BY LIZ AXELROD
I met my ex-husband’s grandmother when she was still quite the vital old lady. She drove her own car at eighty, even though she could barely see over the dash. A serious devout Catholic, Grandma Marge had a mind of her own and never a hair out of place. I thought for sure she would hate me and send my Pagan Jewish butt right back to the West Village. After all, I was engaged to her GODSON. His confirmation pictures greeted me as I walked into her foyer, right next to the huge crucifix. Christ looked as petrified and wary as I felt on that first meeting.
Funny thing…She opened her house and heart to me right from the beginning. So much so, I felt a little guilty for not being a believer. I’m sure she prayed for me daily. As she got older and started to fail, a huge fight over where she would end her days broke out within the family; she wanted to end them in her house and thankfully, with the help of a reverse mortgage, she got her wish.
With my toddler in tow, I visited once a week. Her nurse would take care of my daughter and I took care of grandma. I was the only one she would let color her hair. I devised an ingenious method of applying Miss Clairol Jet Black with Ziploc bags, plastic wrap, paper towels, and a bucket to keep the dye away from her eyes while she sat in her black orthopedic chair next to her pink bathtub.
I felt proud that I was the person she chose, but I dreaded those visits. I hated seeing her in the bed, wearing adult diapers and trying to apply deep red lipstick just perfect. Plus, as she faltered, she became quite the cantankerous old witch. She took to slamming the door in the face of most of the family when they came to visit. To me she gave gifts of jewelry and china. She said she didn’t want the others fighting over those special things.
The family fell apart when she passed.
I had never been to an open casket funeral. I delayed till the very last day of the viewing. I went with my daughter in tow as the family said all the great-grandkids would be there that day and they had a separate play room. I tried to keep my daughter away from the casket, but being an intrepid, curious little monster, she sneaked away from the kids room and showed up at my side. She grabbed my hand as I was standing in front of the coffin in shock. Nothing prepares you for a dead person in full makeup.
“Great Grandma’s your twin, Mommy!”
“No. She’s not. She’s not even related to me.”
“But look at that wedding picture. She looks just like you.”
“Oh, yeah sure, but look at her now with the bun and all that black hair. She’s so skinny and frail. That’s not me.”
“Not yet…I guess. Oh. Sorry mommy…Don’t worry. You’ll never get old. Will you?”
She never said a word! Since her husband had died years earlier, there were no pictures of youthful Grandma Marge in her home, only pics of the grandkids; nothing at all to prepare me for our uncanny resemblance.
RIP Doppelgrandma. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll be forgoing the black hair and the bun.
Liz Axelrod received her MFA from the New School in 2013. She writes poems, book reviews, essays, fiction and anything her pointed pen finger deems relevant. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Publisher’s Weekly, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, Counterpunch, Nap Magazine, Yes Poetry, The Ampersand Review, and more. Her Chapbook "Go Ask Alice" was chosen as a finalist in the 2015 Finishing Line Press New Woman's Voices Competition and will be published in March, 2016. She is an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College, a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine, and co-host and curator of the Cedermere Reading Series in the home of William Cullen Bryant. Find her here: www.yourmoonsmine.com