For the first six or so years of my life, my feet never touched the ground when I was with Margaret. We flew on her broomstick, in my mind, as she carried me around on her back. My mother sometimes had to remind my grandmother that my legs were in perfectly functional order and I had mastered the art of walking a long time ago, but Margaret didn’t believe it.
Meanwhile, the second kid Alexa slid face-first down boiling hot metal slides, jumped first into lakes to test for leeches and scrambled up the rickety, rusted fire tower on our mountain, but whatever. Second kid. That’s why you have multiple offspring.
Margaret makes me believe I’m good at everything. She hangs my garbage kid paintings on the walls of her house and keeps them up 10 years later. She has listened to every dumb story I’ve made up, written down, and acted out with Barbies. She makes me print out and physically mail her every word I’ve written on this blog.
She has also actively participated in my every scheme–whether that be finding new, exciting objects to solidify inside of jello (she helpfully suggested actual foods), painting my mother while she sleeps in the back yard, or making up wickedly warped games.
The best, most sadistic game was called Ultimate Barbie. On sunny days, Margaret would sit on the back porch with a beer to play the role of judge, jury and executioner. Meanwhile, my sister and I paraded past Barbies we had dressed up in outfits based on her categories: “Evening Wear”, “Things to Wear to the Grocery Store”, “Things to Wear to a Funeral”. She looked each doll over carefully, then chose the ugliest.
Each round, one unlucky lady found herself thrown to the beagles, buried in the yard, drowned in a bucket, frozen in the freezer, electrocuted via Barbie toaster, pitched down the hill or sacrificed to the volcano. “Nasty Barbie”, who’s head looked a bit funny after being pried off with a spoon one too many times, was usually the first to go.
“VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO!” she screamed.
“VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO!” we chanted ominously, ready to carry out the weight of our duty.
“VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO! VOL-CA-NO!” my mother responded encouragingly from her perch on the picnic table, whole body painted blue and pink with my grandmother’s cosmetics.
“DEEEEAAAAAAAAATTTHHHHHHH!” we let forth in a satisfying guttural cry.
Ultimate Barbie is the ultimate game to produce well-adjusted children.
Afterwards we’d seek out Twizzlers, Starbursts, Zebra Cakes, Hostess Cupcakes, Skittles, M&Ms, Now & Laters and other goodies dug from the depths of drawers, left for us by “The Candy Fairy”.
Margaret would then take us to the kitchen where we’d cram beneath her cabinet in a diabetic haze while she prepared for us “Special Drink” (Chocolate milk with whipped cream and club soda) while she puttered about cheerily in that way grandmothers do.
It was like, “Well, obviously these kids need liquid sugar to go with their solid sugar. What else do kids eat after a long afternoon of burying Barbies in shallow graves by the dog house with my best garden trowel?”
At Friendly’s, my grandmother always ordered a chocolate fudge sundae off the dessert menu while we munched down fries and sandwiches. When we ordered our ice creams at the end of the meal, she ordered another dessert.
“Dessert first, darling. Don’t waste your time,” Margaret suggested helpfully.
If we were especially good, she drove us to the gas station. The gas station was the hottest place to go on the block, especially when one lives in a rural community at the base of Mt. Greylock. We loaded up into her hot, hot car to make the trek up the road and over the hill to the little service station at the side of the highway. It is the only fill up spot for miles.
Margaret never rolled down the car windows lest the wind muss up her hair, although she would blast the air conditioning directly toward her face. The cold never quite made it to us during the short trip. While we sweltered, sticky and dirty, we made up loud, obnoxious games to play.
Margaret often helpfully suggested the quiet game.
“Three, two, one… Let’s see who can be quiet the longest!”
If she was lucky it lasted a few minutes at best until my sister and I broke into a screaming match about who was being quieter.
“Three, two, one… Try again!” Margaret suggested helpfully.
Lucky for her it was a short trip.
Soon, we funneled inside the artificially lit store front with five whole dollars each to spend on whatever we wanted. Usually it was food. Sometimes we searched out with our sticky fingers little balls or toys we would play with for five minutes, then forget forever.
It was the best.
If we were especially, especially good and if it wasn’t getting dark, Margaret drove us to Cheshire Elementary School to acquire a few splinters and bee stings at the wooden playground. I sat in my grandmother’s lap while she gingerly eased me down the corkscrew slide.
Meanwhile, two-years my junior, Alexa launched herself fearlessly off the top of any structure her sturdy limbs could climb.
“Carefully Ally, careful,” Margaret said to me, fingers in a white knuckled grip on the back of my neck while I while I scaled three easy steps.
Alexa tight-roped walked across the top of the monkey bars, spread her arms and belly flopped to the gravel-covered ground.
My mom still keeps the rocks she’s dug out of Alexa’s nose, carefully preserved within family photo albums labeled with the date, manner of accident, and playground of origin. Some of them are of impressive size.
As the day stretched into evening, my sister and I loaded back into Margaret’s car (Alexa usually bloodied in some way and clutching her “summer purse”, the first aid kit.) to spend the evening reading books in Margaret’s bed or learning new, cruel tortures to inflict on Barbie dolls.
It was my grandmother who taught me to effectively behead Barbies by slipping a spoon under their chin to wedge in the plastic joint. For a brief, wonderful moment Barbie’s face warped wickedly as it was pushed outward by the utensil before launching across the room with a satisfying pop.
“BE-HEAD-ING! BE-HEAD-ING! BE-HEAD-ING!” Margaret shrieked to us during the next round of Ultimate Barbie.
“BE-HEAD-ING! BE-HEAD-ING! BE-HEAD-ING!” I shrieked back, holding my teaspoon aloft menacingly.
POP! Nasty Barbie’s head sailed to the waiting beagles.
“Black magic next!” Margaret suggested helpfully.
My grandmother raised me to be wicked and unapologetically myself. I wouldn’t want to be anything else.