A Birthday Eulogy For My Grandmother, Midge

Midge would have turned 88 today. She’d wear her “going out clothes.” The ones she’d save for special occasions. A nice pair of black slacks. A dark blouse with a floral pattern. Black slip-on shoes, size 9. She’d comb and adjust her hair enough to hide the parts that were thinning on the top. She’d wear her gold wedding ring and her brown coat with a flower brooch. She never forgot the brooches. And her purse. She’d have it in her hands, sitting on the couch, waiting for my mom.

We’d go to dinner, somewhere she picked (Hacienda Colorado). She’d get my mom to order for her. She’d also ask for black coffee…at a Tex-Mex restaurant. She didn’t care. Midge did what she wanted.

We’d all be gathered around the table, plunging forks into mounds of food, knives scraping against the plate. Midge would blanket her food in an inch of salt. As the rest of the family cut into their enchiladas and while I made sure none of my foods touched each other, there she’d be, looking around at us, and finally saying, “…I just want to say one thing.”

We all knew what that meant. She watched something on Fox News and wanted to talk about it. Eyes rolled. Some of us grumbled. My blood pressure started to rise.

We never saw eye-to-eye on politics, yet we couldn’t help ourselves but talk about world events.

Born in 1933, Midge (our nickname for her. Her proper name is Marjory) was old school. She believed the woman “made the home” and the husband worked. The wife cooked, cleaned, and produced babies.

Her generation believed in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” You didn’t ask for help. You didn’t cry. You barely hugged. She voted for every Republican who ran. She never understood why I was a vegetarian out of concern for the animals. When she grew up, you ate what was on your plate, and “you get what you get and you didn’t make a fit.” Tofu, to her, was a joke.

I once convinced her to watch me perform The Vagina Monologues. The word itself, “vagina,” made her skin crawl. She hated the word. She damn near doubled-over when my crew yelled out “CUNT” on stage. But she was there. She stood up at the end and clapped. I think she wanted to show she supported me and my endeavors. It was her first and last time watching the play. For an 80-something-year-old, it surprised me she even gave it a shot once.

If Midge were here for her birthday, we would have come back home to open her birthday presents. She’d take her time, meticulously unwrapping boxes and slowly reading our notes in the birthday cards. Even if she didn’t like the gift, she’d fake it. I gave her an early birthday present, afraid she wouldn’t make it to her 88th birthday. It’s a digital frame and my mom, sister, and I loaded it with photos of Midge with her family.

When I showed it to her, she was too drugged up from the morphine to really understand what I was giving her. As her usual well-mannered self, she still whimpered out a “thank you, Jess” before asking to lay back down.

We would have sung her happy birthday, where she’d sit there, looking uncomfortable as hell, and finally saying at the end, “Thanks very much, everybody.” Midge would blow out her candles. Then she’d make my mom cut and serve the chocolate cake and cherries jubilee ice cream from Baskin & Robbins.

As we’d spoon ice cream into our mouths, she would have started the conversation with, “Tell me something good.” After I’d answer, I’d ask her the same thing, and she’d tell us, “Not a goddamn thing.” She enjoyed knowing about our lives, what we did for fun, maybe trying to relive her youth. But when I’d go into details about a bike race or a show I had watched, she’d usually get bored halfway through and change topics.

She would have asked Chris how his job was. When she learned he was a welder, she loved him for it. She’d always ask him about welding, how he liked it, and what he built.

I remember she once told my sister, Vanessa, to go to trade school. Of course, this offended Vanessa. Thinking that our grandma didn’t think Vanessa was “smart enough” to go to college. But in reality, my grandmother respected trade more than scholastics.

As we’d continue to eat cake and ice cream, I’m sure we would have made small talk or reminisce about the “good ol’ days.”

Growing up, she was like our second mother. She’d cook us meals, clean up after us, take care of us after surgeries and when we were sick — hell, even watched us on snow days. She treated us like we were her own children.

When we lived with her after moving back from Minnesota, Vanessa and I shared a room, my mom took my grandmother’s room, and Midge took the basement. It wasn’t even a room. It was the laundry room, but she did that for 8 months while we lived with her.

Before I could drive, she’d take us around in her Oldsmobile, running our errands with us. When she’d drop us off at home, she’d slam her foot to the gas pedal and the car could barely keep up with her. “You’d drive off like a bat out of hell!” I could see my mom laughingly say.

You never knew what you were going to get with Midge. One minute she’d be saying “Jesus Murphy!”, shocked at something she heard, and another minute it’d be, “I sure wish I had something sweet to eat.”

What came out of her mouth is what I’ll remember most from her.

An often-repeated line of hers was, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” She read it in a Tammy Hoag book and it became her favorite thing to say, especially when any of us were going through something difficult.

Midge loved to read. I probably would have given her a book for this birthday. She once told me she liked to read the last page of the book before starting at the beginning. She said she liked to know how it ended. She didn’t have a particular reason other than wanting to see how the book ended.

And if Marge was with us, at some point in the conversation, she would have turned to me and asked if I “made the home for Chris.” Shocked, I would have said, “What?!”

“Do you clean up the house for Chris when he gets home?” She’d ask.

She was always so surprised when I told her we split everything — cleaning, cooking, going out to eat. I didn’t “make a home” for anyone.

We’d tell her to “get with the times” even though we all knew she was too old to change her ways. If anything, the more we told her to adjust, the more she ironed out her beliefs.

For being so conservative, she was relatively open-minded. After cake and ice cream, we would have been able to convince her to play Cards Against Humanity. And she would have won.

Whenever we got her to play, she didn’t understand the meaning behind half the cards she put down. The time she won, she placed down “Pixelated Bukkake.” She didn’t know what it meant and won the game, anyway.

We’d have Chris explain “Pixelated Bukkake” to her, and I know exactly what she’d say: “Jesus Murphy” as she shook her head in disgust.

For all the outdated beliefs she had, Midge never remarried after my grandfather died. Midge lived alone in the townhouse they first bought when they moved to Colorado. She didn’t need a man all those years — 28, to be exact. For so long, she did everything by herself.

She went out the same way I remember her: classic Marge. She told us to “get a man” to help adjust her on her bed. And the way she said it, so matter-of-factly, like she’s always relied on one, made us all laugh.

Before leaving for the night, after wishing her a “happy birthday” again, she would have asked me when I’d have a child. And I’d tell her, like every other time she’d ask, it would never happen. We were two totally different people, but you had to love her for it.

I think she wanted to be a great-grandmother. But I didn’t need to have a baby to make her one. She was already great. She was a great grandma to us.

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