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April 6, 2006 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Gramma Gigi

The darkest, dustiest, most ominous house on the block belonged to the local legend “Gramma Gigi”. This was the house I was forced to remain at from the hours of 1 PM to 4 PM during the school year. I have no idea what Gigi’s real name was, and I am not sure any of our parents knew either. Parents were probably just happy to get cheap childcare. In that town, pickins’ were slim and wallets were slimmer.

I suppose my mother didn’t want me to be a “latchkey kid”. Mothers of young children tend to have nightmares and/or fits of guilt-induced tremors at the idea of letting their offspring run freely, unsupervised, because they themselves must toil at the workplace. Before going anywhere, my mother ran back into the house seven times to make sure that the coffee pot was still unplugged and that the vacuum cleaner hadn’t turned itself on and started playing with matches. Surely mom fit into the category of extra-protective mothers. Therefore, instead of going home after school to suffer an unsupervised fall into an open elevator shaft, I walked my second grade self to Gramma Gigi’s with kindergarten brother in tow.

Gigi might have looked after the entire population of neighborhood young’uns in the afternoons. Perhaps it just seemed that way – thirty elementary school children crammed into a Volkswagen-trunk sized backyard gave the illusion of a large turnout. Gigi, who somehow convinced a plethora of mothers that she could take after the kids in the afternoon, ironically did not seem to like children. We kids were banished to the backyard immediately upon arrival, rain or shine.

One morning I had to go to Gigi’s house early. There was a parent-teacher convention at school, which meant the students were off for the day. My parents did not attend things like parent-teacher conventions – they worked – so to Gigi’s I went. My memory of Gigi’s house plays like the beginning of a horror movie. I knock, knock, knock on the tattered front door. A moment passes with the distant ruffle of wind in the leaves. The door slowly opens, and behind it is a pale, crusty woman. She is old, maybe four-hundred, with white hair and glasses so thick that I can’t be sure there are eyes behind them. She is wearing a white nightgown with cornflower blue frills.

My mother is in a hurry to get to work. She drops me off here at the front door. Mom’s parting request to Gigi: “Can you please put my daughter’s hair in a ponytail? I just didn’t have time to do it this morning.” Mom drives away. I am alone with the monster.

I had long hair and I hated the feel of it. My only need as a small kid was to have my ridiculously long hair rubber-banded safely away from my face. I required the stuff be put into a ponytail so I could go outside and play without getting it trampled on in the rumbles with the rest of the neighborhood kids. I couldn’t do it myself without ripping half of my scalp out. Was this too much to ask?

Apparently it was. Gigi had a way for promoting self-sufficiency within a child. She refused to assist me with the ponytail situation. She decided that I needed to learn how to put my hair up in a ponytail. So Gigi crawled up into her dark, cobwebbed horror movie attic and retrieved an old doll for me to practice my ponytail skills on. I also required a rubber band, so she pulled the one from the newspaper off and shot it at me. I was all set. Except for one small matter. The doll was bald. It is hard to make a ponytail from spherical, textured plastic. That was one of the worst days of my life.

Despite her eccentricities (did our parents even notice?), each day after school, loads of kids would arrive at the mysterious lady’s home to be baby-sat.

Nutrition was very important to Gramma Gigi. She demanded that we children remain outside at all times; however, there was one exception. Immediately after we arrived from school, she sat us in the kitchen and insisted that we ate an Afterschoolie. Punishment for refusing the Afterschoolie was a whipping, coupled with having the Afterschoolie shoved down the rebellious one’s throat.

The Afterschoolie was typically a blend of whatever condiments remained in Gigi’s 1950’s era refrigerator. For example, an Afterschoolie could consist of four pickle slices, a piece of cheese, and a squirt of ketchup – all packed juicily between two slices of Wonder Bread.
I still have nightmares that stem from a particular Afterschoolie. One day Gigi had run out of Wonder Bread. Did that stop Gigi from making sandwiches? No way! She replaced the said component with two slices of American cheese. It was a pickle and ketchup mess between soft, orange Kraft. I guess even if bread had been available, it still would have been disgusting. Imagine the mess when she tried to cut it into little squares.

Another disgusting concoction cooked by Gigi was her Purple Turkey Soup. All the kids were afraid of it because turkey soup was unanimously agreed upon to be a typically un-purple soup. As a child, I believed it to be poisoned. (As an adult, I am still convinced of its toxicity.)
The day that Purple Turkey Soup was served I adamantly refused it. Not even Gigi’s wrinkled wrists of steel could pry my jaws open to take a bite (though she tried). I sat for hours at the kitchen table and awaited my mother to arrive. When I heard the brakes of the family station wagon squeal in the distance, I was ecstatic. My mother came in the doorway to save me! Gigi handed my mom a baby jar full of my untouched Purple Turkey Soup and told my mother how misbehaved I had been that afternoon. Gigi informed her that I had refused the Afterschoolie, and that I must eat the soup when I got home, because children need to listen to adults. I clearly was having some sort of tantrum, Gigi explained to my mother. My mother nodded, accepted the jar with its lavender contents, and we left for the day.

In the car ride home my mom inspected the jar, opened the lid and took a suspicious sniff. She looked at me and burst into laughter. She too, wouldn’t have touched the stuff.

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4 Comments

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  1. fawnahareo / Sep 17 2008 1:21 pm

    Oh, Maleesha, what a wonderful writer you are! The vacuum cleaner playing with matches! The elevator shaft! Four hundred years old! This little gem is a true masterpiece.

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