Remember when fake fruit was a thing? People would situate a bowl or tray of plastic fruit on their table and call it chic.
I found out about fake fruit the hard way, at my grandmother’s house when I was just a pup.
You see, green grapes—the real ones—have always been my favorite. I love that moment when my teeth puncture the skin and I discover the vulnerable flesh hidden inside. I will inhale a bowl of cold grapes under the bright summer sun and feel like I’m invincible.
So, my grandmother had this silver tray of green grapes on her coffee table in the formal dining room she and my aunt never used. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I tried eating one.
Luckily, I didn’t break any teeth. But I was confused, and slightly enraged, that the grape was inedible.
Why do that to someone? Why promise a snack made of plastic?
Manners? Tradition? Hell, if I know. I’ve never been into manners or traditions.
Grandmother Skrabanek was from the Czech Republic. She came to Texas, like so many other Czech immigrants, and stayed. Severity mixed with southern hospitality, and my grandmother did all the things a woman should do at the time. Get married, have kids, and make her home real nice.
Having lived in Texas for a 7-year stint as an adult, I can tell you that people take their homes very seriously. A lot of people—and this is going to shock the shit out of some of you—have housekeepers. I’m not talking about rich people only. I’m talking about all ages, and all levels of income.
Housing is cheaper in Texas, so one can afford such luxuries. It’s all about keeping the home perfectly presentable, in case someone stops by and you need to feed them fake grapes.
Anyway, my grandfather died and my grandmother went to work and became a bona fide Avon lady. She did well, because she was naturally business-minded—ambitious, relentless, and quick on her feet.
Grandmother Skrabanek had work ethic like you’ve never seen. The woman was always busy, certainly never idle, and she spent very little of her life enjoying simple pleasures.
She was a hardcore Methodist (hence, the crooked picture of prayer hands below) and she used to make me dress up for different religious outings whenever I spent my summers there. I was never excited about a new dress, because I knew it meant an afternoon of showing off in front of her Eastern Star friends.
She was rigid and temperamental, well before she was old and senile when it would have been more acceptable. And, some of the inappropriate racist jokes? I won’t even go there.
As you can imagine, my grandmother and I never meshed. I was born in Texas, but I was raised in Southern California from the age of two. I questioned authority, religion, and intolerance—and I hung out with children of all different colors and sizes without thinking it was a big deal.
I spent every summer and Christmas in Dallas with my grandmother and my aunt. In the summer I practically lived in the pool and became a phenomenal swimmer. I used to pretend I was a mermaid, not a captive in that old house where my grandmother made her remarks when she wasn’t watching soap operas.
And the holidays, well…they were always a disaster. Some family feud would erupt. I’m not talking about just picking at each other, I’m talking about screaming, cussing, and the moment where my dad would shoo me into the rental car so we could run away.
I hated the holidays growing up. I did.
The holidays meant that I had to spend quality time with my grandmother and aunt, who honestly, seemed to want to kill each other. Everything was okay when I got picked up from the airport and ate my first delicious dinner with them. Because of the Czech roots mixed with Southern cooking, their food was out of sight.
Inevitably by the second night, there was an argument. Usually it was between my grandmother and my aunt, then I would get pulled in. Then my dad would come into town, and fall into the drama as well. If he had a girlfriend or wife in tow, I felt sorry for them.
Everyone has dysfunctional families. I totally get that. And I’m not here to say that mine is worse than yours, or that I had to work a little harder to not hate the holidays all my life.
This year was one of the first years I felt genuinely happy about the holidays. I’ve been telling stupid Christmas jokes at work and I made gifts and shipped them to my family. Not sure why this year is different, but I’ll take it.
I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately. I wrote a blog about the vintage suitcase I found recently in a Portland store with her name on it. Maybe that had something to do with it.
My grandmother passed away in 2011, and I wasn’t there when she died. She was a stubborn woman, unwilling to let go at the commendable age of 92—however, her body had a different opinion.
My grandmother and my dad had their birthdays on Sunday. Mine is today. Three generations all in one week.
I have strange memories about my grandmother and I’ve had to work hard through a lot of things over the years. If you’ve read my book, Everything’s Not Bigger, you will notice Jaye’s grandmother is a lot like mine. Because hey, writing is my therapy.
I never understood my grandmother, and I know she never understood me. Except once. When I was very young, maybe four, and she bought me this oversized brown bunny.
I loved her then. I loved her so much. I remember how infatuated I was with that brown bunny, how I hugged it tightly while my family cooed and giggled in the background.
That was the time I realized my grandmother loved me in her own way. Even after countless garage sales and closet purges over the years, I still have it.
It was hard for my grandmother. Loving never came easy to her, and I’ll never know why. I don’t want to know anymore. I’ve stopped trying to figure everything out in life.
In my early twenties, my therapist said something brilliant to me that really changed my perspective: “Your family’s your family, and you are a part of them. You can’t change them, just like they can’t change you.”
The holidays are here, so it’s a good reminder for all of us. Just love each other while you can.