My grandmother’s real name is Helen, but everyone in my family calls her Daro. It’s one of the first words I ever said, apparently — I just pointed at her and yelled it out and it stuck, simple as that.
Daro is 95 years old. She lied about her age her whole life until she turned 90, and then she started telling EVERYBODY. She’s a relentless self-promoter, a tireless artist, creator, and outsider poet. And man, she’s full of wisdom that she does not mind sharing at all.
Here’s some classic wisdom she shared with me when I visited her over Labor Day weekend:
We were sitting at the dinner table eating a home-cooked meal. Sort of. She proudly announced to me “I never use the oven anymore, Jeffrey. I just do everything up here in the microwave now, and it’s great!” We had some microwaved vegetable soup with a salad of romaine leaves covered with canned pears, and canned peaches. “Try some of the dressing I invented just tonight, Jeffrey,” she told me, all excited. “I came up with it myself. It’s mayonnaise with pineapple juice mixed in!”
Daro has written out her parts of her own memorial service in a slanting, sideways script on the back of a church bulletin. It rhymes in some places. In other places it doesn’t. She keeps it in a special pocket in her suitcase, just in case something happens while she’ s traveling. I’m serious.
Towards the end of the video there, where Daro answers the phone, that’s my mom calling for me. I knew she was calling to tell me that Gran, my other grandmother, had died. I just knew it. And I put off calling my mom back for as long as I could.
We sat there over dinner telling stories, Daro opining about just about everything she could think of, repeating the same territory over and over again. I didn’t care. I got out some blueberry pie I’d brought over and we ate it together, slowly. “Jeffrey, this is just elegant,” Daro said, her highest compliment for any food.
For as long as we were at the table, I was still a boy having dinner with his grandmother. And as soon as we got up, the spell would be broken. I’d have to call my mom and hear about Gran’s death. I’d have to realize that I was all grown up, and that eventually, gradually, the people that I loved the most were going to have to die.
We each had two slices of pie. Ordinarily I can eat a half of a blueberry pie while standing in my underpants in front of the fridge. This I ate with tiny, birdlike bites.
Finally I was done, and I called my mother back. And I got the news. And then my mom told Daro, too. My 97-year-old grandmother had experienced a sudden and rapid decline, and was now dead. And my 95-year-old Daro just walked over to me after she hung up the phone and held me for a long, long time and patted my back without saying a word.
And what she told me, without saying a word, was exactly what I needed to hear: you are always your grandmother’s grandchild. It’s an immutable fact of life, and not even death can stop it.