My son and I were cleaning the seventy-two clams he and my grandson had dug that morning at our local beach, and as we worked together, our conversation turned to some tiny gold scissors I had brought into the kitchen to aid in our task. Our particular clams are small, and we found a really easy way to clean the sand out of them, ourselves, rather than using the soak, clam sand purge, soak, turn and repeat method that never gets the sand out after all that effort.
He asked where I got the scissors, and I explained they were my grandmother’s, and they became mine after she died in 1987. This was my other grandmother who lived downtown in a retirement complex, and was the polar opposite of the one who lived in the country; the one who was so full of humor, stories, adventures, and fun.
Downtown grandmother was perfectly dressed and coiffed at all times, and never stepped foot outside her home without the large, jeweled earrings she loved so much, which always matched the color of the dress she was wearing. Her hair was short, gray, and wavy; and she had a slim, athletic build all the days of her life. She walked everywhere, with no evidence of age aches or pains, ever; and until the day she died, could still bend over, touch flat palms to the floor, and pop right back up again. She was a lovely, disciplined person, although not particularly comfortable around her grandchildren.
It was not that she was so formal; when children were around her, she just seemed stiff and strained. I think the noise we generated might have been a large part of the problem. She had issues with her hearing, and the three of us never were quiet. I do remember one day sitting next to her on the sofa in our living room, looking, intermittently, up her nose and then in her ear. After several questioning glares in my direction, she finally turned and asked me, in an exasperated tone of voice, just what was I looking for. I asked her why she was sticking things in her ears, because our mother had told us never to put anything in our ears or noses, and I could see she had something in her ear, and wondered if she put stuff in her nose, too. I believe the shock and disapproval she registered was evidence I had said something inappropriate; however, in my defense, I was a little girl with more curiosity than good sense. Turns out, downtown grandmother wore hearing aids, and she was very sensitive about them, and did not appreciate my drawing attention to her hearing loss. And she never, ever put things in her nose.
This grandmother preferred reading books, and playing table games with other adults. Her favorite game was Scrabble, and I do not recall her ever losing, even to my dad, and he won everything. When she was not reading or playing a table game, she worked crossword puzzles. In ink. Yes, my grandmother was a really accomplished word whiz.
In contrast to her prim and proper appearance, that old girl knew and loved her baseball. She was a San Francisco Giants fan, and followed every breath that team took, and every move they made. Even in her 90’s she read the sports page of the newspaper, and either watched or listened to each game they played, if it was broadcast in any way. I do not know when she actually became the dedicated fan we knew, but I recall she followed them while they still were in New York, and she was the one who told me before they were the Giants, they were known as the New York Gothams, and that name went back to the mid 1880’s. She was not that old, but I believe she probably followed them from her first awareness of the game, itself, and had learned all their history. It was one of my grandmother’s happiest days when the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958. She behaved as though a long-lost family member was coming home.
Perhaps, in her heart it felt more like a long-lost love was coming home. Being the stealthy snoop of our house often paid off in interesting tidbits of information no one knew I was overhearing. When my mother wanted to speak in private, she closed the kitchen door, and thought she could assure no one was listening by occasionally sticking her head out the door to make sure no kid was on the other side, eavesdropping. It never occurred to her all one had to do was silently hide under the big dining room table to hear every word she spoke, because we had a pass-through between the kitchen and dining room, and voices carried, unhindered, from one room to the next. It was during one of these secret-telling sessions, I heard my mother and country grandmother speaking about downtown grandmother’s first love, who was a professional baseball player around 1914, when she was eighteen years old. I remember his first name was Ab, and according to them, she never got over losing him. This was a very whispered conversation, but I did hear that she told something about him, or his baseball career that was supposed to be secret, and it ruined their relationship. I do not know what really happened to my grandmother and her baseball player, but what I heard that day gave me a new perspective about her, and I actually felt sympathy for a lady who spent a lifetime looking for her lost love, even if it was through a baseball team years and players removed from him.
She was ninety-three years old when she died, and after her death, I was told about one other interesting activity my grandmother indulged in her senior years. It seems, for reasons known only to her, my grandmother wanted scissors, and again for reasons known only to her, she felt the need to steal them. Yes, my downtown granny had a touch of kleptomania when it came to scissors. Evidently, on her daily strolls, she would frequently hit the five and dime stores, fabric stores, and occasional department store, and lift scissors, preferably the small fingernail or needlework ones. When her apartment was emptied after she was gone, they found scissors in every room, cabinet, drawer, and purse she owned.
I ended up with the little gold ones we were using that day in the kitchen. As I thought about those pretty little things, I imagined a sunny spring day in 1914, and a handsome young ballplayer named Ab giving my grandmother a gift of gold scissors to use with her needlework. She was gifted and accomplished in her stitchery creations, and I like to think Ab gave her these as a token of his affection, knowing she would think of him everyday when she worked with her needle and thread.
And truth be told, it still is working; there is not a day goes by when I see those scissors, and do not think of her. That independent, brilliant, jeweled old dear with the impulse control problem, who gave me my very first chapter book, The Bobbsey Twins, and taught me how to crack open a Brazil nut keeping the meat in one piece, who never entered a gym but was the most physically fit person I ever knew, and who loved words and knew how to use them. They may be small, but those scissors carry almost seventy years of memories with them, and still are as sharp and useful as the day they were pinched. I love them. And I will make sure they stay in the family, along with the story of their history; real and imagined.