Thursday, August 2, 2007

Eat All the Sugar You Can Get

My grandmother--we called her by her middle name, Libby--was a stubborn, independent character. She lived alone in a Philadelphia row house until she was 96, when her children finally insisted that she move to an assisted living facility.

At that point she was subsisting on angel food cake and cat food. She'd forget to wash her thick, waist-length hair for months at a time; it was bound up in a greasy, tangled bun on the back of her head. Dust and cat hair coated every surface in her two-level home. My parents' Hollywood-style wedding photograph sat on the same cherry end-table where it had gathered dust for the past 35 years.

(BTW, I love that old photo. My parents look like movie stars, with perfect skin and touched-up cheekbones. My mom's wedding dress was simple and elegant: an off-the-rack street dress with covered buttons and a matching fabric belt cinching her tiny waist.)

The kitchen surfaces were coated with grease from the Jurassic Period, and crops were growing in the bathtub. I don't know how her adult children allowed it to get so bad, nor am I passing judgment on them. But my sibs and I swore we would not let the situation with our own parents reach the same level of ick.

Libby named her cats Barry and Goldy after that Republican spitfire who famously said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue" when he accepted the 1964 nomination for president. Barry and Goldy happily chased mice and snacked on angel food crumbs while Libby read large-print Readers' Digests and watched soaps on a tiny black-and-white TV precariously balanced on an old TV tray.

Libby had a philosophy of longevity that she'd pronounce loudly every time we'd take her out to eat. "Eat all the sugar you can get!" she'd holler, and heads would turn. "That's my motto--and I'm 96!" She also loved butter, and only ate vegetables that had every last vestige of nutrition blanched right out of them.

Libby lived a non-traditional, opinionated life. She firmly believed that she had pulled herself up by her own bootstraps, and had no respect for anyone who didn't do the same. She died in a nursing home at age 98, with my mom holding her hand. I like to imagine that her last words were, "Eat all the sugar you can get!"


Hpaul said...

Well, Ms Peevie I love your reminiscence on Libby. She was such a trooper. Let me tell you my favorite story about Libby. I tried to wander up to Philly to see her once a month while I was in the DE or NY area. I would normally empty the nasty stuff out of her frig and do the dishes and then just chat with her, although mostly she wanted to go 'shopping' which interpreted means 'out to eat'. After coming home from a stint at college I stopped by, checked out her frig, and called out to her that I was going to throw out some moldy bacon I saw. She protested and it sounded like she said, "Dont throw that out it is my camouflage." I thought I either misheard her or she had finally fallen off her rocker. I was more convinced of the rocker fall when I reiterated my statement and she responded in the same way. Finally, she said, "Will you just look under it." Hmmm, not a bad idea. I found $100 in twenties under the moldy bacon. It really was her camouflage, and pretty good camouflage at that.

E. Peevie said...


Great story. I'll bet you have others, too; and I'll bet my sibs have their own stories, too. We should compile them sometime, for our children.

E. P.