June 18, 2021

No rocking chair grandma

I wrote this about my Grandma Lorraine when she died fourteen years ago, one month after my daughter Eliza was born. I wrote that I wished my daughter could have some of that feisty and fearless spirit: be careful what you wish for!

Growing up, my friends had grandmothers who knit, baked cookies and drank tea. Mine rode a motorcycle, smoked and drank martinis. 

Lorraine Silverman, aged 19

Grandma Lorraine was no rocking chair grandma. Some of my friends also had grandmas that send them cards saying “Jesus Loves You”, but they didn’t open them up to read “Everyone Else Thinks You’re an Asshole”. No one else had a grandma with a T-shirt that said “Fill it up to here with martinis” – with a line just above the breasts. For my friends, visiting grandma’s house didn’t mean getting their fingernails lacquered, learning to play (and later drink) gin and having frank discussions about sex. 

My friends did visit their grandmothers on Thanksgiving, but they didn’t end up spending the holiday in Tijuana drinking margaritas. Grandma Lorraine and I did. I was in college, my parents were living overseas and Lorraine invited me out to California so that neither of us would be lonely. She used to love telling the story of how the woman at the bus stop near the Mexican border invited us to eat Thanksgiving turkey at the local shelter. “We’re not homeless, my granddaughter is a vegetarian,” was Lorraine’s quick retort. 

Lorraine’s sense of humour was legendary. At my college graduation, I have a photo of her flashing a peace sign with one hand, a beer in the other, wearing a tie dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt that she borrowed from my closet. At my bridal shower, the photos show her modelling the gifts of lingerie (over her clothes, fortunately). She loved to be the centre of attention and never missed an opportunity to play the clown. But she also had that knack of making the people around her feel loved and special – she would hold your hand and tell you how much you meant to her. Or pinch your cheek and tell you that you had beautiful eyes. She was incredibly generous with her money, her time and her affection. Whether it was taking all the kids and grandkids on vacation, financing our college educations or sending us the free gifts that came in cereal boxes, I knew there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for us.

My beautiful Grandma Lorraine at my wedding in 2004.

Grandma Lorraine lived a long, rich, and spirited life and brought so much colour and laughter to the lives of people around her. My friends with the more traditional grandmas couldn’t help but fall in love with her too. She was like that. She charmed people.    

It’s hard to believe that she is gone. That I’ll never again point out the lipstick on her teeth and be rewarded with a wink. Never hear the clinking ice as she makes a martini, or her voice pleading with me to massage her aching feet (the going rate was five cents a minute). She’ll never again sing to me that funny, sad song about the little bisque doll: “I’ve got a pain in my sawdust/ That’s what’s the matter with me/ Something is wrong with my little inside/ I’m just as sick as can be”. 

In the end, like the little bisque doll, Grandma Lorraine was as sick as could be, and she didn’t hesitate to let you know about it. She was ready to die, she was tired of being old and in pain. I never got to introduce her to my daughter, Eliza, who was born last month, but young Eliza will grow up with stories of her wonderful, wild Great-grandma Lorraine. I would be delighted if some of that fearless and feisty spirit was passed along.


sally sweetapple

I love getting to know more about your family. I’m sure Eliza has quite a bit of Grandma Lorraine’s spirit in her the lucky girl.

June 18, 2021 at 12:45 pm

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