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Grandma's Nemesis

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By Kimara - Posted on 05 January 2009

My Grandma Pearl had a nemesis. Her name was Martha. Believe me; something is lost in merely typing her name. If you were a Seinfeld fan, think of how Jerry use to say "Newman". Much like Jerry, my grandma's top lip would quiver, her nose would wrinkle, and she'd get this phlegmy thing going in the back of her throat each and every time she said Martha's name ... it was as if the name itself was coated in gall.

I met Martha. As a matter of fact, I had the distinct misfortune of encountering her on numerous occasions. She was a cantankerous old broad! My older brother and I often spent the night at Grandma Pearl's. And sometimes she'd have the ladies over to play pinochle. Martha coming to the house was not an event Grandma took lightly. She'd spend the day cleaning, fluffing and baking. Not that her house wasn't always impeccable, but preparing for Martha required extra attention. Pictures needed to be turned at special angles, each petal of the plastic flowers in her center piece needed to be dusted, and her copies of Reader's Digest, Prevention and Women's Day needed to be fanned out on her coffee table with precision tuning. And then there were the snacks. She always spent a great deal of time preparing something that had to have the appearance of requiring no effort at all. She would never want to give Martha the satisfaction of knowing that she cared enough about her opinion to invest any time preparing for her.

I remember one particular encounter with Martha. At the time I was in 4th grade and my brother was in 5th. He had brought his guitar along, because as an aspiring Beatle, he never went anywhere without it! I was wearing my new faux leather jumper, and was definitely feeling like I was styling. Grandma Pearl thought it was great. Being a trend setter herself...she was the envy of the blue haired society...she would have donned the jumper herself if it had come in a polyester double knit! But to put the finishing touches on my look, Grandma insisted on "doing" my hair. I sat through having my hair slathered with Dippety Do...this neon colored, gelatinous substance...then wrapped in curlers so tight that I looked like Joan Rivers after her 10th face lift, and placed under a domed hairdryer to bake for an hour. In the meantime, Grandma was in the kitchen baking her legendary apple pie. When my hair was dried, Grandma removed the curlers and teased my hair (for you youngsters unfamiliar with "teasing" this was the unnatural and tortuous practice of sliding a comb repeatedly up and down through your hair creating "volume", and as a nasty byproduct, tangles that were impossible to brush out!). When grandma was done I looked like a water buffalo, but Grandma was happy with the results, and heck, if it brought her anxiety level down a notch, it was worth it.

So, the final preparations were completed just as Martha's car pulled up. She had picked up a couple of the other women, and as they got out of the car, Grandma gave the signal which cued my brother to start playing the guitar, and required me to sit poised in a chair, giving the appearance of a demure debutant. Grandma's cheeks were noticeably flushed, but as the delicious aroma of fresh baked pies wafted through the air, carrying musical renditions by my brother, my grandma gave one last scan of the room, and as a final touch, crossed my legs in a provocative manner, not necessarily suitable for a ten year old. But the troops were prepared. Grandma Pearl was armed for battle.

When Martha walked in, Grandma was sitting in a chair clapping in time to my brother's playing. She looked up and gave her best surprised looked, as if she had been so enthralled with my brother's talents that she totally lost track of time. Martha took two steps into the room and said, "Pearl, could you make him stop that infernal racket?" Gesturing to me with a purse carrying elbow said, "Hmmm, looks like she's put on some weight." While making her way to the card table she asked, "What's that foul odor?" And when finally seated at the table, requested a dishcloth to "wipe down" the sticky surface.

But this blog isn't a documentary about Martha, but rather a behavioral science observation. Grandma knew Martha for over 20 years, and during that time I never once heard Grandma say anything nice about the woman. As a matter of fact, her comments were quite the contrary, but who could blame her? Martha was the bane of Grandma's existence. She traveled in Grandma's circle, so she was everywhere. Everyone else looked up to my grandma and sang her praises; but never Martha. Martha was quick to point out the flaws in Grandma's appearance, baking and card playing, and she did it so effortlessly. Grandma could not stand Martha...and yet...

Martha died. I don't know what Grandma's first reaction was to the news. She may have danced a little jig, she may have offered up a guilty prayer, or I'm thinking, she probably started planning the perfect outfit to wear to her archenemy's funeral; tasteful, yet bordering on the edge of disrespectful. But after the dust settled, and Martha was laid to rest, something strange and inexplicable happened...Grandma missed Martha. I'm sure there was the initial sense of relief when she was preparing for an event. Now, Grandma would only be tossed accolades, not stinging insults. Her efforts would be rewarded with praise, not criticism. But as any comic reading 10 year old would point out...superheroes are nothing without their nemesis. Superman had Lex Luther, Batman had The Joker, Luke Skywalker had Darth Vadar and Grandma Pearl had Martha. Without Martha continually trying to thwart her plans, victory was not as sweet. Grandma did not stop living when Martha died, but a major contributor to her motivation was buried, with what turned out to be, her friend.

Sometimes we take others for granted or fail to acknowledge their positive impact on our lives. Even a Martha can be missed!

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It's really different when it comes to grandma and things become so hard to resist into. Meanwhile, I'm starting to miss people badly and I'm really touched with your story. - Flemings Ultimate Garage

Thanks Sarah. I'm around I just don't always get a chance to comment. This week went by in a blur getting back into routine.

Lisa, glad to hear all is going well on the job front.

BTW I meant to ask. Haven't heard anything from Michelle for some time. Hope everything is okay. Please give her my best!

Boy, everyone knows a Martha, don't they? I don't know, I now have these visions of a little old grandmother in a baggy superman outfit! Very funny blog, but also truth to the part about missing someone you never thought you'd miss.

BTW, DH is finally back on track, and has a wonderful new job. In the long run I think this is going to prove great for the family because he didn't love the job he was laid off from. Perhaps it's all been part of God's plan! I am now only working part time. I didn't quit completely until I make sure all is well. I might even keep this job. It's only 2 1/2 days a week. Not bad and I'll have a foot in the door incase I ever need to work full time again. TMI? Sorry, but it feels so great to have time again to breath!

Hehe. Sounds like Martha would have been great friends with my Great-Aunt Berta! When I was in high school I had this boy a grade behind me in school, that had a crush on me and followed me around everywhere. He was a sweety, but was really a pesky at times. This went on for 3 years! But, when I went away to college, I discovered I missed him. He was never a boyfriend, but he was a constant. That year he got a serious girlfriend, and I stopped hearing from him at all. I really felt a sense of loss. Haven't thought about him in a long time! Have a great week and stay warm. It's been bone chilling here!