When I was a kid, my grandma Ruth bowled on Monday nights at Compton Lanes Bowling Alley. My grandpa and I would drop her off, and then we’d head over to his mother’s house (my “Mimi”) to spend the evening with her. Mostly, my grandpa slept on the couch while I spent the evening with my Mimi.
I can remember my Mimi and her house with such clarity. She had snow white hair and wore thick glasses from which her sharp, clear blue eyes peered out. For years she told me she was 102. She had little round tables with lacy covers over them that reached all the way to the floor. She had trashy novels piled next to her old orange rocking recliner. She loved owls and displayed figurines of them all over. There was always Dial soap in the bathroom, and her house smelled of cigarettes and the green outdoor astro-turf-like carpeting that she had indoors.
We had a routine. First we began with a snack of cheese and ketchup. (Don’t knock it; it’s good.) Then we’d watch The Muppet Show. After the show was over, she’d read Mercer Mayer’s “Little Monster” books to me and we’d talk. One frequent topic of our conversation was her finger.
One of my Mimi’s middle fingers—I can no longer recall on which hand—was permanently bent in half. This was fascinating to me, and I loved to look at it and touch it. I would always ask her if I could try to bend it back for her, and she would always say, “No!” Several times I asked her, “Mimi, how did your finger get this way?” And she always told the same story.
“A long time ago, when I was much younger than 102, I was at a camel race. We were sitting on metal bleachers. They were slippery because it had rained the night before. When the camels were rounding the track close to me, I stood up to take a good picture. I slipped on the wet bleachers and banged my finger and broke it. I didn’t go to the doctor right away, and by the time I did he told me he’d have to re-break it to make it straight again. So I just left it like this.”
This was a satisfactory explanation.
When I was 14 or 15, I was telling my mom this story and was amazed that she’d never known how Mimi hurt her finger. When I finished explaining, she said, “Where in the hell do you know that has camel races?”
An excellent question, as it turned out, and one that I’d wondered myself many times. It never occurred to me to doubt the story, though. Why would my Mimi lie to me?
“She’s never been to
Mimi and I hadn’t talked about her finger in a long time, so I decided to ask her again and she if she told a different story this time now that I was older. She told the exact same one.
My Mimi died in 1997 when I was 20. I was lucky enough to spend some time with her just a couple weeks before in the hospital. She was remarkably alert and engaged with what was going on around her. She told me of two items, in particular, that she wanted me to have. One was a diamond ring that had belonged to her sister, and the other was a stuffed clown (the second one has never really made sense to me, as I hate clowns).
“That ring is the ugliest ring I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to keep it if you don’t want to. If you need some extra cash you can hock it and don’t you even feel a little bit guilty about it.”
(I loved this about her. Incidentally, I have the ring now and just in the last year I've started wearing it on my right hand. It has a silver band and is actually a beautiful antique setting and unlike any of the ugly diamond rings I see these days. The clown is packed away somewhere, but for several months afterward I could open up and inhale deeply from the plastic bag it was in and still smell her house.)
After her funeral, I was sitting in my grandpa’s living room talking about Mimi. We were reminiscing about things she used to say and do and what we would miss about her. I mentioned the finger that she’d hurt at the camel races and my grandpa rolled his eyes.
“It was a WART,” he said.
“What?” I asked, clinging tenuously to the camel race story.
“She had a wart on her finger. Her mom was dying and she was taking care of her and couldn’t leave to go to the doctor. After her mom died she got to go, and they burned the wart off her finger. By that time it had drawn her finger up so bad that they’d have to break it to straighten it out so she just decided to leave it alone.”
I was speechless. She had lied? She had lied about it all these years. And the camel race story was much more interesting. Then I started to laugh. I love that she lied without batting an eyelash for so long.
For those of you keeping track this is my second lying grandma.
But an interesting thing happened a couple years later. I heard a radio advertisement for the Taylor County Fair and they mentioned that they would be having a camel race. It was a type of novelty attraction. I had to tell my mom, “See? There ARE camel races around here.”