She was never the grandmotherly type. As a kid, I resented her nonchalance toward us, but as an adult, I not only understand her behavior, but have developed a strong respect for her. Her father my great grandfather: My great grandfather was a character in his own right. He was barrel-chested, and your first glance of him would illustrate the fact that he never lived the soft, office-life of privilege many of us live today. He worked for everything he ever had. In many cases, immigrants knew no one.
On the occasion of one of his postth birthdays, my great grandfather shared a story of what life was like when he first came to America. He and his buddy heard there was work where a new reservoir was being built. They walked a few dozen miles to get to the site, only to be shunned by the supervisor. Since they spoke virtually no English, they pantomimed to get their message across. That may not sound like a big deal, but lugging a couple-hundred pound crate that far over rocky terrain, in the hot, humid Philadelphia summer was going to be an all-day task.
The crate was heavy, and in many cases, they both lifted one end and dragged it over rocks, and pushed it down hills. They sat on the crate when they took breaks, and popped the tops off their drinks by banging the bottles off the top of the crate. The crate was battered and spilt in some places, but its contents were intact, so the day was a success.
Grandpop and his paisano dramatically dropped the crate at the foot of the bursar and the crowd scattered, running for cover. Grandpop was confused until one of the other workers, who spoke Italian, informed him and his friend that they just carried a crate full of wet dynamite. If it had exploded, yours truly would not be telling you this story. That much is certain! And she was as narcissistic as they came! There was never a hair out of place. Her clothes were always impeccable, and her body never changed.
She was about 5 feet tall, and weighed about pounds her entire life. When I was a kid, in her 50s and 60s, I would watch her exercise every day with Jack Lalanne who was three years her junior. She bowled a after her 90th birthday, and walked three or more miles every day.
She was also a total extrovert. She would step onto a silent transit bus, and three stops later, when she got off, everyone would be talking, and bidding her adieu.
She was a frenetic, insomniac, drama queen who had little patience for children or fools, and spoke her mind freely. She was the prototypical grandmother who treated us like young royalty. It was apparent she would only tolerate us if we behaved and conformed to her terms. If we wanted to watch something else, we could go home and watch it there.
The only thing Esther and I ever did together when I was a kid was walk. She was one of the most paranoid people on the planet. Oddly enough, we actually developed a bond. As a teen, I was the one who would drive her around on her errands, and would drive as fast as I could to scare her. She always took special care to tell me how much she preferred her other grandchildren, but in the end, we became friends. Her body may have gotten old, but her mind always remained youthful. To this day, I attribute my inability to sit down for more than 5 minutes to my grandmother.
Esther lived to the ripe old age of 91 almost She was out taking her three mile walk one day when she crossed the driveway of a bank and some dipshit in a stationwagon pulled into the bank at speed, never noticing Esther in his path. She weighed next to nothing, and the impact threw her fifteen feet in the air, and she landed hard on the parking lot.
Her pelvis was broken, and she was rushed to the hospital. Her bones healed albeit slowly , but the clots that were formed resulted in a series of strokes.
Her muscles atrophied during her recovery, and she was wheelchair-bound until she died within the next year, or so. It was a Friday night, and I was exhausted from working all day so was my wife, and for the same reason. There was no way I could tell her no, so I changed my mood, took her hand and left. We played two games with Mom Mom — she kicked our asses — and then went to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. She talked our ears off about the old days, and her various escapades with family and friends, and when we finally got home at around midnight, she was still so full of energy, she asked us to go for a walk.
It was my last walk with mom Mom. It was about 1 AM, and Esther still had energy in the tank, but we called it a night, and for the first time in my life, Mom Mom thanked me.
For years after that night, my mom and aunt would tell us how Mom Mom always reminded them of that night, and how much fun it was.
It was the first time I actually understood her. In any given week, I probably walk between 20 and 25 miles. Walking is a part of my life because of Esther. She trained me to do this. Sometimes holding hands and chit chatting, and other times, just walking quietly, enjoying the scenery and the presence of a loved one.