Pedicure Parties with Gram
I have very few of my own memories of Gram. Much has been constructed from family videos and folklore. Most of my own memories are snippets, little facts playing on a silent film reel, devoid of observations of personality and memories of the who, what, where, when, how that adults can color in.
I remember Christmases at Gram and Pop-pop’s condo. My family of four would snuggle into what I believe was a makeshift king bed in the basement: I remember a big gap down the middle of the bed. Was it two twin beds pushed together? We’d wriggle away from the center, trying to keep warm against our parents. I remember the green velvet furniture in the living room. The “magic chickens,” little glass dishes with chicken-shaped lids that miraculously produced chocolate for the grandkids.
I don’t remember going to church with the whole extended family, though Pop-pop preached from the pulpit. But I do remember what my cousin Anna and I did later in our fancy Christmas dresses. We’d repeatedly run to the top of the stairs, then slide feet first until we were breathless and our bellies rug burned. I remember my dad providing ice packs, our red bellies exposed, lying on the day bed in the second-floor study room, surrounded by Pop-pops collection of classical music on CDs and record albums.
And there’s one memory that stands out as something special Gram and I did together. It’s summer, and I’m spending time with her next-door. She’s suggested one of her usual “pedicure parties” on the deck. I request alternating colors for each toe, so that both big toes were different colors. While the polish dries, Gram says, wide-eyed, that we can make pinwheels. “What’s a pinwheel?” I ask, trying my best to walk on my heels as I follow her inside.
The cottage, built just a few years prior, is awash in summer sunlight. The walls are white, the kitchen is white, and we’re perched high above the lake, almost to the treetops. The sunlight finds us easily up here, even from inside. The sliding glass door in the kitchen provides a clear view of the lake sparkling beyond the deck. Gram moves deftly in the kitchen, a perfect choreography between the refrigerator door, the oven light to check on the pies, and the cupboards to rummage for supplies.
I’ve pulled a stool up against the gray Formica countertop, careful to not let my freshly polished toes to scrape against the while walls underneath the bar. She demonstrates a pinwheel by working leftover pie dough under her palm into a ball. She rolls it flat with a wooden rolling pin, explaining to turn it often to keep an even piece of dough. When the dough turns into a square, she uses a scraggly pastry brush to dab melted butter across the surface. Next, she sprinkles a brown powder, which she says is a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Using a sharp knife, she carefully cuts the square into long strips of dough, then rolls each strip on itself. She produces a baking tin from the cupboard behind her, then places each little snail of dough on it, so the spiral of brown gooey goodness faces up.
The phone rings. “She’s not ready quite yet,” Gram says to the caller while giving me a wink. “Yes, I’ll send her down soon.” My mom, wondering when I’ll be headed back down the steep hill, to the little cottage on the edge of the lake where she waits for me.
Gram passes another ball of dough to me, and I start the process, just the way I saw her do it.
As I finish my batch the timer dings, signaling the first batch is ready to come out of the oven. The pie dough is flaky and light and disintegrates in my mouth, the warm buttery filling lingering a bit longer.
“Gram,” I say, “Do you think my toes are dry yet?” She nods affirmatively. I hustle to my white canvas shoes and carefully slide my feet in.
I return to my mother next-door, breathless and giggling. She moves deftly in the kitchen, a perfect choreography of turning dirty dishes clean. “Mom!” I shout as I slide my shoes off, “we made pinwheels!”
“Oh?” she raises her eyebrows. “And what else did y—”
“Boo!” I shout, stomping around the kitchen peninsula and pointing at my bright toes.
“Oh my gosh!” she shouts.
In that moment, I know two things: first, Mom had no idea I’d return with painted toenails. And second, Gram and I were in cahoots. She’d helped me pull off a great surprise.
-November 17, 2019