She pulled up in the sand-colored Cutlass which, next to the corner barber shop on Porter Street, served as the most vivid living memory of Grandpop. She reached in the trunk and pulled out the customary brown shopping bag she always brought. In it, no doubt, were a few bottles of ginger ale, a couple trays of pecan swirls, and a half gallon of skim milk.
But my brother and I knew there was something else worth waiting for deep inside that bag. Namely, two smaller bags filled with assorted penny candies from the corner store across from her house. There was always a big pile of red, jelly fish, a few lollipops, some chocolates, and my favorite, a couple nickel-sized chunks of Bazooka Joe bubblegum. The one with the comics.
“Now don’t eat it all at once,” she’d say. “You’ll rot your teeth.” And she’d wink and give us a light-hearted chuckle that acted more like an off-handed whisper which said, “Go ahead and enjoy it. It’s what I’d do.”
I would always listen to her spoken words and savor the sweets over the course of her visit, but my brother was a different story. He was usually more adept at reading the mischievous whisper between the lines of her laughter, and he’d mow through that bag before dinner.
Of course, that was a recipe for disaster, as my brother would sometimes find the candy he inevitably washed down with a half dozen glasses of soda didn’t leave much room for actual food. But then she’d dole out a little bit of logic she probably learned from her own grand mom and grand pop.
“Eat your broccoli,” she’d tell us. “It’ll make you strong like bull.” And she’d tell us how her father, as was handed down in Russian families, would always tell her the same, and how it was a major contributor in turning her into a pretty darn good basketball player in her time.
My brother and I, both aspiring athletes, found this intriguing to say the least, which almost always resulted in a pair of clean plates at the end of dinner no matter how many Blow Pops or Tootsie Rolls we’d jammed down our throats earlier in the day.
Then we’d pig out on milk and pecan swirls for dessert. At least I did. I never picked my head up long enough to notice if anyone else was gorging themselves like me. I swear I’d still be addicted to those tasty, little treats if I could actually find them anywhere.
Anyway, that would lead to the final two routines of the evening. One was watching the Muppet Show and playfully arguing over which character was best.
“Kermit thee Frog!” I’d shout.
“Ms. Piggy is my favorite,” she’d say.
“I like Animal!” my brother would argue, which was altogether unsurprising to everyone at hand.
We’d finish off the evening by pulling out the deck of cards and playing some Old Maid. I’m not even sure if my brother and I truly knew the rules, but I do know we were curiously able to win a very fair amount of the time. It would always prompt her to say a predictable and most infamous line, “See, I’m the old maid. Just like in real life, right?”
“No way, Grandmom,” we’d both say. And we meant it because it was the farthest thing from the truth, even if she half-believed it herself.
If anything, she was strong like bull.