Now, there are some people who would refuse to tell certain stories simply because well, it might be unseemly or it's a private matter, or, as in the case of this particular story, it might seem insulting to those who have passed.
If you've read this blog, you know by now that I have zero edit button when it comes to telling my stories. So sit back, buckle up, and get ready to remember the stuff your elders used to tell you to keep you in line!
This is going back to my grandmother's gigantic old house on church property. I can't swear to the fact that this happened at Christmas, but it was winter and my cousin, I'll call her Lily, was there, so chances are good that it was.
I've mentioned before that my grandmother, who is now in Heaven, had emotional problems. At least that was how it was explained to me when I was little. I think sometimes that my twisted sense of humor and the skewed way I'm able to share stories that might seem too embarrassing or dark to talk about is because the real core of my grandmother's issues were glossed over for so very long to us grandkids.
Grandma was paranoid schizophrenic. It was a condition that went untreated for decades mostly because, while mental illness now is finally coming out of the shadows and being treated like any other illness, when my grandmother started exhibiting signs of her illness, it was still called "nerves," or some other ridiculous thing. The long and short of it was that my grandmother was a very ill woman for most of her adult life and for more years than anyone cares to count we called it things like nerves, emotional problems, temperament. Jeez, I'm surprised her doctors didn't just give her some laudanum and call it a day.
However, if we're going to see the bright silver ring around what could be perceived as a family tragedy (my grandmother lived to be in her 90's, she enjoyed her great grandchildren very much and she is now happy in heaven, so there's a happy ending.) it could be that I have a closet full of stories like the one I'm about to tell.
When we stayed at my g-parents house at the church, the girls always slept in the very back bedroom. This was an amazing room. There was a little roll top desk, a closet you could hide in and never be found because most of the adults never even bothered to realize that there was a closet door tucked away in the corner behind the desk. There was a door that went outside to an upstairs deck where sometimes grandma hung laundry. Most of the furniture in the room was cast off stuff that parishioners gave to my grandfather. (Seriously, two old people living in a house the size of Tara from "Gone with the Wind?" The house was full of other people's battered couches and army cots and old chairs.)
My cousin Lily and I are the two oldest girl cousins, and we are less than nine months apart in age. (I delight in pointing out that Lily is older than I am. Not something I was jazzed about when we were kids.) We were truly best of friends as kids and our favorite game when we visited grandma was to have fashion shows with the paper dolls that grandma kept. It never bothered us that it was always the same four or five paper dolls wearing the same outfits. We always came up with new names for the outfits and where the girls would wear the outfits. It was a game we played into our early teens.
Anyway, for some reason, this one time we found an old sewing kit in the desk. See, in the days before cable TV and computers and video games, we had to make do with what we had. And apparently, this time around, we thought it was a good thing to play with sewing pins and needles.
Ahhhhhh the good old days!
So Lily and I stuck these pins and needles all over the room. In blankets in curtains. I think we pretended to be seamstresses and cobblers. Doesn't matter. What matters is Grandma caught us playing with them. And this is when things got interesting.
Whether it was her illness, or just because she wanted to pass on the proper way of doing things to her grand daughters, I don't always know. I know now that she loved us, and that the pressure she was under every single day to be perfect for those around her must have been tremendous. So when I talk about her, it's with a sense of humor and a touch of awe that she managed to get from the start to the end of every day for so many years without actually setting fire to the furniture. Given the wild thoughts that raged in her brain all the time, it must have been a battle.
When she saw us playing with the pins and needles (and keep in mind, we were probably 9 or 10) instead of yelling at us to put the stuff away, she sat us down and told us a story that simultaneously horrified and amused us.
"You can't play with pins and needles, " she said. "There was a story on the news about a girl who played with pins and needles. And one of the needles got into her veins and rolled around in her circulatory system until it pierced her heart and she died."
With that, she supervised us cleaning up the pins and then she returned downstairs.
For the rest of the evening, Lily and I would look at each other and say, "My arm feels funny." And then fall down laughing. Hey, ten is not exactly an intuitive age. We figured this was just another one of those silly things Grandma said sometimes. We didn't bother telling our parents because, well, why go all the way downstairs and bother them? Then they'd realize we were still up and they'd put us to bed. Who wanted that?
This joke ran late into the night. "Good night Lily. Oh, and my arm feels funny...like a pin is in it!"
"Good night Sarah...my arm feels funny too."
Of course, I'm the one who never knows when to end a joke.
Early the next morning, I woke up and decided to continue the fun from the night before. So I shook Lily awake and said, "Hey, my arm feels funny."
Lily got a horrified look on her face. She got up, and went out of the room. I figured she had to use the bathroom or something, so I got back into bed. A few minutes later she returned, in tears, with Grandma in tow.
"Grandma, Sarah says her arm feels funny and there might be a pin in there and she'll die!"
Grandma sat down on my army cot (Lily always got the old couch. The benefits of being older.) and took both our hands. "Girls, that didn't really happen. I just told you that story to make you stop playing with my sewing kit."
I'll give you a moment to comment amongst yourselves, my friends as I wish you a lovely afternoon!
Until my next one! And remember, the story of my engagement Christmas is a two parter!
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