My grandma’s death could have been humorous in a morbid sense of the word if it wasn’t so depressingly ironic. To understand the irony you need to know my grandmas history:
Her Name and How She Got ItHer name was Gertrude and she despised it absolutely abhorred it. Her mother, Tilda, wanted to name her Rose or Daisy or June. As she was holding her in the hospital, just seconds after birth, her father brooded over both of them, chewing the stump of a cigar between his staggered yellow teeth and mumbled, “Gertrude, her name is Gertrude.” Tilda tried to argue but the cigar's harsh humid smoke cinched her vocal cords tight as a shoelace and she sighed and looked at Gertrude.
At the age of eighteen she attempted to change her name to Rose but her father's long arm and thick wallet snaked its way into the courthouse and defiled the papers.
She wore Gertrude like a dirty pair of socks.
She filled out an absurd amount of job applications under the name Gertrude DeFanka (her mothers maiden name) for positions ranging from a baker at Congdon’s Doughnuts to a mechanic at her third Uncle’s auto shop in Boston, which he ran illegally from a small garage in the heart of little Italy. She hated cooking and happily accepted the denial from Congdon’s. As for the auto shop, she didn’t know an axle from an anchor and believed “dipstick” was a term with sexual connotations.
The Lays Potato Chip factory hired her and she spent the summer stuffing the greasy chips into crinkly aluminum bags with latex wrapped hands. A tall Irish man, who reminded her too much of her father (because of the corn cob pipe full of smoldering vanilla scented tobacco that was glued too his thin whiskey lips) walked around the factory, watching them like an eagle. His bold green eyes zoomed over each young girl, pausing on their chests, while he made a tsk-tsk noise with his fat tongue and nodded, to appear busy. He wore a nametag on his grizzly bear chest like a sheriff’s war-torn star that read “McSweeney” or “McMurphy.” Gertrude always said, “It was Mc-something, McDonald or McAster or McDuff or McAsshole.”
He was fired after the tenth or twentieth sexual harassment case. “Serves him right, eyeing us innocent girls like that. Heard he raped” (she would drag this word into a three-syllable expletive) “Carla Jean and poor little Sue. Don’t you ever do that, don’t ever turn out like that, young man.”
She was forced into marriage by a muscular Native American with long hair like wet noodles and scarcely remembers much of it besides fistfights in a drunken haze and the redolence of cheap prostitute perfume that seeped through her pillows as she laid her head to rest.
Her Husband’s and Father’s and Mother’s Death
When her father noticed the blue-black eyes that Gertrude shamefully wore and the thick bloodied knuckles of the muscular Native American with the wet noodle hair he beat him to death with an aluminum Louisville Slugger and watched the man's bloodied teeth scatter the sidewalk like dice. He then grinded the teeth under his steel-toed boot and wiped beads of blood from his square jaw and walked to the Police Station to turn himself in. She did not feel a thing.
A year later Gertrude watched her father through a thin pane of glass as five hundred thousand watts of electricity sterilized his body. There was a faint fluttering in her heart but she swallowed it down and drove her rusty green Volvo, which backfires like the crack of a pistol, to CVS to buy a can of Diet Sprite for ninety-nine cents.
Tilda lived forever.
I brought her to Green Oaks Nursing Home a couple blocks away from my apartment on her seventy-fifth birthday. She had lost the ability to walk and I hated to see her fragile calloused arthritic hands grab the wheels of her wheelchair over and over again so I scraped together the little money I could—which was not much, considering I’m a college student—and bought her a Scoot-Around. She hated technology but I lifted her frail body into the soft seat and threw the old wheelchair into the dumpster behind the building where the employees smoke during break.
She called me everyday to complain about the forty-something skinny man who worked at the nursing home as the manager and the funeral home directly across the street. I met him once, he had sleek black hair and bulbous eyes like ping-pong balls that made him look eerily similar to Count Orlok in Nosferatu. He gave me a glass of warm milk and I listened to his smoky voice as he told me how great Gertrude was at knitting but she complained too much about her fingers.
Once a week the nursing home manager would drag the old men and women on a field trip with their families and nurses and oxygen tanks. I went with Gertrude to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on the day she died. I pushed her in the Scoot-Around as we followed a young Japanese guide meander through the museum while performing flamboyant gestures with his hands towards each piece of art.
As we neared the Greek section of the museum I pushed Gertrude down the handicapped ramp and my hands slipped. I watched her glide down the tiled floor, slowly gathering speed as she neared her target, a headless male torso on a small wooden pedestal. Her knees crunched the stand like the Louisville Slugger against her husband’s head and the Scoot-Around tipped backwards. She sat there like an astronaut waiting for liftoff, clutching her heart, as the statue tilted back and forth like a ballet dancer. It chose its target and landed directly on Gertrude, its granite elbow smashing her ribs like dead twigs and I ran to push it off but it weighed too much and none of the other men would help me. I dug my toes into the bottom of my Chuck Taylors and pushed but the weight was too much for me to bear by myself. I fell back and looked at Gertrude choking on the blood filling her tiny lungs, the perfect image of the male body crushing her into the Scoot-Around as she took her final gasping breaths.
The men saw this: Gertrude, leaning back in the Scoot-Around with a look of sheer terror on her face. Her spindly fingers begging the controls into reverse as the great shadow of the statue covered her tiny frame. They insist that she screamed in utter terror right before impact.
The women saw this: Gertrude, hunched forward in the Scoot-Around, her bottle-thick glasses turned into pilots goggles and the wind streaming through her hair. With a rebellious sneer on her face she jammed the chair into high speed and aimed for her target like a kamikaze. Some even say she let out a great “whoop” right before she hit the statue.