When I was little my Grandma E., my mom’s mom, was the tallest person in the world.
In reality, she was only 5′ 6″, but she was slim as a willow, and her long, slender limbs made her look even taller. And she was strong as heck; I remember the grip of her hand on mine when I was small, holding me tight as if she was afraid I’d float away. Looking back through old photos today, Grammy seems so slight, so proper, so ladylike. But I knew better; she was my great partner in crime.
As an only child, I must admit I completely wore out the adults in my life, who did double-duty as my playmates when my own neighborhood friends were elsewhere. But Grammy, it seemed, was tireless. She was eternally ready to swing with me on my swingset long after all the other adults had shooed me away and told me to “go read a book.” She held my hand for hours as I scampered up and over the two large rocks in their side lawn (an endless source of fascination for me) and even let me jump off them all by myself every once in a while. She loved to play loud card games, and in fact she delighted in making any game loud; I remember hands of Old Maid that ended with both of us dissolved into hysterical laughter and screams.
And she let me do all manner of things I would never have been allowed to do at home. My mother tells a story of one afternoon when Grandma and Grandpa were minding me at their house in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was about four years old and Grammy and Grampy had just purchased me one of those plastic “Big Wheel” bikes that were so popular in the 1970s. It immediately became one of my favorite toys, and it made my mother tremendously nervous. That afternoon Mum, returning from an appointment, pulled into my grandparents’ driveway behind Grandpa’s car just in time to see the top of my head disappearing at great speed down the hill in their back lawn.
Mum scrambled out, craning her neck to see over the roof of her father’s car, and discovered to her horror that I was on my new Big Wheel pedalling down the hill as fast as I could, occasionally spinning out in the garden and coming to a stop in the dirt.
“Amy! Where’s Grandma?” Mum called out, panic rising.
“Oh, it’s okay,” I informed her with all the breezy confidence of a four-year-old, wheeling my splendid plastic chariot slowly back up the hill. “She’s right over here.”
“Ma!” My mother rushed over to where Grammy was standing in the shade, arms crossed, watching me tear down the grassy hill again. “You didn’t let me do that on my bike when I was little–remember?”
Grandma was nonplussed. “She’s fine, Judy. The Big Wheel’s so low to the ground if she falls off she’s got nowhere to go. Look–she can’t even tip it over.”
My mother threw up her hands in protest. “But Ma, she could hit the back fence!”
“Judy,” said my grandmother calmly, turning back to watch me, “for heaven’s sake, the peonies will stop her before she gets that far.”