Toni’s Grandma peeled potatoes with a knife so that the peel was one long slice that wound around in a circle until she made the final cut and it dropped into the garbage. She talked while she did it.
She looked a little bit like Mother Joad in the movie The Grapes of Wrath, solid and sad. I never saw her wear trousers, and her pantyhose was the kind with the seam down the back. She wore sturdy black Salvation Army shoes. She may have been an ex Catholic nun.
Grandma was usually in her room. You had to walk through the kitchen and through the laundry room to get to it. I only went there after my friend Toni did, and I when I was there I stayed mute and stood somewhere out of the way. Her bed and everything was in there, all her personal stuff. It seemed too private for me to be there. Next to her bed was a well-used recliner chair. Her television stood on legs in the corner, there was a small table next to the chair, and some sort of Catholic cross with the sad-looking Jesus on it. She was a Catholic and went to church a lot. When she wasn’t in church she watched The Lawrence Welk Show on TV, and listened to Elvis Presley records. She kept a selection of Elvis records on the shelf under her stereo, and there was always a stack of records left out on the table next to the stereo.
Her two sons, Don and I-don’t-remember-his-name, were what we called in the 60s… drunks. They came to the house to dry out. I never heard Grandma yell at them, or even talk to them much. I thought if she’d yelled at them they might have changed their ways and had a better life.
One time after I’d moved out of the neighborhood I heard some guy tried to steal her purse while she was shopping at Aurora Village shopping center. She used her purse to knock him down and kept beating him in the head with it till the police came.
I don’t know when she moved in with Toni’s mom and dad; maybe she’d always been there. I never asked her about her life or what she’d done to end up living in the back room of somebody else’s house. I think she was raised not to expect any happiness out of life. She probably didn’t cry when Elvis died.
If I hadn’t been too scared to talk to her I’d have asked her about important things. What was it like growing up in Montana during the Depression? Did you ever stand on the front porch of your house in Montana and shoot somebody that was threatening your home? How did you come to peel potatoes with a knife instead of a peeler?