“She’s talking about her 26 dead husbands again,” the front desk nurse said as I signed my name into the visitor’s log of Cedar Retirement Home.
“She’s up to 26 now?” When I was 10, Grandma only had three husbands. As the years went by, the number only increased, going deeper into her past, each husband dying a bizarre tragic death. In college, I created an Ancestry.com account and found only one marriage certificate. Her last, and according to records, her only marriage, was to Pawpaw.
Grandma only waved it off when I confronted her. “You think I got the imagination to make all this up at my age?” she asked. “They ain’t make no effort to keep up with black folks’ records back then. My own birth certificate says I’m a boy and my name is Warren!”
Grandma had a habit of exaggerating the truth. She once told me Mama was a dumb kid until she was five. She’d dropped Mama on her head trying to pull a ham out of the oven, and her IQ jumped 100 points. Now Mama’s a neurosurgeon, “knockin’ on brains and making other dummies smart too.”
Cedar Retirement was the perfect home for Grandma and her outlandish stories. With my busy Flight Attendant’s schedule and Mama living in New Orleans, Grandma was often lonely. I could only visit her once a week, and in the time between, she harassed neighbors and unfortunate citizens from the city’s white pages with tales she most likely pulled from her daytime soap operas.
While the other residents of Cedar Retirement were much too far gone to understand, she enjoyed their audience.
The wanderers in colorful fuzzy socks whose minds permanently resided in the early 1900s.
The Vietnam War veterans who invited nervous visitors to knock on the steel plates in their chests.
The newcomers who’d convinced themselves they were only visiting, doing ministry work for the church.
The stroke victims whose numb left sides left them with the ability to utter only a few words—Grandma said they were the best listeners; they never interrupted.
“Well, you’re just in time,” the nurse said, laughing. “She’s going through the whole alphabet.”
Grandma sat in an armchair nearest the entrance door. Four other seniors huddled around her, as if listening to campfire stories. She called me over when she saw me standing in the lobby.
“Meg, sweetheart,” she sang, “pull up a chair. Did I ever tell you about my first husband, Andrew?”