Mary Beth Writes

8/7/2022

My step-grandmother Ricky ate an apple every night. She’d sit on her bed, lean against the headboard, then chomp the apple after which she would remove her false teeth and lay down to sleep.

I haven’t really thought about Ricky in years but this week for no identifiable reason (because we were talking about unsung aspects of our lives?) I dreamed about her. I awoke one morning seeing her face as she stood in her dining room chatting with my mom and me. Ergo, I started thinking about her.

One of the first things I realized is that when I scroll my memory, I have very few clear memories of people’s faces. I mean, I’d know them in a heartbeat, but sitting here, I can’t recall the exactness of their faces.

But I can see Ricky’s face. Laughing and comfortable with my grandfather. Her bright blue eyes curious and lively as she talked with my mom. Or “How is college, Dear?” and then she listened. She didn’t have a lot of attitude or skeptical opinions as most of the older people I knew back then did. If she was comfortable, she was curious.

This is a true cute story. After grandpa died Ricky continued to live in their two-bedroom apartment (they rented out several teeny apartments on the second floor of that house). A lifelong girlfriend of hers, named Steve for a reason I sure don’t know, was also widowed by then. Steve moved in with Ricky. One evening when we were visiting Ricky asked my mom what “Lebanese women” were; they’d heard something on TV and didn’t understand. My mom briefly explained what lesbian means to Ricky and Steve, two 80-year-old women who had lived together for years. The early 1970’s was a different world.

I can also see Ricky standing towards the back of some of our family gatherings. When she wasn’t sure of herself she could be very quiet and her face became alert and anxious, like a deer’s.

Not everyone in our family liked her a lot. She seemed too big; she wasn’t fat but she must have been 5’9” or so, with wide shoulders and big hands and feet. She was a flirt around men who liked her. She’d laugh and tilt her head a bit to the side. She wore colorful clothes trimmed with ruffles and bows and she wore “too much” jewelry for our conservative family. She went to a hair salon (back then we called them beauty parlors) every week to get her snowy white hair “done” and I guess some folks thought that was a vanity.

After my grandfather died, if she needed help with tasks she would call my brother or some of the other boy cousins who still lived in town. They’d have to drive there to change a lightbulb or shovel the steps or get something down from the garage attic. There were jokes about that; Grandma Ricky who was tall and looked strong asking a guy to drive 20 miles to change a lightbulb in the foyer. Now that I’m this old it seems like it a good idea to not climb a ladder.

At least one of my cousins lived for a period of time in one of those upstairs apartments so she probably knows far more than I do about Grandma Ricky. Then again, I’m the one sitting here writing about an old woman I once knew who was both confident and anxious, generous and cheap, strong and weak, beautiful and comical.

Instead of moving into some kind of assisted living situation so the family could get on with the business of selling that house and splitting their inheritance, Ricky stayed where she was and invited a friend to share the space with her. When she needed help, she asked for it. Her pantsuits were too short for her long legs. I will forever remember seeing the top elastic on her nylon knee-highs while I sat next to her on her sofa. As she and Steve and my mom and I talked relaxed and talked, her lavender polyester pants crept up on the calf of her leg until they were just about at the knee. Sometimes if she was really delighted, her laugh turned to a cackle and she would jiggle so hard she would have to catch her clip-on rhinestone earrings that were falling off her ears.

Probably within that first year of marrying her, when they were both still in the 70’s, Grandpa developed leukemia. The last year or two of his life he was weak. I can hear my mom, years later, explaining to someone. “Dad loved company, so Ricky invited people into lunch almost every day. And then, when he started to look tired, she would politely tell them to leave. She kept that house clean, food cooked. She sat by him every evening to watch TV. She was such a gift to all of us. She made his last years rich and safe and enjoyable.”

Those daily apples worked. Rickey was active into her late 80’s when she finally suffered several strokes that took her mind and spirit. She lived two more years in a coma in a nursing home. Few people visited after that but my mom did; mom was loyal to women who were not sure of themselves but who tried hard anyway. Every week she sat by Ricky’s bed for an hour or so to read the Bible aloud, which is the proper use of scriptures, poetry against the darkness.

I have looked through all my old albums for a photo of Ricky and I don’t have a one! (Did I send that old album to you, Susan or Jill?) Is this why I can see her face and the expression in her eyes? Because I don’t have saved photos to do the remembering for me?

Maya Angelou wrote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I remember an old woman who was unsure of how to be as classy as others seemed to think they were. Still, she laughed at my lonely Grandfather’s jokes and she made him feel alive again, so they married. She gave their relationship everything she had to give and when she felt outnumbered or outdone, she stayed quiet and watched. She never gave up on herself and she never gave up on love.

I never felt judged by her. I knew she was interested in my life and she sincerely hoped I would get a boyfriend. When I did… well, we will let Len tell the story of the first time he met Ricky and Steve. Your earrings might fall off.

Over to the side, most of us have people who helped cleared good paths for us even though it took us way too long to figure that out.

 

 

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I love this! I would have liked to know Ricky.
Leonard's picture

A little. It was winter, before we married, and we were visiting your home town. I remember meeting the two women, who were delightful and non-judging ... and asked me to shovel their sidewalk.

I culd be good friends with Ricky... Thank so much for sharing such fond memories...
Mary Beth's picture

You would have found her more jewelry She would have loved you.

How nice it is to think of those “old women” I grew up around, now that I am old at 77. It would be fun to figure out who they were deep down and what made the tick. From wild Aunt Laurida to mean (?) Aunt Clara..from the church women like Grace and Dagny to my gorgeous first grade teacher Miss Catrine. Who they really were is forever a mystery.
Mary Beth's picture

You are so right. I think about them, too, now. Older women were regarded as safe and uninteresting, yet most of them had come through so much.

How special!!!!

Ricky sounds a delight. Judge not, lest….may have been her motto . Lebanese women? Someone must have called her a name and she tried to puzzle it out.
Mary Beth's picture

It is funny. It's also so weird to remember how adults with fully-lived lives could have been so 'innocent' of all the other ways adults were living their lives.

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