Love and After That
By Matt Price
when Mama came to visit months later, I decided that this was all
a mistake. She was my grandmother, for God's sake. She was the grandma
who laughed at all of my jokes and called me her special guy. She
was the grandma who gave me trinkets like the pink pig that she
made in her ceramics class during one of her winters in Fort Lauderdale.
She was the grandma who came to all of my plays, including my scene-stealing
performance of Coach Van Buren in our high school production of
Damn Yankees. Sorry for the self-congratulations, I just
need a little love right now. No way was my grandma an octogenarian
floozy. I know I've could've written "whore," but again,
it's my grandma, and she's not one.
So the first night she's here, we're having dinner, and she tells
me that she has a secret. "That's OK, Mama," I replied.
"You can tell me later," hoping that later would turn
into much later which would turn into never.
But before I could take another bite of my lasagna, she leaned in
and said, "I have a black boyfriend. He's 64, and his name
There are moments in your life that you remember forever. Your first
kiss. The first time you fall in love. The first time your grandmother
tells you that she's having sex with a 64 year-old black man named
Rudy. Another thing you have to understand at this surreal juncture,
my grandma wasn't the most tolerant of all cultures. She wasn't
the Grand Wizard or anything, but she was from a different time
period. Once Mama sat shot-gun as my mom drove me and a few friends
home from high school. After Kyle and Tonya, who are both black,
got out of the car, Mama turned to me and said, "that Tonya's
pretty for a Negress."
So now I'm face to face with my grandmother and the idea that she
hooked up with another man. How could I be writing the words "grandmother"
and "hooked up" in the same sentence? I'm sure sentences
like that exist, for example, "because of her pneumonia, your
grandmother needs to be hooked up to an IV." But other than
that, those phrases should be on the opposite ends of the English
language spectrum. And then Mama discusses more men. There's Jack,
the self-professed "most hated cop in all of Chicago."
Supposedly Jack was despised throughout the '40s and '50s because
he used to give out more traffic tickets than any other cop on the
beat. Sounds like a great catch. And Paul, who doesn't ever say
anything. They just hold hands while watching movies like The
Hurricane in the lounge. She tells me that Samuel Jackson is
very attractive. I can't decide what makes me madder, that she's
scoping out still more men, or that she can't tell Sam Jackson apart
from Denzel Washington. This isn't possible. My grandfather was
my hero. He taught me how to play catch and how to tell jokes. I
have a picture of him in a leather jacket circa 1920. He's lifting
a Hedy Lamarr look-alike over his head. Every time I do anything
that I think is remotely cool, like buy a Claudine Longet record
at Amoeba, I imagine my leather jacketed Grandpa and realize that
I'm about as cool as Terry Bradshaw doing an AT & T commercial.
As Mama and I sat in Farmer's Market the next day for lunch, I thought
of confronting her. It was the last day of her trip, and it was
now or never. But how do you confront your grandmother? She's your
grandmother. She's 83. She's earned the right to live life as she
pleases. But did she lose grandmother rights after having sex with
Rudy? This is what's going through my head as we eat lamb kabob.
Guilt, anger, weirdness, wishing I got the corned beef at Phil's.
Over and over. I couldn't get it out of my head. Was I mad because
she appeared to be checking out the elderly riff-raff that hang
out by Bob's Donuts? Or was I just mad because she hooked up more
than I did? Way more. And apparently with way more people. Maybe
I was mad because I thought these people were just using Mama for
sex. And then I was mad at myself for even thinking that was possible,
and then I was mad at myself again for thinking that it wasn't possible.
The circle of anger and confusion over my grandmother's activities
never ended. And just when I was finally getting the courage to
actually say something to her, she pulled a locket out of her bag
and opened it. Inside was a picture of Papa, probably taken a few
years after the leather jacket shot. She just kind of held it up
right in front of her eyes, stared at it for a few moments, and
said, "there's my man
Then she rubbed the picture some more, put it back in her bag, and
continued eating her lamb kabob.
Two months later, my grandmother died unexpectedly. My family was
shocked. Mama was supposed to dance with me at my sister's wedding
in May. We didn't know what to do or how to react. I went to Chicago
for the funeral, and it was all a blur. When we were in line greeting
people, my sister turned around and said, wiping tears off of her
face, "Rudy's here."
I asked her how she knew it was Rudy, and she just stared at me
blankly as if to say, "do you know any other little, old black
I turned around and sure enough, there was this small, thin black
man with a graying afro, mustache and glasses, quietly taking a
seat in the third row. He smiled and nodded politely at our family,
and I nodded back. And I realized that Rudy was just a man, a nice
man, actually, it looked like, but he couldn't replace my grandfather.
He was just there to help Mama bide her time until she could be
with her true love again, and now that's where she is. And in that
moment, I was finally at peace with everything. I mean I was still
freaked out by the sex part, but emotionally, I was OK.
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