My grandmother used to shoot squirrels off her bird feeder with a BB gun. Between that and the glass peanut butter jar of water (a.k.a. “vodka”) in her fridge, I can’t believe my parents left my sister and me there for any length of time. We loved every minute of our visits with her.
Garmie, pronounced “Gah-mie” in her Rhode Island accent, entertained my older sister and me as if we were guests in her home and not grandchildren who impeded her social calendar. She always offered healthy snacks at the kitchen counter, and as Dana and I enjoyed our cheese and crackers, or carrots and celery sitting on ice in a crystal bowl, Garmie would enjoy some of the water from her jar in the fridge with a lime wedge.
We learned all kinds of things on those afternoons, likely when our mother just needed to run a few kid-free errands, and number one was that Garmie was fun. What five-year-old girl and her big sister got to dress up in her grandmother’s silk scarves – many, many of them at once – and put on skits for an appreciative audience? These scarves weren’t throwaway dress-ups; these were the real deal.
“What’s the horsey’s name on this one, Garmie?”
She’d smile and reply, “Hermes, my sweet.”
“What’s the name of the one with the sideways letters?” I asked as Garmie fashioned it about my head like one of the models. After all, it was the seventies.
“Louis Vuitton. Those are his initials, see?”
And so went the lessons at Garmie’s. My grandfather, Dada, pronounced Da-DAH, don’t ask me where these names came from, was usually out of the country for work, so he would bring back gifts for Garmie. Her scarf collection could be a study in global geography if pinned to a map the right way. He did some work in the Caribbean and some in Africa, and here Dana and I were, leaping about Garmie’s living room swathed in our jeans, sweatshirts, and fashionable silk scarves from various parts of the world.
The squirrels on the bird feeder seemed to be Garmie’s only pet peeve other than bad manners. She taught us how to set a proper table, how to polish silver (as if we had any at home), how to clean paintbrushes (she attended RISD), and how to recite poetry, usually by A.A. Milne. One of our fun little trips would be to a local gift shop called Kropotkin. I loved that place for many reasons, and it was at Kropotkin that Garmie taught me to walk around a gift shop with my hands clasped together because it was polite. I now know it was more likely that she didn’t want us to touch anything on the shelves, but she made sure her granddaughters were the most polite children to frequent that store. She made us, individually, recite our favorite poems to the ladies who worked there. My favorite was “Brownie,” and Dana’s was “The Stair Where I Sit”. After a visit and treat from Kropotkin, we would head over to the liquor store. While we waited for Garmie to be rung up, Dana and I learned to play a form of checkers with all of the colorful foil seals of wine bottles. Our tiny pointer fingers barely touched the tops of all the bottles on their side. Not much else is eye level for young children in a liquor store, but we made it work. Naturally we made a game of everything with Garmie. I thought all of this was completely normal.
And then I became a mother, long after Garmie passed away. BB guns? Vodka masked as water in a peanut butter jar? Silver polish? Trips to the liquor store? If Garmie had been my mother or mother-in-law and did all of this with my children, this would be a different story. However, as her granddaughter, I am so thankful that my memories of and with her are so colorful. I relay such stories to my young sons who really just want to know what the squirrels did after they were hit. I just smile and say, “They were encouraged not to bother the bird feeder, my sweet.”
Photo: My grandmother, Marjorie Rose Stevens Batchelder