brown rabbit

Fake Grapes, a Mermaid, and a Bunny

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.

movie kiss
The grapes in question are on the left. When I posted this picture on Facebook recently, my sister explained this was one of my “movie kisses.”

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.

hugging grandma

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.

stuffed animal bunny

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.

36 thoughts on “Fake Grapes, a Mermaid, and a Bunny

  1. Ah, family. Even when we haven’t seen them for a while, they’re still with us. We catch sight of them in our mirror, hear their voice (or words) coming from our mouths, see their mannerisms coming from our body. No fighting genes, is there?

    I enjoyed reading about your grandmother and your relationship with her. Oh, and I tried to eat a fake grape at my grandma’s when I was little too. They were the rubbery kind, so they were soft enough that I didn’t catch on right away!

  2. This is a beautiful reminiscence/lesson for anyone who has a family.It’s weird sometimes how we understand a person best after they’re gone. Sometimes it’s because time has passed and we’re older and wiser, but I think also that the person’s absence from our lives helps us appreciate what their presence meant. It’s like how sometimes you have to leave the place that your from and live a while under strange skies to appreciate the place that made you.

    I guess I’m most touched by the notion of you & your grandmother trying so desperately to relate to one another. I suppose a person could see that as a little bit sad, but I don’t–I see it as a wonderful thing. You guys didn’t “get each other”, and that’s hardly surprising, given that you come from different worlds, and your grandmother’s world–the Old World in many respects–was markedly different than the one in which she now found herself, and in which you fit so effortlessly. But to have spent your whole lives TRYING to understand each other (except perhaps for a stretch during your teenage years when, if you were anything like me, it was almost too much trying to understand yourself) is an act of unconditional love, and that’s pretty beautiful.

    I was raised pretty much by women, my mom & my grandma, both of whom were (and in the case of my grandma, still is) affectionate & demonstrative women. My grandfather, however, was very reserved, phlegmatic, appearing almost passionless. But I look back on all the times he tried to relate to me in his own way–his gem collection, family history, books he’d loved as a child–and it just fills me with love for this reserved, kinda awkward dude who did all that he knew how to relate to his only grandson.

    So, thanks for this.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a beautiful comment. My grandmother’s absence has helped me work through a lot of things I couldn’t understand before. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let go a lot more. Having high expectations of family can leave one disappointed, so it’s truly best to focus on the loving each other part and not get too wrapped up by the rest.

      Awesome that you’ve had such great women in your family! I’ve been very lucky with my mom and sisters—and definitely my dad, who had to put up with me during those rollercoaster teenage years. 😉

  3. *****Happy Birthday my darling!!!!!***** xxxxx

    Have a great week and a great holiday (they get better the older you get and those awful memories start to fade). I love what your therapist said – very clever words indeed 😀

  4. This is beautiful Britt! Lovely! Makes me think a lot about my own grandma who passed away in 2009. God I loved that woman with all my heart. Let’s just love until we have no more love left to give and even then we’ll find some more love to share. 🙂

  5. I love your story, and the whole meaning of it. You may choose your friends but family comes into that “package” nobody can exchange or deny. That’s why we have to see the “good” side of everyone, no matter what, not easy, but that is best way to keep precious peace into ourselves.

  6. Another post that makes my head swim with memories, reflections and sad/happy times. My Mom is, well. my mom and at 87 I’ve decided she can do no wrong and so we get along well. My dad has passed and I now have nothing but love and tolerance for him and how he tried.

    I often wish religion(belief) and intolerance wouldn’t be used in the same sentence.
    Love you, Britt. Merry Christmas.

    1. That’s wonderful that your mom is well and that you have a good relationship, Dannie. I wish I would have tried more with my grandmother as an adult, when I could handle more, but I chose to be distanced from her instead because it made me feel safer. But I do love her and I know she knows that, even today.

      Merry Christmas, Dannie. Wishing you and your fam much love!

  7. Oh, yes, I relate. What it’s important to realize is that, usually, at the heart of all the criticism and bickering is love. And love, even though it feels irrational when we love someone we have nothing in common with, it’s a family thing. That blood business is real. I’m glad you still have the bunny.

    Happy birthday! Mine was on the 13th. Hello, Sagittarius!

    1. It’s true. I know she loved me in her own way, but she had a unique (we’ll just call it that) way of expressing herself. I’m glad I still have the bunny too. There were many chances to ditch him…I couldn’t do it though.

      Crazy, you share the same birthday as my dad and grandmother then! Happy belated birthday, darling.

  8. Wonderful post. Substitute Romanian for Czech and you’ll have the family I married into! I think that I’ve gotten to the same place as you have, I no longer care enough to try to figure them out. I just groove on, although without a lovely bunny, doing as you suggested: Just love each other while you can.

  9. Happy delicious birthday, you beautiful fabulous girl!
    ah family…. we love them but sometimes, they’re hard to live with! I lost my grandmother in 2012 and I was away in Chile… Like you with yours, I had a hard relationship with her and I truly try to remember her and our good times together because that’s so much easier, even if I will never understand her and the way she sometimes behaved.
    I’m glad you already have awesome souvenirs with her and that huge bunny to remember her by!

    By the way, you and I definitely were born during the same period of time, we have that same haircut as little girls! I’ll have to find a picture of me then and send it to you because it felt like seeing myself in a mirror there! 😉 Although you’re definitely cuter and haven’t changed a bit!

    Have a wonderful time celebrating your birthday and then all the holiday season!
    Cheers!

    1. Thank you for that delicious birthday wish! 🙂

      I was hesitant about publishing this one, because I try to keep things positive. But around the holidays I know we all can relate to family stuff. I’m glad I kept the bunny around. He’s a constant reminder of my favorite Grandmother Skrabanek memory.

      I would love to see that pic of you! You should share it on your blog. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to see that cuteness.

      Happy Holidays, lovely!

  10. Lovely! Happy belated Birthday, Britt 🙂
    I often think of my paternal grandparents, and wish my children could meet them…but then I wonder why? I mean, I loved them, but the gap in social awareness would be so vast now. My kids would be like alien beings for my grandparents and vice versa. My kids don’t have historical context, my grandparents would not be online.
    I’m glad our holidays are simple. I can’t imagine the five or six of us enjoying holidays with the whole damn family.

    1. Thanks, Joey! So true, man. It’s hard to say it aloud, but sometimes the gap is so substantial that it makes relationships between family members impossible. Doomed, perhaps? Keepin’ it simple is all we can handle now. It’s definitely the way to go! Happy Holiday, hon.

  11. Happy Birthday, Britt. Family are hard work, sometimes, but we all do the best we can; at least I hope we do. 🙂 I am glad you are feeling better about Christmas this year. For reasons that mystify me, I struggle with Christmas every year. It’s always good when Christmas and I get on the same wave length. Not so great when we don’t!

  12. And this is what happens when WordPress unfollows you… I miss your birthday! 😦 Happy (belated) birthday, Britt! ❤

    Also – I totally get you about the holidays. I turn into a complete grouch during them!

  13. WOW! Britt I love this post in so many ways. I usually have a grand christmas but our family expands and grows and changes and health issues plague my mum and mental health is rife in the family and I love that quote because deep amongst the back drop of all the drama we had this year I accepted we are going to have rough patches and we need to be there for all the good, bad and the ugly. Thats life! Love your bunny and the way this post is so honestly written. I hope xmas was good to you and I wish you much joy in 2016. keep writing you are so very gifted.

    1. Family stuff can be so crazy, right?! We love them all, but my goodness…sometimes it’s just so much to take in. Accepting the rough patches is super important. I spent too many of my childhood years daydreaming about an ideal, movie-like family that didn’t exist. It was quite the news flash when my therapist gave me the tough love in my early twenties. It was also kind of a “duh” moment. 🙂

      The holidays have been very insightful and relaxing. Wishing you tons and tons of joy, lovely friend!

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