Not long after my husband and I married something strange happened. Because we didn’t know each other very well, had only been seeing each other for a couple of months when we decided, quite casually, to get married, we knew nothing of each other’s families. Had never spoken about our histories.
I was busy in the kitchen when he came to ask me if I’d folded his shop rags after I washed them. The question was odd considering that most times I never got around to folding the clothes. The dryer was our dresser.
“Come check this out!”
I followed him to the back room where he kept his tools and there in the corner were his raggedy rags; parts and pieces of old sheets and towels torn into manageable sizes folded neatly. Placed evenly to one side of the shelf they were on.
The rest of the room was a tangle of wrenches, hammers, screw-drivers, tool boxes, nails, wire, bolts, and various small power tools. Also several boxes of outdated ‘Fine Home Building’ and various other ‘How To’ periodicals, formed a leaning tower of accumulated knowledge, tucked off to one side. Nothing had its place. The neat little pile of carefully folded rags was an island in the storm of my ‘Mr. Fix Its’ make shift shop.
“What’s up with that?” It’d be nice if you cleaned the whole room,” I sneered.
“It’s wasn’t me,” he insisted. His tone, more serious than his usual half-joking manner, threw me.
“What da ya mean?” I asked sharply. I was beginning to feel a little scared. Not knowing him real well, I wondered if he was messing with my mind.
“I mean; I didn’t fold the rags!” he snapped.
We were the only two around. My son was visiting his father in Utah so I knew he couldn’t have done it.
The feeling in the tiny room had shifted from my usual irritation at him, for bothering me with something I deemed stupid, to, What the hell is going on right now?
We both stood staring at the pile when he asked, “Who’s Olga?”
“Who’s Olga? That name just popped into my mind.”
Stunned, I whispered, “My dad’s mother. She’s been dead for years.”
Olga was my grandmother’s name but no one called her that. I knew her as grandma Jerry. Although she was considered crazy by my dad, mom, and grandfather, I never experienced her as such. Her home was always immaculate. Everything had its place. It was the same with her appearance. Her hair was almost always wrapped up in a colorful scarf, like a woman from an exotic island. Her manner was purposeful yet sensuous. She loved Jazz music, ethnic art, and cooking. A fabulous hostess her home was the place the family gathered on holidays. She packed everything in moth balls. The memory of her lingers, like that odd smell, I think of as her perfume.
I took after her with my dark hair and eyes. Our features sharp, foreign. Long legs. Clear olive skin. We spent afternoons floating in her and my grandfather’s pool. In her fifties she still looked sexy in her Rousseau print two piece suit. A private woman she didn’t like living in a tract of homes, so grandpa put up an eight foot cinderblock fence around the backyard where the pool was. When we out there she encouraged me to keep my voice down. Talked so quietly herself I thought of it as a whisper. When the woman in the house next door was in her backyard grandma hushed me. We floated, quiet as lilies on a pond, listening to her whisper and giggle with a man my grandma referred to as the ‘son-of-a-bitching cheat.’
My grandfather built His and Her’s cedar changing rooms next to the pool. Grandma made sure there we always plenty a fresh colorful beach towels, ready and waiting on the wooded dowels that jutted out of the aromatic wall. Hanging next to the door there was a sign that read: I DON’T SWIM IN YOUR TOILET, SO PLEASE, DON’T PEE IN MY POOL. I always did. Scampered and splashed quickly away from the sunflower of urine blossoming from between my thighs.
Always more than enough at my grandparents home, they had several rafts, balls, and blow-up toys. Orange life vests, sized from small to large, tucked neatly into their cubbies. Two styrofoam doughnuts with blue nylon rope hung where you could get to them easily, in case someone was drowning, which always made me feel safe.
Me and grandma didn’t know how to swim. One afternoon while we were sunning ourselves on rafts, I reached for a ball floating next to me, leaned too far and fell into the deep end. My memory gets all watery there but I was told that grandma nearly died trying to save me. After that happened dad decided I needed to learn how to swim. I remember standing on the diving board crying. Dad was sitting in a lawn chair under the awning next to the back door. He ordered me to jump.
“No! I can’t! I’m scared dad. I’ll drown!”
“I’m not gunna let ya drown. It’s not that hard. Now jump god dammit!”
We went back and forth like this for a few minutes when finally he charged toward me. There was nowhere to run but off the end of the diving board so I held my ground. Pinched my toes tight and bent my legs. He tried to bounce me into the water by jumping up and down. I got down on my hands and knees which pissed him off. Next thing I knew he flung me into the water. I sunk for what felt like forever, my mouth taking in more water than a canoe with a gaping hole. Hands and feet flailing for my life. I don’t remember how I got out of the pool that day. I know how to swim though, so I suppose I learned my lesson.
Grandma stopped having me over to sun with her. Believing I’d almost killed her I understood why she didn’t want me in the pool with her anymore, but I was confused about why she was never home when we went to their house. I asked my mother but she never gave me an answer that felt true. Like my grandmother, I had the habit of listening in when I heard whispering. That’s how I learned that grandma had accused grandpa of messing around with the giggling neighbor lady. So he had her committed for shock treatments.