When I was 11 I broke my wrist. I was playing Nerf basketball with my brother and he took my legs out. I ended up landing on my wrist and snapping it. We had asked my grandmother to be the referee and call fouls. Granted, I was kind of a crybaby and I had a tendency to fake injuries. So my grandma — the ref — didn’t believe me when I said I broke my wrist. At that point, she called me a pansy and told me to get up or she was giving my foul shots away to my brother.
It’s safe to say that my grandmother was no ordinary grandma.
Most grandmothers knit things. They bake homemade meals. They give you a check for $12 on your birthday. But not my grandma. We called her Grandma Goo-Goo because when we were little, both our grandmothers wanted to simply be called “grandma.” But we needed something to differentiate between the two, except no one wanted to be “Nana” or “Grams” or any other variation of the name. So my dad settled it with names that stuck for life. She would be Grandma Goo-Goo and my other grandmother was Grandma Ga-Ga.
Now let’s get a few things straight first. This was not a perfect woman and she surely had her faults. We all do. But at the same time, she was a nearly flawless grandmother. She embraced it and she played her part to perfection. She loved us with conviction, and passion, and a fire that could never be doused. We were perfect in her eyes. We could do no wrong and she never punished us, even when we deserved it. She had a difficult time raising three kids largely as a single mom, so being a grandparent — she decided — was going to be different. She was no longer bound by the rules of parenthood. Eat your veggies, don’t drink soda, no ice cream and turn that TV off were phrases we never heard growing up.
First of all, even though grandma could cook she knew what young boys wanted to eat. That’s why we got pizza, cake, cupcakes, crackers, chips, soda and best of all, homemade ice cream sundaes. And when I say she let us have cake, I mean an entire cake. As in one cake for me and one for my brother. Same with presents. If it was my birthday she’d literally bring me a car full of presents. But because she couldn’t stand to give something to one of us and not the other, she would bring a bunch of presents for my brother too. And Christmas…well, I can’t even describe Christmas. Mountains of gifts. The sheer volume of presents was staggering. And this was not a woman who had money. I’m pretty sure she spent her rent and all of her social security money to buy us gifts. We tried to tell her to stop, but that’s the only time she ever got really angry at us. We were her grandkids and she was going to buy us everything she could. And even some things she couldn’t.
And her hobbies were not what I’d call grandmotherly. For instance, she played more Nintendo than I did as a child. She was a Zelda fiend and she used all the magazines to get cheat codes so she could beat the game. She also loved sports, especially the Boston Celtics. And excuse the language (which I know she wouldn’t mind in this case), but she fucking hated the Los Angeles Lakers. I went through a phase as a child where I slicked my hair back with lots of gel. When grandma saw me she refused to let me in the house because I looked too much like Pat Riley, then-coach of the Lakers. In fact, she died while watching the NBA Finals, surely rooting for the Orlando Magic to knock off those hated douchebags from the left coast. I remember the mid-1980s when we’d stay over her house on the weekends, and she’d be screaming obscenities at the TV when the Celts played LA. It was great.
When it came to movies, grandma was right on the money. Screw all those Disney movies, she took us to see GOOD ones. We saw Jaws with her. We watched Tango & Cash. And when we got into our teens, the woman actually sat down and watched Porky’s and Animal House with us. Honest to God, my friends and I thought nothing of watching movies featuring topless women with my grandmother right there. And she’d be laughing like hell right along with us.
Speaking of friends, my friends all loved her to death. She was that crazy old lady who could say anything without warning and who they could joke around with. One day, my best friend Craig accidentally pegged her with a water balloon. It happened right as my dad was driving up the driveway. Craig panicked, thinking he’d be in huge trouble for assaulting an elderly woman with a water balloon that exploded all over the couch. And when my dad came in and asked why my grandmother and the couch were soaking wet, she wouldn’t rat him out. In fact, she lied so many times to my parents for me, they’d probably be horrified if I ever divulged the details (which I won’t).
She loved to play games as well. When we’d all play Monopoly, she’d cheat like a bastard. If I was losing she’d start slipping me $500 bills underneath the table. And if my brother was losing, she’d help him out too. Unlike our parents who worked all the time and had things to do constantly around the house, grandma never got tired of our badgering her to play games and she never said no.
When she was remarried in 1980 I was just a 1-year-old. I stood up with her and her soon-to-be husband at the altar, and when they got to the part of the “do you take this woman,” her husband answered “I do.” And then, in a little squeaky voice, I blurted out “And I do too.” She always told me she was the woman in my life because of that. And my brother and I were the men in hers.
That is, until April 3, 2008.
No one knew it, but I entrusted grandma with a huge secret when MJ was pregnant. She had already told me, in no uncertain terms, that if it was a boy she wanted him named William Patrick. While the Patrick part never happened, we knew we wanted to go with William. So I told her if it was a boy we’d name him William. But I swore her to secrecy because I wanted it to be a surprise. And to the best of my knowledge, she kept that secret. Which, I might add, may be the first and only secret that woman has ever kept.
From the minute Will arrived in this world, she thought of nothing but him. My brother and I were mere afterthoughts after his birth, because all she wanted to do was play with Will. It was amazing that she’d be unable to move and complaining about her health one minute, and then I surprised her with a visit from Will and her recovery was all of a sudden astounding. She’d be picking him up (no easy feat) and on the floor with him. She’d always be miraculously healed.
And make no mistake, everything he did was pure genius.
Whether he smiled, waved, spit up, or took a huge dump it didn’t matter. She dubbed him the cutest, smartest, most amazing child on the planet. And it actually broke my heart at first because Will was afraid of her for the first few months of his life. She was devastated. Until one day he smiled at her and reached out to hug her and that was it. It remains, to this day, the happiest I’ve ever seen my grandmother in my nearly 30 years on this planet. I’m just happy she got to spend a Christmas and his 1st birthday with him. And the toy stores were happy too, because she bought them all out.
But wherever you are grandma, please know that you are missed. Your generosity and the love you dished out as a grandparent will never be forgotten. You battled back from the brink of death so many times, I really started to believe you were going to be around forever. But you’re gone now, and I’m left trying to hold onto all the little things — all the memories — that tend to slip through our fingers like sand. Thankfully, you gave me so many wonderful memories that even if a few do slip away, I’ll always have a treasure chest of others to remember.
So goodbye old lady. You were a trip. And you were also the best grandparent for which I could’ve asked. Whether it was the $20 bill you forced on me every single time we saw each other or your undying faith in me throughout the years, you took on grandparenthood and you kicked its ass. I’m sorry I didn’t come over to visit more often, but please know that you occupy a big chunk of my heart.
I’m not sure where people go when they die, but wherever it is may be there be plenty of yard sales and no Lakers fans. I love you grandma, and so does Will.