Two things always made Granny happy: Cooking and being in the hospital.
Her cooking was part of the reason I was a weeble wobble as a child and the stuff of legends.
Her hospital visits were usually self-induced because she needed to rest her nerves, which were usually worn to the fray thanks to us. According to the old gal, we were a crazy bunch of fools and if it weren’t for her, we’d all starve, be dead or on the run.
Of course, her ailments were always far worse than anything anyone else has ever had in the history of medicine. God forbid her sister, Bonnie – who she had competed with her whole life – had been in the hospital. Granny would rush off to the doctor to get something put in traction just out of spite.
The hospital visits got Granny attention, alright, maybe not the kind she wanted but she was mentioned in the church bulletin and had folks visiting her. She gauged her importance in her little corner of the world based on how many people came to see her, how many called, how many flowers she received.
“Your grandmother’s on display,” Pop would say as he’d take me to the hospital. “God help us, you may have to put some poof on her so she’ll be presentable.”
“She’s sick; she’s not supposed to have poof on,” was my young logic.
Pop laughed, his deep belly laugh. “Lil’un, you’ve got a lot to learn about your Granny. This is her idea of a vacation – room service, cable and she gets a break from cooking for us. She’s gotta get all prettied up for her visitors. This is her time to shine.”
Even at my young age, I thought this was beyond warped. Who would ask to be admitted to the hospital for attention? Even if her nerves were rubbed raw from the family, it was still twisted.
After a week of being in the hospital, Granny would return home, all fresh-faced and rested where she greeted us with complaints at the state of the house. We evidently lived like a bunch of heathens while she had been recouping from whatever mysterious old lady ailment she told her doctor she had. She was disgusted with the bunch of us and would have to be re-admitted to get over being home.
But alas, there was baking to be done so a return visit would have to wait. Her hospital visit had incidentally been well-timed to get her good and rested in time for either the fall festival at my school or homecoming at church.
Now, Granny didn’t care for a lot of the stuff at the fall festival – the bobbing for apples, the vendors selling stuff; no, Granny went for the cake walk.
The cake walk was a pretty big deal, and Granny’s pride completely hinged on how many people lined up to win her coconut cake. The old gal would actually stand on the outskirts to make note – and to keep a watch on who got her cake plate. She once had to harass a doctor’s wife for months before she got that plate, which she had stolen from Mama’s sister-in-law, returned safe and sound.
If it was the church Homecoming, Granny measured her good Baptist standing on how quickly her cake or whatever dish she made was gone. One of the few things that could make that mean old lady smile was for someone to tell her that they couldn’t wait to eat whatever she had brought. We heard about it for days.
Especially when someone cooed over how she didn’t need to be in the kitchen since she just got out of the hospital. She really liked that part as she said how she had to do it, it was just the way she was – she knew they were counting on her.
“Mama, I asked Granny to make me a biscuit and she fussed; she just spent all night making that cake for someone else. Why does she do that?” I asked.
“‘Cause, Kitten, Mama likes to shine,” Mama explained.
“But she still fussed at me.”
I didn’t understand. I was a chubby kid who needed a biscuit.
I may not have oohed and ahhed over her baking prowess but I would have darn sure been grateful. But I didn’t give Granny that attention that the rest of the world did. I just selfishly wanted my biscuit and didn’t give the old gal any accolades. Probably didn’t even thank her for making her good food that made me chubby either.
It’s been years since Granny’s really cooked or baked. Arthritis has nearly crippled her, making it difficult for her to do a lot of her usual heavy duty kitchen work. However, last Thanksgiving, she did manage to have a knee replacement – she’s 93. There’s no way she’s gonna get her money’s worth off that knee.
“Mama, why in the world did that old woman decide, the week before Thanksgiving to go in the hospital and have her knee replaced?”
“She said she has to get it fixed because it’s killing her.”
“She’s 93 years old. What doctor in their right medical mind gives a 93 year old woman a new knee?” I was beyond flabbergasted – why on earth was she going into the hospital to have surgery?
When I went to see her in the hospital, there she sat, new knee propped up, emergency buzzer in her hand, “Wheel of Fortune” on the television overhead.
“How you feeling, old woman?” I asked.
“Great. I can’t wait to try out this knee. It’s gonna be a good ‘un. I just know it.”
The nurse brought her lunch in along with a new pitcher of ice, fluffed her pillow and doted on Granny, petting her head, and talking about what a sweet patient Granny was. I swear, the old gal smiled.
I called Mama on the way home.
“Mama, I think she likes the fact she had her knee operated on.”
Mama laughed. “Kitten,” she began.
“Mama likes to shine.”