I wrote this character sketch inspired by my grandma and my memories of things she’s told me, but it’s best considered fiction because I am a bad listener and because these memories are cobbled together from stories I last heard or thought I heard as an elementary schooler and because sometimes I just straight make things up.
I’m posting it today because it’s my grandma’s birthday, and also because tonight is the lowercase, an excellent reading series, and the place where I first read anything in public. This was the first thing I read in public. At the lowercase. Which you should attend.
Joyce grew up in Carroll, Iowa, where she was the 13th of 14 children. Her brothers had names like Hank and Jack. Her favorite sister was called Glovie. Her first store-bought dress was the one she wore for her first communion, and she thought it was otherworldly and beautiful, but itchy. She lived on a farm and attended a Catholic school, where she was frequently called to the office for asking provocative questions about the teachings of the church, but she earned impeccable grades and won awards for oratory. She gave extemporaneous and scripted speeches–about patriotism, mostly. She used to go to minor league baseball games so she could look at the backsides of the ballplayers and giggle with her girlfriends. She traveled with a well loved local choral group and was engaged to two boys before being engaged to, and finally marrying, her first husband. She ran away from Iowa to California, following Glovie, who had hitchhiked away from the farm and their father years before, and Joyce married a Navy man and she was a Catholic nurse, and they had two children, a girl and a boy, but she caused a scandal when she divorced her husband to marry a doctor. The doctor had to get a divorce, too, but he and Joyce ended up being the right ones for each other, after all. Joyce loves her daughter to death, even though her daughter’s father is Joyce’s first husband, who hurt all of them.
Joyce loves things that are green–bracelets and rings with green gemstones, ivy-decorated pillows, and jade-colored fans–although the colors of her favorite sports team are red and gold. She wants her third husband to be Steve Young. She used to have red hair: now it’s gray but it doesn’t matter. She has a lot of music boxes. No. Really. A LOT of music boxes. She always sings Christmas carols. Loudly.
Joyce, my grandma, told me the story of her second engagement twice. Her mother, my great grandmother, who was very proper and never swore, met the fiance and said “Joyce, he’s a bastard, and he will break your heart.” My great grandmother was right: Grandma told me the story twice, but she only told her daughter, my mom, once, and that was when she was telling me for the second time. It took her that long. She didn’t tell my mom about her first two engagements until I was 20 and my mom was in her 50s, and I haven’t known how old my grandma is exactly since she turned 60, which is when I was less than 10, I think. We went to New York to celebrate and eat good food and see Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway. My grandma has watched all three of her children get married, although I think she thought she’d never see one tie the knot and she’s watched one other go down two aisles. I’m pretty sure my grandma understands more about love and hurt and engagements and breakups than anyone I’ll ever meet, and that isn’t even my favorite thing about her. I think my favorite thing about her is that she sings so loudly.