My old Greek grandmother was strong. She governed the extended family from her arm-chair, nodding assent or throwing her head back with a derisive tsk.
When I was very little I would nestle into her lap, which was always draped in black. She wore a cardigan over her dress so that she could keep her Rothmans cigarettes in her pocket.
She lived with us until she reached her mid-eighties. By then her life and mine were interlocked. It seemed like she was always very old and I was always very young. We didn't need to talk much; just to be together was enough. We would share meals privately without the interfering, overwhelming presence of the other kids, parents, aunts, uncles, neighbours.
When she was eighty years old she developed overnight, or so it seemed, an all-consuming passion for watching the wrestling on television on Saturday afternoons. Throughout the house we could hear explosions of applause! accusations! fear! warning! exultation! Her whole being exploded with unbridled screams.
Every week it got more intense. She would grip the arms of her chair and scream. My mother and aunts tried to make her aware of the artifice of the spectacle (I knew that she knew) so that she would not become so stressed and exhausted. Anyway, within a year of this exuberant fun her doctor ordered her to stop watching the wrestling because it made her blood pressure fluctuate.
The subsequent stony silence roared endlessly.
Her eyesight began to fade.
In the next couple of years she put on a lot of weight and found it difficult to get about the house. I would sit and watch her play solitaire. She loved her cards. If she couldn't read the number on the card she would count the number of symbols, as quick as a flash.
None of us knew. She had been planning and training herself for what was to emerge as huge, inter-family Saturday card games.
Once again her vitality reverberated. She just had to dominate the whole event, to win every time. She became extremely good at cheating . . . hiding cards, retrieving cards, claiming not to have seen a card, always at crucial moments.
As it got worse (or better, as she became a consummate cheat) the aunts once again became concerned. The older she got, the closer to the status of child she was assigned, by 'the adults', the emerging power brokers. They felt that with her advancing age, demanding and exhausting hobbies, and her increasing dependence, she was clearly becoming a burden.
She ended up in a 'home'.
She now blended with her arm-chair. I visited her often. I would bring her carnations. She loved the smell.
We would sit and hold hands.
At ninety-one her life ended with a whisper of disbelief.
New: 13 December, 1996 | Now: 20 April, 2015