Most people remember those special times visiting their grandparents. The smells, old photos hanging on the walls, nick-nacks of useless stuff, fresh-baked cookies, sleep-overs, and a coziness that comes from being with the parents of your parents. This did not exist in my family since my grandparents lived in a hotel room. My grandfather MM (the father of my father), was a decent hard-working man. Actually, I only knew him as a decent hard-working man. We never did any of those things grandfathers and grandsons did. There was no possibility to get to know him better. He liked to work and to provide for his wife and employees. I don’t remember him ever taking a vacation or having any hobbies. I liked him anyway.
My grandmother, Nana, was even more remote. She had the time to interact, she just did not have the interest. My grandmother did not cook, bake or do anything a normal housewife might be found doing. So living in a hotel room was ideal for her since they did not need a kitchen. If they were hungry they could just go down to the restaurant or the coffee shop in the hotel or walk a few blocks to other restaurants in the area. The hotel also had a pool, a game room, a piano, and was directly on the beach with the Atlantic ocean as a backyard.
In many ways, it was better than a traditional house. One summer I had to attend summer school since I had terrible grades and did not have high enough score to pass the current grade. My family had planned a vacation many months before and decided to go without me. I stayed at the hotel with my grandparents and had a great time. As often in my life, I was left on my own. After summer school, I could go with friends, grab a snack at the cafe, go for a swim or just relax in the room. It suited me. That summer a group of older students visiting from Brazil were staying in the hotel. Somehow I fit into their group and had fun hanging around with them. We were often in the lobby playing the piano and singing together. They were there for four weeks. Just enough time for me to begin speaking English with a Brazilian accent.
Some years later the hotel was torn down and replaced with a condo. It was bigger and newer and only had one restaurant. My grandparents had a condo in the new building about the same size and location as their old hotel room. This apartment did come with a kitchen that was mostly empty as my grandmother did not cook. Ever. She was not interested.
Most Sunday’s my family and my grandparents would meet at Fu Man Chu’s Chinese restaurant. It was about half-way between our homes. This was a regular tradition and we always sat at the same table. It was round with a lazy susan (a rotating tray) in the middle. I most remember my grandmother’s rituals. One could also call them neurosis. First would be the crunchy rice noodles they brought out instead of bread. They did not have much taste but did provide some relief from hunger and some entertainment. As the bowl of noodles became empty, my grandmother began her technique of getting all the crumbs left in the bowl or on the table. She would quickly wet the tip of her finger, dab this moist finger onto some loose crumbs and in a flash, lick the crumbs off her finger. She now had a moist finger to repeat the action. She was fast. really fast and everyone knew not to get in her way.
The next ritual was around the jasmine tea. We always had two pots brought to the table. One pot was for everyone, and the other pot was for my grandmother. This was ‘her’ pot since she put in artificial sweetener she carried with her. Once I took some tea from ‘her’ pot and this was clearly explained to me I was breaking the tradition and must immediately stop. I found this amusing and sometimes pored more tea from ‘her’ pot just to get her to react.
The final ritual was my favorite. When the meal was done, tea gone, bill paid and fortune cookies eaten, my grandmother would reapply her lipstick. This was a bright red color that she applied liberally. When her lips were covered, she would pick up the cloth napkin and purse her lips on the napkin to remove the excess lipstick. This left a large red lipstick mark on the napkin. It was like a comedy routine. She even perfected the special sound of the lips smacking the cloth. It was the final ending of our evening together. We then went to our respective homes.
I am grateful to have grandparents and for the many things they did provide. It just was not a typical experience with typical grandparents. You can find another blog about my grandfather with the title, MM, it’s time to die.
Photo of hotel from 1966 and is the actual hotel from this story. Photo of my mother, me (looking drugged), Nana, MM, and my mothers’ father who died about three years after this photo.