November 2006
When my grandfather died, my grandmother took to the TV diet: daily soaps for entertainment, cigarettes for sustenance. TV Guides ate up her coffee table, save room for an ashtray, and what she picked up from watching television was not, unfortunately, some game show trivia knowledge. Instead, she racked up a thousand-dollar phone bill with Miss Cleo.
Her television obsession reaped rewards for my sisters and I. Without her devotion to QVC, we wouldn't each have a number of porcelain Lenox figurines to our name. Many of them are duplicates.

"Jesus Christ, Wanda, what the hell are you buying all these things for?" my dad would yell.
"Goddammit Kev! Dave! Kev! Whoever the hell you are! Go whistle Dixie! I will buy whatever I want with my goddamn money!"
"Wanda, you can't keep doing this. You need money to pay the bills, and you don't need 500 thousand goddamned figurines of who the hell knows what! What are you going to do with these?"
"Oh Christ almighty. Fine," she'd walk away, but it was a fake. She wasn't finished with Miss Cleo or QVC until my dad took away her cable channels, and she didn't miss a thing.
I made my father out to be the villain — talking to my grandmother on the phone would be even less interesting without her television stories. Our conversations were already completely circular; conversations with her were like riding a merry-go-round, seeing the same scenery over and over again until you're too tired to hold on anymore and just jump off.

"What grade are you in now Kris? Abbey? Who am I talking to?"
"Oh, this is Kristen. I'm in eighth grade now."
"Holy Toledo!" she'd say. This was classic Grammy, something she always said the same way, and one that she always said in reference to us growing: taller, wider, older, smarter. It was a deep, warm, hearty chuckle; emphasis on the "hol" and "e." She'd continue, "You're getting so old now. You make sure you get a good education. What grade are you in?"
"Eighth, yes, well, you know. I had two boys," though sometimes she'd say she only had one, "You know Kev and Dave? They're my boys . . . and I made sure they got educated. I wasn't going to have dumb children, nosiree. You know, girls those days, girls didn't need to be educated. I went to high school, though. I didn't get to finish, I had to go work," she'd chuckle. I still wish I knew what about this made her chuckle. "I had to go work and make money. But girls these days! Boy they've got to be educated. What grade are you in?"
"Oh, yes. Well, you just make sure you are educated. You can go become a head honcho," she'd laugh at her own joke before reminding me, "Oh, I'm just kidding, I know girls can't do that yet."
I'd pause and consider arguing it, before I realized it was fruitless, "Seen anything good on TV?" I knew what she'd say — her new lack of cable left her with one television fascination.
"Well Jesus Christ! You know what I've been seeing a lot on television lately?"
"What? Polka?" My grandfather used to watch polka.
"No, these women in Africa. I see all these poor little kids on the TV, and they have no home. And their mothers are just sitting there, and I don't know what those mothers are doing having kids in Africa. I might adopt one."
I brushed off these suggestions, but when, according to Grammy, the African babies were suddenly being adopted by Stefan at the country club whose wife cheated on him last week, I finally realized what the first stages of Alzheimers sounded like.
back to the top