Great Grandma

I honestly expected her to die in a slap fight

Great Grandma
Photo by Emir Saldierna on Unsplash

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to know my great grandparents and most of their siblings. My Great Grandmother, Nana, was definitely someone you wouldn't forget

I remember introducing a guy to my great grandmother, she was pretty far gone with Alzheimer’s by that time and I told him that she’s kinda deaf so you gotta speak up a little. He walks up and bends down to shake her hand in the wheelchair, then proceeds to shout:

“HELLO, HOW ARE YOU TODAY MA'AM?”

My nana nodded and smiled and greeted him and then I walked up and she looked at me and said “is that your boyfriend?” And I said “yes Nana” and she kinda went “mmmhmmm” and sent me away with a wave of her regal hand.

My Nana was fierce before she got Alzheimer's, and even when she would forget who we were she still never lost that little spark in her eye and would still hit us with her purse if she thought we were being rude. She was this tiny little old Mexican lady. She was born on an Indian Reservation when her mom brought her two older siblings into California; I don’t know my own family history that well and I don’t actually know when she was born. In my head, when I think of my nanas first few years, California wasn’t a state.

She was just so old, which I know is terrible thing to say, even now I’m peeking over my shoulder because I’m half expecting her to pop up as a ghost and be like “the hell did you say about me, mija??” And then get a mysterious hit to the back of my head. She didn’t take shit from anybody, and she always had a banana in her purse and I never understood that. We’d be on our way out and she’d be like “wait, I have to go back, I forgot the banana.” Funny thing about that, she didn’t even like bananas. She brought it just in case one of us got hungry, which makes it funnier when we all went out to dinner and she STILL had to go back in because she forgot the banana. And she would wrap a napkin around it and tie the napkin on with a rubber band. She could be mean though, so fucking mean.

One time I was sitting on the couch with my great grandfather and she came out of the kitchen with a bowl of olives and gave it to me and very calmly told me to eat my snack, yeah even at five I was like “....olives are a snack?” And she smiled and then she looked over at papa and started yelling at him in Spanish. We weren’t allowed to speak Spanish, but she went off on him for a good 15 minutes and he sat there and nodded and looked at his shoes. And then she went back to the kitchen and I looked up at him and asked what that was about and he looked at me and said “eat your olives, mija.”

We weren’t allowed to speak Spanish growing up, Nana didn’t even teach her own children Spanish. We all picked up a few phrases here and there but none of us could hold a full in depth conversation. Nana and Papa would get in screaming matches in Spanish and there’s the rest of us just sitting in the living room, eating our olives and watching Days of Our Lives because that was the only channel Nana put on.

I hated growing up Mexican and not speaking Spanish. I am very pale now and every time I try to get a tan, I burn like the fat guy in Lilo and Stitch. In Middle School, I tried to tell people that I’m Mexican and they’d be like “pfft whatever gringa.” That was my nickname everyone called me “Gringa” for years but at least that was a word I knew. One guy got in my face because I might have insulted him but he said to me:

“Gringa, you so white your nationality is Vampire.” And I said

“Well that’s fucking stupid” I stood there and I was like “You say I’m a vampire?”

“Yeah you want some blood?” He started doing that really annoying snort-laugh that bullies do in the movies, so I had to bring up my game.

“Boy, do you just have like Capri Sun packs of blood in your backpack?” He stared at me for a long minute and a couple of my friends started giggling.

“So if I’m a vampire, then you should be scared because I’m in the sunlight and nothing is happening to me.” I might have been blinding him with the sun reflecting off my skin but I was not dying from it. I kept going with it, I said

“If I’m a vampire I’m gonna cut you and bleed you dry but I’m not gonna drink your blood because that’s how much you disgust me.” I thought I was such a badass. My friends thought it was hilarious, my big victory was that the guy stopped talking.

Everyone in my family is so fucking white, we tell people we’re Mexican and they’re always like “mhmm, sure” but damn we fight like Mexicans nobody can deny that. My grandma once got in a fight in the parking lot of an Olive Garden with some bitch that was about to slash our tires. I was about 5 or 6 and we had lunch with one of my older aunts. As we walk back to the car there’s this chick hunched down near the drivers side tire and my grandma was like “what are you doing?” The chick popped up and said “this is my boyfriends car and I’m gonna teach him a lesson.” She’s like “this is my car honey.” But this chick apparently bought a round trip ticket on the crazy train because she got in my grandmas face and started yelling that she was lying and she better back up.

My grandma started taking off her earrings and while keeping eye contact with the hoe said “baby get in the car.” I got in and by the time I got buckled up that bitch was RUNNING and holding the side of her head and crying. My grandma got in the car and we left and never talked about it again. To this day, I have no idea what happened but I remember sitting at home and thinking “oh no the cops are gonna come and arrest her and it’ll be like that show 'Cops' that we watch” but now I’m like “that bitch didn’t tell no body that she got beat by an old lady” who are you gonna admit that to and who is gonna believe you?

When I started middle school we had a choice between languages and I went to Nana and told her I wanted to take Spanish classes.

“I can learn Spanish and we can talk together.” And she looked at me and poured herself a cup of coffee.

“We’re talking now” She stared into her coffee cup and dropped in a sugar cup.

“But we could talk in Spanish.” I was so excited to share her native language with her.

"What other languages can you pick, mija?" She put the cup down and stared directly into my soul.

“There’s only Spanish and German” I answered quickly. She got up and poured a glass of milk, set it in front of me with a cookie.

“You’re going to take German.” I tried telling her how much I wanted to learn Spanish but she would have none of it. She said that if I learned Spanish, she wouldn't talk to me.

So I took German for three years which was awkward because sometimes when you watch a war movie and you can understand exactly what the Nazis are saying and you start correctly translating people look at you like maybe you’re a Nazi because what kind of person learns German for fun, right?

So in high school, I switched to Spanish and the teacher I had my freshman year was the chillest guy I have ever met in my life. His name was Senor Harper, yeah real white name, and he was from Cuba. He had this Cuban accent which we never figured out if it was real or if it was something he did because he is eccentric like that. I didn't tell Nana I switched languages, but she was getting kind of senile at that point anyway and usually called me by her sisters name.

After class one day I went up to his desk with my best friend and I had written a list of words I heard my Nana use and I asked him what they all meant because they weren’t in our lessons so far. He looked at the list and back at me, back to the list then to me, and finally he crumpled the paper up and threw it away.

“Who does she say these words to?” He looked at me carefully. I was friends with his kids who were also in my grade so he knew when I was lying or not.

"Her husband." I answered quickly.

“Well, I didn’t realize there were that many ways to call someone a fucking asshole.” And I was like no no they are so in love they’ve been married for over fifty years and he goes

“50 years? And all she calls him is an asshole? Damn that is love.”

I miss my Nana. In times when someone tests my patience, I think of her. Of how one time, one of my cousins came up and slapped me because I changed the TV channel and I straight up punched her in the face. My Nana saw the whole exchange and beat my cousins ass, but she gave me a cookie because I defended myself. So, I remind myself that she'd be disappointed if I went to Prison but proud that I defended myself.

grandparents
Mae McCreery
Mae McCreery
Read next: Allie on the Sand
Mae McCreery

I’m a 26 year old female that is going through a quarter life crisis. When my dream of Journalism was killed, I thought I was over writing forever. Turns out, I still have a lot to say.

See all posts by Mae McCreery