Everyone called my grandmother “Gran.” She was a no-nonsense presence, who believed one of her missions in life was to keep me on the straight and narrow, beginning in early childhood.
She often predicted dire things with authority. “As you grow older,” she told me, “your nose and chin will grow until they almost touch.” That kept me shivering before a mirror for a week or so.
If you rode on the merry-go-round with Gran, you had to sit on those benches they used to have, never mind mounting on those wild, plunging horses. If a vendor sold popcorn in various colors and you longed for pink, Gran saw to it you were served the ordinary white kind.
When Hattie, a neighbor of ours got married, Gran, who disapproved of the groom, snorted, “Well she sure took her ducks to a mighty poor market.” I wondered about that and had the notion to ask Hattie about keeping poultry but never had a chance.
To teach me not to disobey my elders, Gran told me a story of her childhood. It seemed her older brother got sick with a fever and the doctor at that time ordered that he should have no liquids.
“He kept calling me, over and over,” she said dramatically. “He said if I would go out to the well and draw him a bucket of cool water and give it to him, he would give me his horse to keep.”
“And did you get the horse?” I asked.
“Of course not. We had been told he couldn’t have that water and I always obeyed the rules,” she said.
I didn’t tell her, but I knew I couldn’t have been so obedient. I guess I was a lost cause.
Then one day, my brother was housed in the spare bedroom with a fever. There were comings and goings and commands to be quiet and stay in another part of the house. There was even a delivery with packages from the drug store.
When Gran went into the kitchen to finish ironing, I entered my brother’s sanctuary. The curtains were drawn, but I could see him asleep in the bed. I had a chance not to be a hero like Gran, but to follow my own instincts.
“Do you want a drink of water?” I inquired.
The muffled voice from the bed thundered, “Get out!”
I started for the door, nearly knocking over the bedside table, furnished with glasses and a pitcher of water. In the middle stood a larger glass partially filled with a brown liquid and a soda straw. It smelled good, and I figured if my brother wasn’t going to give me a present, certainly not a horse, that I could make my own choice of a gift. I sipped the delicious liquid, not knowing it was my first malted milk, and I never told a soul about stealing from the feeble and infirmed. That is, until now.
Mary Elizabeth Mruzik