“Come on, y’all, let’s go!” Dad would call.
We were getting ready to go to my grandmother’s house. Dad was an only child so Rie (that’s what we called her–short for Marie-with the emphasis on the first syllable) doted on him so. He didn’t mind, I don’t think. He talked to her nearly every day and had dinner with her (and all of us) once a week, every Wednesday. My grandmother was a real character. She said what she wanted to say and did what she wanted to do. Her house was next to the Sterns (which if you’ve ever been to New Orleans is down the street from Longue Vue Gardens on Bamboo Rd. near the Palmetto St. canal). Of course back then it was just the Sterns. I went to school with their grandson and we used to play in the gardens all the time. Funny that when I grew up it turned into a big deal.
Rie had lots of people working for her. She had a chauffeur (his name was Jim and sometimes he picked us up from school and took us to Rie’s), and she had a cook. Her name was Virginia and as far as Dad was concerned she made the best 9-greens in the world. I never had it because it just looked gross to me as an 8-year-old. I’ll stick with my red beans and spinach, thank you very much. I only tolerated the spinach because I didn’t want the look from Rie. But my sister and I ate on the patio anyway so she and Dad had no idea whether or not we ate it. The patio was a chilly room. It was a room, not a screened-in patio or porch, but was always a little colder than the rest of the house. The walls were brick so I always wondered later in life whether Rie added it on after she moved into the house. There was a little table, kind of like a card table but not one of those ones that you fold up. Looked kind of like a poker table (knowing my grandmother today that wouldn’t surprise me). But Wesley (Rie’s butler) put a tablecloth over it and set it with Rie’s good silver and china. Always a glass of water with ice. Next to the table was a TV and that’s what Jen and I did during dinner. We watched TV. The show I remember the most that we watched during dinner was “Little House on the Prairie”. We loved it! I do remember “Night Gallery” and “Twilight Zone” occasionally but not sure if that was from Wednesday nights or nights when we would sleep over. “Room 222” and “That Girl!” spring to mind as well. Jen and I would talk and then we’d get to the spinach.
I don’t know who did it first, but one of us had the brilliant idea of catapulting the spinach onto the brick wall over the TV set next to the table. So we did, little bites at a time. They stuck. So we kept going. They never fell. We were so tickled that we’d found a way to get out of eating the spinach.
Funniest part of it though, was when we went back the following Wednesday, the spinach had dried into spinach-cement onto the brick wall! So whenever we had spinach, we added to our piece of ever-growing artwork. We thought it was so funny that Wesley never picked up on it. We knew Rie wouldn’t because she hardly ever ventured into the patio. She stayed in her bedroom a lot except when we came and she and Dad sat at the dining room table. But Jen and our naughtiness kept up the spinach ruse until one of us was old enough to realize that young ladies just didn’t do this. Truthfully, I don’t know who that was. Should have been me because I was the oldest, but who knows.
After dinner and we couldn’t find anything else to watch on TV, sometimes we’d go into Rie’s bedroom and make prank phone calls. I remember sitting in her bed dialing her phone (yes, dialing with one of those round dialers–no buttons!). I remember it was green. Not one of those princess phones. Never would picture my grandmother with a princess phone. She had just a standard green phone. I remember her TV was across the room. It was still a black and white TV. She had upgraded the patio TV for us to a color TV, but when she watched Johnny Carson (who she couldn’t stand, but still watched every night) in her bedroom he was in black and white.
Yep, Rie was a character. She passed away in 1977. At that point she was not leaving her bed at all. She was 77. Dad never talked about how her passing affected him. Those kinds of things he kept to himself. I remember at her funeral thinking, “How can they put Rie in a box so small?!!” She was 5’1″ tall. So she was small. But to me, she was a big part of my life and her presence was anything BUT small. Her funeral was the 2nd funeral I’d ever been to and it was strange to think that I wouldn’t see her again. I didn’t ask what we would be doing on Wednesday nights from then on. But certainly Dad had to come up with something…