Friday, June 15, 2007

My Martini Grandma

That's what my friends call Grandma Lorraine. She earned her nickname for her particular love for martinis--not the trendy vodka 'tinis of my generation, but the old school gin and vermouth martinis. Served in a stem glass. And garnished with olives. Wait staff who got it wrong got it sent back.

She expected a martini at 4pm (cocktail hour), and if you let her have more than one, you'd better stay out of her way. I don't think I ever saw her drunk, but I've seen her get feisty and belligerent about the issues she cared about (she's a fierce defender of liberal politics and Israel).

Grandma Lorraine turns 88 today, but it's looking like this will be her last birthday. She's dying of cancer and has been in and out of hospice care this week.

Growing up, I celebrated most of my birthdays with Grandma L. Our birthdays are only two days apart, and we spent a lot of summers visiting relatives in Omaha. Birthdays with Grandma Lorraine meant dressing up for a restaurant dinner (usually in an over-cooled Italian restaurant with a salad bar) and a shared cake. The parking lots were always blisteringly hot.

I know she's ready to check out, but I can't quite get my head wrapped around the fact that Grandma likely won't meet her latest great-grandchildren. But like the brown cigarettes she used to smoke (were they Mores?), she's forever burned into my memory. And I'll share those memories with my children.

She drove tank-like American cars (although her last car was a Toyota). She favored leisurewear, clip-on earrings and chunky necklaces. Her homes were decorated with original art, which ranged from strikingly contemporary to pop-art to clown sculptures. For many years she rode motorcycles with her husband, my Grandpa Bob. She campaigned for Governor McCarthy and spoke out against the Vietnam war. When Grandpa was dying from prostate cancer, she shocked the preteen me by telling me now much she missed their "very active sex life." After he passed away, she had boyfriends, no easy feat when the women outnumber the men 10 to 1.

She didn't just play bridge, she won at bridge. She kept her brain engaged with crossword puzzles and Sudoku. She was into yoga long before it was trendy, and I doing headstands on beach towels next to her king size waterbed.

Grandma Lorraine wasn't a milk and cookies grandma. In fact, I never liked her cooking. But I have many fond memories of playing cards with her or letting her give me a manicure (she had an enormous toolkit of polishes, files, cuticle potions and lotions).

Happy Birthday, Grandma. And cheers!