Sunny Days in DC

Jack of All Trades, Master of 3-ish.

Dead Grandmothers Make The Best Family Glue

on January 8, 2013

When I was 9, my grandmother died.

That would be more sad for me if I ever really remembered her.

Mostly what I have are stories about her. She was one of those people who was inadvertently funny. She’d ask to leave a cemetery because the area was “dead.” When my mom told her that I had lost my first tooth, her hearing aid misfired and she questioned my mom for 20 minutes as to why she would let me lose my shoe.

Where had I seen it last?

I got my revenge by realizing that if ONE tooth brought me a quarter from the tooth fairy, then my grandmother’s dentures would SURELY pay for a brand new Barbie.

*Pro-tip: that shit’s fake. I know dude, me too.

Anyway, my grandmother wasn’t always addled/insane/yeah ok maybe she was, but it got REALLY bad when I was 7, and she had a stroke. That’s when my mom decided she needed full time care. We didn’t have a ton of money, but somehow, my mom found Nancy.

Nancy is from Trinidad. She also had an infant daughter, Mary. My mom was perfectly fine with Nancy bringing Mary to my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn. She just needed someone to make sure my grandmother didn’t trip and fall, or forget to eat, or walk out of the house without pants on (a general danger in my family).

It might have been the stroke, but frankly, I doubt it… My grandmother fell in love with Mary. What was not to love?! The girl was adorable! Skin the color of Hershey’s chocolate, hair up in all sorts of braids, and always a smile on her face. My grandma, in some of her less lucid moments, would decide that Mary was in fact HER child, and would stroll proudly through the streets of the most Orthodox Jewish areas in Brooklyn, and yell at people in Yiddish,


Somewhat less threatening when you imagine a 4’5 geriatric Jewish woman yelling at you, but still: impressive. When I came to visit my grandmother, I would spend my time tickling Mary until she’d throw up. I’m pretty sure that’s how you define “love” when you’re a little kid. “I will do something to you until you throw up from it, but if anyone else ever does it to you, or makes you cry, I will punch them in the face until they die a lot.” So we grew up together that way. Mary has always been my cousin, by blood or not. My mother petitioned the Pope to allow her to be Mary’s G-dmother (they’re Catholic). Nancy and Mary came to all my school plays, and I had Mary come and stay with me when she was looking at colleges (and I punched all the boys who looked at her until they threw up. A lot).

And now, Nancy’s mother, all the way in Trinidad is dying. It’s painful to listen to Nancy on the phone. She watched Max today, my first day back at work, and I think it was helpful. I know I’m biased, but babies have a way of making us all forget who we are, and just smile. Just make us want to be the ones who make the baby smile. We want to stroll down streets and watch them suck on their own toes (yes you fucking do, don’t lie).

Babies and death both have a way of forging new ties. As Nancy’s mother passes, I think about the people who have become more permanent fixtures in my life since Max was born, and I’m completely cool with the fact that the bulk of the people who he will know on a daily basis will probably not share many genetic traits with him… but they will love him for the rest of his life.

And punch his bullies in the face.

A lot.

17 responses to “Dead Grandmothers Make The Best Family Glue

  1. Ki Vault says:

    I have read this blog several times and I want to read it again and whilst you Americans and us Brits have stuff in common reading your blog not only dispels the stereotypical crap we get in the media, but is eye opening, touching, educational and fascinating. Oh yes,and that has got to be the best title for anything ever!

    • H. Stern says:


      I’ve either secured British-American relations forever, or the US is totally and finally fucked.

      • ekgo says:

        Way to be our ambassador, Hannah.
        I say that both in a congratulatory fashion and a sarcastic one and I’m pretty sure you already know why.

        • H. Stern says:

          I will ACCEPT your hearty pat on my back in the spirit in which I believe it was meant; the spirit of my total awesomeness.

          You’re welcome.

  2. Ki Vault says:

    Reblogged this on The Art of Ki and commented:
    eye opening, touching, educational and fascinating

  3. Adam S says:

    Dude, you rock. Period. I hope you write a book one day. I don’t even like books, and I would still read it. … .. …

  4. Oh yes, you must write a book. While my family, on the whole, kept their pants on, there was one occasion when two friends saw my mother walking round the town with just a nightdress (no knickers) and Wellington boots. A very fetching combination. Needless to say she was in a manic phase.

  5. ekgo says:

    Man, it’s like you’re a trickster. You’ve got a hilarious title for your post and then the post ends up being all slightly-funny but mostly tear-inducing and thought-provoking and sentimentality-making! That was a total bait-n-switch.
    Also – if I make it to authorhood before you do, I am hauling your ass right up behind me.

    • H. Stern says:

      But no! It was KINDA funny!! Because… you know… punching people. But also, squishy feelings.

      • ekgo says:

        Ok, yes, punching people = ALWAYS comedic. But grandmothers? And senility (which is actually sort of funny in an awful way)? And dying moms far away? And making your own family? Ugh. Heartstrings snapping left and right. It hurts.

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