready to head home, “go on and take some apples home… Make a pie,” she’d say. Of course, she meant the ones that had already fallen to the ground and started to rot a bit, the apples on the trees were off limits to us. If she caught you picking an apple off the tree… You just didn’t want to be in that situation. My dad, however, had other ideas, waiting until she’d leave, and then starting on those branches above. He’d spent his whole life knowing grandma, and through that, figured out some tricks.
It was a warm summer day when I was young. Grandma had just let the chicks outside, and I watched and followed as they’d waddled around the property. As soon as I was blocked off from my great grandma’s sight, I picked one up, and held it for a while. As soon as I heard footsteps behind me, I knew I’d get a lecture coming. She yelled at me for about 5 minutes before I started to cry, running into the jeep and sitting there for the rest of the visit, which took about 15 minutes or so when my parents found out why I was upset.
As the years went on, some grew annoyed to the point where they wouldn’t visit anymore. We even dialed our visits down a bit after hearing so many lectures about how Jessica needed to get her “fat little tummy” inside, or how I needed to stop petting the farm animals, or how dad needed to stop picking the apples off the tree. It was one thing after another with her, and as she got older, she got more finicky. The only thing she truly seemed to find loveable was her cat, “what’s-his-name”. He’d spend all his time on the top of a ladder, hissing if you tried to pet him, or outside on the leash grandma bought for him, looking like he wanted to escape, but not knowing how. Time spent on the farm could be fairly enjoyable with grandpa there to make it fun to visit, but when grandpa died, grandma’s temper was the only one you’d experience. And it was no longer enjoyable to visit a big farm with a larger than life lady living in that beat up old farm house.
When she moved in with her caregiver, we all felt sorry for that family. But this is where it got weird: she absolutely adored that family, and they adored her right back. She’d spend time with their kids, playing games and doing ‘Grandma’ things with them. She loved their red hair, and they were apparently obsessed with her hats. They’d take her to church with them, only to have their church members all adore her as well. Grandma was a typical grandma only when she wasn’t with her family. At her funeral, the saddest looking people were the ones I didn’t recognise, and the caregivers family. I remember catching the oldest boys’ eye during the memorial service, his face full of pity, but I just looked at him like “I’m not sad.” I felt bad for his loss, of my grandmother. He apparently thought of her as an angel.
Throughout her life, Great Grandma Bouvee was a lot of things: hard working, stubborn, willful, bitter, strict… But we never expected her to be sweet, and ladylike, and poised like the caregiver said she was. I guess, when you don’t know someone, you try harder to be your best self when you’re around them. Maybe it was that, when she really started to know them, my grandma still wanted to be that cute old grandma that they’d made he out to be. That the mix of old age and good feelings weakened her anger and made her kind. I don’t know, maybe they were all just afraid of telling us the truth about how very threatening her nature was.
At least she left some laughs to look back on.
With a lot of memories,