‘Tell me something I didn’t already know!’

1970s, Grandma

Grandma’s other archenemy was her bathroom scale, followed closely by the scale at her doctor’s office, followed closely by any scale in any location anywhere in the world. She often claimed to be dieting, but I don’t remember seeing her make any significant progress with that. It’s just as well: Someone with such a large personality as hers really demanded an equally imposing physique. I can’t imagine a “dear sweet” 90-pounds-when-soaking-wet brand of grandma cutting down a grandchild’s excuse-filled lament with, “Well, boo-hoo you … and if the dog hadn’t stopped to take a shit, he would’ve caught the rabbit too!” From any other grandma, family members might follow up that comment by asking her to identify the current year and president. But coming from my grandma’s impressive physical and vocal girth, it landed as a perfectly sarcastic “get over yourself” rebuff. And when it came to the topic of weight (hers and others), she did a lot of rebuffing:

“I had a nice trip back to Medaryville, but I hit a snag in Chicago – all the kids going back to school at Notre Dame and St. Mary’s was at the gate for the South Bend plane, and it was a jam. They put me in a wheelchair when I got into O’Hare, and an old guy pushed and pushed me through the airport. I wondered where he was taking me, so I asked him if he knew where he was going. He said, ’Yes, it’s over a mile to the South Bend plane,’ so I really didn’t have much time to wait. Then he said to me, ‘Lady, you should think about losing some weight!’ I told him to tell me something I didn’t already know!”

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“You tell the boys Ellie and I got on the stairway steps going to the basement, and our fat butts held down the house during that tornado. I’m going to fix a chute to the basement. It takes us too long to get down the stairs.”

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“We haven’t had rain for three weeks, and that temperature hangs around 90. At night, the air conditioner and fans keep me from sweating too much, but how else can I get rid of all this lard?”

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“I’ll see if I can do better with my diet next month. It’s getting easier to leave food alone. At my last checkup, I told my doctor anytime someone needs skin for grafting, I have it!”

 

Besides a sense of humor, my dad and Grandma shared the desire to drop a few pounds. After Dad stopped smoking in the early 1970s, his body responded by adding layers of insulation. In 1979, he crash-dieted his way back to his smoking-era weight (cigarette-free this time). That December, a much slimmer version of Howard Borchard picked up Grandma from the airport for her annual stay with us. This was the first time Grandma had seen him since he’d lost weight. He also had grown a mustache during that time. Grandma was unimpressed. A few days after she’d settled back in at our house, she recounted in a letter to Aunt Mae her airport meeting with Dad:

“I was pooped out for a couple of days when I got here. In Minneapolis, the plane was a puddle jumper. You had to go outdoors and climb steps to get in it. They had to pull me up when I got to the last step. Then at the Worthington airport, Howard was waiting. I had to look twice to know him. He had his work clothes on, and they hanged like an old man’s pants, baggy at the seat, his jaws sagging and that mustache doesn’t help matters. He looked so old. He still has some stomach, but you don’t notice that too much – it’s just a roll of fat.”

According to Dad, the warm family greeting at the airport went like this:

Grandma: “Howard! You look like hell!”

Dad: “Shut up Mary, or I’ll put you right back on that plane and send you back to Indiana!”

Dad and Grandma really did get along fine with each other … just not right then in Worthington, Minnesota. And although Grandma’s been gone for 30 years, I’m still trying to figure out an effective comeback to that dog-shit-rabbit smack down. It’s like The Three Stooges’ double-eye-poke block – it’s nearly impossible to defeat.

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