that my grandmother’s style of communication was inquisitive. As would any good investigative journalist, when we spoke, she first wanted the basics: Who did you go to dinner with? Actually, she would have said, “With whom did you go to dinner?” But that’s a different topic.
“We went out with Dave and Meher and Carlos,” I’d say.
“Where?” she’d ask.
“To that Asian fusion restaurant on West 82nd Street, Rain.”
“No,” I’d say. “The restaurant, it’s called Rain.”
“Vus? I don’t hear.”
“The restaurant is called Rain,” I’d holler into the phone.
“All right, I heard you. So, what did you eat?”
“Let’s see…spring rolls, chicken satay, cucumber salad with garlic and sweet chili dressing,” I’d recount, then throw in what the others had eaten, for good measure.
“Very nice. What time was the reservation? Late?”
“No, we had reservations for seven, but Meher was late as usual, seeing a client. We had a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc before she arrived. From New Zealand.”
“She came in from New Zealand?” English was her second language, so she liked her modifiers in place.
“No…the wine, not Meher. She was on Long Island, stuck in traffic.”
“And how did you get into the city?” She’d want to know.
“We drove to the station in Fairfield, then took the train to Grand Central. Very easy. This way Mark could drink a little.”
“Tell me, why the get-together, a special occasion?” She liked to know the reasons for things.
“No…well, Carlos’s birthday is next week and we won’t see him because he’ll be away visiting friends.”
“Does Carmo have a wife? A girlfriend?”
“Carlos. No, Carlos is gay.”
“A boyfriend, then?”
“I don’t think so,” I’d say, worn out.
She liked to “drill down,” as people often say now at the office. Drill down from the basics to the specifics. Where do Dave and Meher live? How old is Carlos? Is he good-looking? Why doesn’t he have a boyfriend?
She was exacting; she didn’t stand for equivocation. I learned that early enough: speak up, enunciate. If you don't want to tell her something, say so. Don’t evade. Don’t mumble or mince words; it will only elicit an exasperated, “What??”
I’d just say to her, “I don’t want to talk about it,” which might have resulted in an additional question, “Why not?” But asserting, “I just don’t,” would usually end that particular line of questioning. This is not to say that she wouldn’t phone my mother later to see if she knew the answer, but Grandma knew when to stop asking me. She was practical in this way: glean as much information as possible, but know when to cut your losses and move on.
Why did she do this? I didn’t question it; it was just Grandma. I suppose it used to bother me. But as I got older, I saw it differently. It was a pleasant, reassuring routine. Who else would want to know so many insignificant details about me? But maybe they weren’t insignificant. I think that in that magnificent database in her brain, she filed those tiny bits of information to maintain a composite understanding of my life. It was how she knew me. Throughout my life, she made a point of knowing me.
Sometimes I would turn the table on her, ask her questions. She was willing to talk. I wish I’d asked more.
For Ray Goodside
July 4th, 1911-August 2, 2006