The Last Grandma

I made a whirlwind trip through Phoenix for 48 hours to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday. Like all trips back home, the result was relaxing, emotional, unsettling and dull all at the same time. Also, I saw many loved ones.

I flew out of Portland at about 7 a.m., and after a late night working and a few hours at the bar, I was exhausted Saturday when I arrived. My mom and sister picked me up from the airport. We went straight to breakfast at a little spot hidden in an industrial park in Mesa. As with most trips to visit Mom, we spent a lot of the time lounging on the couch with her two miniature dogs, watching her awesome TV for hours. When we were growing up, we weren’t allowed to have cable, and only watched public television. Now my mom is an expert on television. She records the best shows, ones I’ve never heard of.

Mom’s dogs are getting old. The littlest one has just a few teeth and can’t hear anything. I asked mom if she wanted to get more dogs. “I think I would. I’d really like to have five now that I have time to take care of them. I want a chihuahua next. Wouldn’t that be cute?”

We went to the Chandler Mall to have lunch with my older sister and her new boyfriend. All the best places to eat in Phoenix are in the malls. They have valet parking. I love, I mean Love the Chandler Mall. You might think that because I’m all anti-Phoenix, anti-sprawl, anti-people, that I’d hate malls too. Quite the contrary. I love them. I can’t really explain it, except for maybe nostalgia for where I spent much of my adolescence. And the Chandler Mall? Fuck everything else man, it’s the best. Top notch. You should see the Barnes and Noble at this place. And it has an Atomic Comics.

Outside of the Barnes and Noble, there’s a walled off indoor playground, swarming, I mean teeming like maggots, with small suburban children. When my mom and sisters and I saw it, there was a common sense of disgust.

“God, you know they all have worms,” I said.
“Oh yeah. And lice,” Mom said.
“Did you take us to places like that?” I asked.
“No way. You hated places like that when you were little. You would say, ‘I don’t like this Mom. Those children are too loud.'”
“Wow,” I said. “I was an old man, even as a child.”
“Oh yes,” Mom said. “All of my children were.”

Then we went to Costco, the massive warehouse discount store. While Mom and Amanda picked out flowers for my grandma, Taylor and I rode office chairs up and down the waxed aisles.

This is the big party. It was a major event for the family. My grandmother, my last grandmother, is without question the reigning head of the family. She was glowing with the whole family together, and my cousin decorated the room with old photos from her life. Grandma is also getting a little bit batty in her old age. By that I mean she has no discretion over what she says, which means inappropriate and sometimes racist comments. I suppose she’s earned it. She was uniquely sharp this night, but still had some zingers. When my mother made a toast thanking her mom for giving birth to her, Grandma said, “You were the only one that wasn’t an accident.” Mom has four siblings. Also, when we were posing for photos, and the session was getting a little long, she turned to me, all big smiles, and said, “This is awful.”

She did enjoy the slide show though. My little sister and I were worried about awkward teenage photos. I was shockingly skinny as a kid. I was surprised to see that the most unpleasant image of me on the screen was from a brief stint where I was actually on the heavy side. Not pleasantly surprised, but surprised. There’s my beautiful family.

I always expect this type of gathering to reaffirm my calm and acceptance for the cycles of life. Like you can look on Grandma reflecting on her life and looking on her descendants, and see peace. I’m a little ashamed to say that what I saw that night was less hopeful, and more tiresome. Grandma was happy but tired. There were cousins there that I used to adore and now don’t really care for at all. There were babies. Babies I’d never met, didn’t know, with strange names. New boyfriends and fiancees, soon to be new uncles and brothers-in-law. I kept thinking, God, it doesn’t end. Just keeps going on and on. Like this one album by Joe Pernice called “The World Won’t End.” It’s a sad album, like he’s disappointed. People kept telling Grandma, “Here’s to your 90th!” or “You’re going to have many more!” She didn’t care for that much. “Oh no. I don’t want anymore,” she’d say, or, “But I’m gettin’ tired.”

Here’s one thing that’s never tiresome. Monsoon sunsets. Getting caught in hot, pouring rain. Drops the size of ping-pong balls riding thick air, and warm gusts of wind. Storms that converge where purple sky hits orange and red horizon. Storms that look like the world is going to end. This picture isn’t even close.

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