Yesterday I delivered a $34 sweater to my thirteen-year-old niece, Jaycie. It was payment for her work on the MN Reads Calendar. I mention the price not because I’m cheap (though I totally am. It’s a side effect of growing up in poverty), but because I paid $34 for a teeny, tiny sweater thing that looked about the size and texture of a Kleenex.
She immediately tried it on, while thanking me profusely. She had been longing for the Kleenex sweater thing for quite some time.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“It seems thin,” I said. I come from the 90s where sweaters had bulk and fuzz and often looked like they’d spent a past life as furniture upholstery. Plus, my clothes that cost $34 have enough material to cover municipal buildings in a sort of Christo-like display.
“It’s for spring,” she said, shaking her head at me. For spring. I have a niece with seasonal clothing. I usually observe the changing of the seasons by adding/subtracting the hoodie and socks.
I have absolutely no idea if spending $34 on a sweater for a teenager is ridiculous or not. Why? Because I have turned into my Grammu. Most women turn into their mothers. But my mom is spoken for. Sister #2 has been turning into her for years. She often proclaims after doing something particularly Momish like mispronouncing something, “I can’t help it. I’m mom.”
So that leaves Grammu.
I first acknowledged it over Christmas. I was lamenting the price of something, probably the Super Mario chess set I got Cade.
“Everything’s just so expensive,” I told Sister #2. “I just keep thinking everything should be like $10.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I was hit by the realization. My Grammu, who lived with my parents for most of the 90s up until she moved into a nursing home the year before she died, used to think everything was 50 cents. Always. Year after year, 50 cents. Can of pop? 50 cents. Candy bar? 50 cents. Filet O’Fish? 50 cents. Grammu loved that McDonald’s fish sandwich with extra tartar sauce. On Sundays when I’d go over to my parents’ to wash clothes, she’d send me off to McDonald’s waving a dollar at me to pay for lunch.
But it’s more than having no idea how much stuff costs and loving McDonald’s Filet O’Fish. While I haven’t gotten to the point where I save half-full, opened cans of Coke in the fridge for later, I do always make sure there’s orange juice in the fridge and chocolate chips in the cupboard.
When we were kids we were always amazed that Grammu had bags of chocolate chips in the cupboard. It seemed so decadent.
But the thing that reminds me the most about turning into Grammu is the allegiance to a late night talk show host. My Grammu was a devoted fan of Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. She would watch it every single night when she got home from work. She watched it until Johnny retired, and though she’d pay attention once Jay Leno took over she never enjoyed it as much.
Now, every night when I tune into Conan and laugh like a goon I think of her, and think how smart she was to end the day with laughter.