Sunday, November 30, 2014

An ode to my Dee-dee

Growing up, I felt robbed. I didn't have a grandmother.

Oh, by the pure definition, I had two. My mother's mother, Granny, was old, had 12 grandchildren, and preferred the company of her fox terrier and her stories to that of her rambunctious brood. Did she love us? Yes. But she wasn't cuddly.

My father's mother refused to believe that she was old enough to be a grandmother. I was born 20 days before her 50th birthday. Rather than have a name like most grandmothers, she declared that she would be called "Dee-dee." Her name was Diane. Scratch that. Diana. She changed it.

When we were sick, we usually went to Granny. Granny let us rest. Once in a while, we went to Dee-dee. Rest was not in her vocabulary. If she had errands to run, so did you. Fever and all.

You'd think that we would hate that. I'm sure there were some days where we preferred to curl up on the couch with a "sleeping buddy." But if you weren't extremely sick, or if you just had the day off of school, spending the day with Dee-dee was a guaranteed adventure. You might go to the cleaner's. You could maybe run through the car wash. Best case scenario, you got candy.

Vivid memory:

Running errands with Dee-dee one day, she told us "We're going to Kay Bee's. If you're good, you can pick something out." We assumed Kaybee Toys. We were so excited. Dee-dee and Paw-paw were NOT the toy grandparents. They were the clothes grandparents. (Something I didn't really appreciate at 5 years old, but grew to appreciate later.) We were wrong. Kay Bee's was KB's. Or K&B, as the rest of New Orleans knew it. The drug store. And since her favorite candy was Hershey's, that meant plopping us in front of the Hershey's section. Forget the other brands.

Her favorite candy was Hershey's Kisses. Or, as she called them, Silver Bells. She had a glass candy jar shaped like one. I broke it on accident while carrying my bags after spending the night at their house. I thought was going to be disowned. A few years later, we went to Hershey Park and bought her a new one.

That was really the only time I felt anger from her. She was the type of grandmother who wouldn't let you splash her in the pool because "I'm getting my hair done tomorrow." So if you splashed close to her in the pool, you would get snapped at. But never anger.

Growing up, I was more my Paw-paw's grandchild. When he died at the end of my junior year of high school, it was absolutely devastating. I felt that I wouldn't have a grandparent on that side. My cousin was "her" grandchild. Or so I thought.

She wasn't the type for mushiness. She was famous for flipping off my grandfather. She laughed when people got hurt. I inherited both her middle finger and her funny bone. This is why "Jackass" will always make me laugh. When I picture her, I picture her laughing.

Because she wasn't mushy, I don't know how often I heard her say "I love you." But when I got older, I heard her say something that I still think of and smile about to this day:

I'm proud of you.

I would trade a million "I love yous" for the chance to hear her say that again.

As a quiet, well-behaved, shy child, I shocked the hell out of everyone by doing school plays. My grandmother was always there to see my shows.

"I'm proud of you," she'd say.

She fostered my interest in theater. My first "Broadway in New Orleans" experience was with her. My aunt and uncle gave her two tickets to see "South Pacific." She decided, out of all of our family, out of all of her friends, to bring me. We went to the Saenger to see it. It was a magical experience for me, and I don't even like musicals. When I went to New York from the College Media Advisers/Associated Collegiate Press conference in college, she gave me money to be spent only on tickets to see a Broadway play. Not food. Not other entertainment. Not souvenirs. I saw "Jane Eyre," which was short-lived, but the most amazing play I've ever seen to this day. Because my Dee-dee wanted me to experience it. It is my only on-Broadway show to this day. I've seen "Wicked" in London. I've seen other "Broadway in New Orleans" shows over the years. But it was Dee-dee who gave me the gift of theater magic. Every year, as I direct my students in their production, I think of her. It kills me that she was never able to see them perform.

When they do perform, I always tell them what she told me:

I'm proud of you.

She was simultaneously the classiest lady in the room and the brassiest lady in the room.

She could burp with the best of them, flip you off, throw some serious side-eye at you, give you a threatening-looking up-down, crunch on ice, stick her fingers in whatever you were cooking and lick them, run her fingers around the icing on the platter where a cake was (we called this "Dee-dee fingers"), invent her own vocabulary, and suck the marrow out of a bone she grabbed off your plate. She literally sucked the marrow out of life.

But then her hair was perfectly coiffed, her clothes were pristine, her make-up was impeccable (she even had her eyeliner tattooed on, later). Her cars were immaculate but smelled like her perfume. She wore the best brand names. She was old New Orleans (5th generation Irish Channel) and wanted everything the family did to match her high standards. When I got married, my cake HAD to be from Swiss, for example. She had the best of everything and always looked like a million bucks.

She was no pampered princess, though. She worked in English Turn's real estate offices until she turned sick. She was well into her 70's. She drove for a while after that. She lived her life and lived it well.

Alzheimer's robbed her of many things. But it couldn't take the love of her family and friends.

Dee-dee, I'm proud of you for being you and for setting in motion the events that brought me to this earth. I love you dearly and will never forget you, my molette.

1 comment:

Misti said...

Aw, I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. :( Losing a grandparent sucks. Loved reading your write-up about her--I could envision all of those wacky things!