I was the first—and last—grandkid my grandmother tried to raise.
I lived through the mid-80s and high school with my Bronx-born grandmother in the southern California suburb of Whittier. My grandmother and I were a tight duo all my young life, but neither one of us were prepared for my teen years.
We worked together on Saturdays and Thursday nights at Hinshaw’s Deparment store; she drove a bright orange 1974 VW camper that my mother had won in a raffle, but clung to a New York sense of style and propriety that her California born clan violated on a daily basis. I was the first––and last—grand kid my grandmother tried to raise.
She often looked at me exasperated and said things like, “Maggie, I raised six children in this house. I lived through marijuana, curtains being set on fire, your father going missing, an award for the most animals from one household and your aunt and uncle finding Jesus. It drove me bananas. Whatever you’re going to do, don’t do it. It’s already been done and I’m too old.”
I, of course, did not heed her plea whatsoever and would stay out till odd hours of the night from age 16 on, drank throughout high school, had sex (on the pill, thank you) with the boyfriend, got good grades, and held staunchly and vocally to unpopular political opinions. Yes, I know—not much different than I am now. Sometimes she’d swear at me under her breath and say, ‘damn it Margaret, you’re just like your mother…”
She saved silent lectures for the car—usually while driving me on my way to school. My grandmother was the kindest, sweetest woman on the planet but she could also hold one hell of a grudge. I hated the ride to school on the mornings after I’d done something to piss her off. The fifteen minutes or less it took to go from Gunn Avenue down Slauson and then up Greenleaf Avenue were long and arduous when she was giving her first line of disappointment—the silent treatment followed by intermittent heavy sighs.
Once when I’d really pissed her off, she threw a birthday present at me and a card as I buckled my seat belt and said, “Happy fucking Birthday” in the most sarcastic voice possible.
She never threatened me with a derelict future if I didn’t shape up—she herself hadn’t graduated high school. She just stayed silent or yelled, “goddamn it, Margaret, I’m too old for this.” I think she was in her early 70s then. Most of the time, I’m sure, she loved me. Every once in awhile I’d pipe up that I was beginning to dread getting in the car with her—especially if I knew we’d be sitting in traffic and the silence would be unbearably loud. Then she’d say, “We should all be so lucky to have someone take us anywhere we need to go.” My grandmother who rode street cars alone in the city at age six.
Or she’d ask questions I didn’t want to answer lest they incriminate me. “Like what were you and Mike Velez doing in your room?” Staring at the asbestos glitter ceiling while stoned on his grandmother’s codeine and pot? Nothing, why? One day she said, “You know, I hope some day you have kids that drive you at least half as crazy in the car.” Ha. I’m never having kids, I’d say. Can’t get me there, grandma.
I thought I’d be on the giving end—giving out silent treatments and sarcasm in equal measure with the same stubborn Scottish verve as my grandmother but I’m just not cut out that way.
Instead, it’s my tween and teen that have taken over the alpha personaes in the car. At 12 or 14 they save all the questions I don’t want to answer for the car. Instead of me prying into their lives, my kids instead pry into mine.
They ask questions.
Mom. What was that thing I saw in your night stand?!
Mom. Why would someone do oral sex?
Mom. Do you think you guys will ever get divorced?
Mom. You don’t still have sex do you?
Or they ask questions about themselves.
Mom. How old do you have to be before you can?
Mom. Can’t I just go on independent study?
Mom. Do I have to go to college?
Mom. Can I fight this racist Trump supporter and punch him if I promise not to get caught?
This is their tactic if both of them are in the car at the same time and we are on our way to Quincy and no one can get out. Or they’ll just start saying words they know I’m going to not like to hear them say like: ball sac or penises. In fact whenever they go on and on about body parts in the car I have on more than one occasion yelled out—say it again and see what happens. Penis! They yell. I answer Big old hairy torn giving birth to you vagina! And then they say eeeeewwwww, oh my god mom! And all is silent.
By themselves though, it’s different.
With my son it’s almost like riding with my mother, an avid music fan, unafraid to turn up the volume and just listen in peace. My son and I trade off on sing alongs to the Hamilton soundtrack or The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. We flip off publicly nice people who vote against us and have monster children together as we pass their houses. We trade lines from movies we both like. Ha. I think. My grandmother is wrong. No curse on me.
But my daughter IS my grandmother and gives me the silent treatment most of the time or puts headphones on and listens to rap music about sex rather than the politics that I’d prefer or tells me she’s too tired for this. I try to get her to talk and get just no, mom. No. I’m still holding out that she’ll come around and make the car rides more pleasant, or perhaps sing with me. But in the back of my mind, I hear my grandmother’s curse –one day you’ll have a kid in the car and see what happens to you.
I am grandma, I am.
Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of the short story collections Sad Girls & Other Stories and Mary of the Chance Encounters (an audiobook). She also writes plays, poetry, and essays. Her newest chapbook is Recipes for Ascension. She’s a reporter for Feather River Publishing and blogs at www.throwingchanclas.com. She’s currently working on a non-fiction work, Throwing the Curve: The World of Alternative Plus Size Modeling.