I grew up 3 blocks from my grandmother . . . but due to a family feud from before my birth, I didn’t even know I had a grandmother until I was 7. One Sunday us kids were packed into our best (i.e. scratchiest) dresses.
“Uh oh,” thoughtI.“Here it comes. Religion.” (Which I’d heard rumors about in school; but since my family never went to church nor mentioned it, god was about as real as the dentist – whom I also visited later in life than most – and was equally terrified of.)
But no, it wasn’t Religion. It was Grandma.
Dressed in our best, we met this (to us) huge, round woman who spoke in heavily accented English with Hungarian mutterings. Her house smelled of lavender (her) and tobacco (grandpa) and strange cooking. One thing endeared me to her instantly.
She owned Wheels.
No, not autos.
WHEELS OF CHEESE.
Her belief system was simple: if you had Slices of cheese – you were doing ok. If you had Wedges of cheese – you were ascending the lower rungs of achievement. But if you had WHEELS of cheese – you had Made It In America.
I had never before seen a Wheel of Cheese in a person’s home. We always walked by Arminino’s Deli where they were up at the counter and on display in the window; but the idea that a person could actually OWN such a Wheel – ohmy….
It was also Grandma who taught me a bit about faith.
She spoke 6 languages fluently but could write not a word in any of them. She picked up information from the world around her – and don’t let it be said Grandma was old-fashioned: when the first TVs came out, she had one right there in her living room and believed firmly – until my arrival – that EVERYTHING on it was true.
She watched every news show she could and was In Love with Walter Cronkite. Grandpa was insanely jealous, and hatched terrible scenarios involving Walter’s sad demise.
And Shirley Temple didn’t just exist to tapdance her way across America: she was a perfect doll: the ideal grandchild, Grandma often remarked as she watched, entranced. (I was insanely jealous, and secretly hatched satisfying scenarios involving Shirley’s sad demise.)
Unfortunately, Grandma’s indiscriminatory viewing did not include an ability to separate fiction from fact. If it was on TV, it was OBVIOUSLY fact. Which one day sparked the ensuing revelation at her house…
Me: Grandma, whatcha watching?
G (proudly): THE NEWS
…but where was Walter? Oh no … there were giant ants and aliens and ….ohmy, did that logo read ‘Twilight Zone’??
Me: Grandma, that’s not the news. That’s Twilight Zone!
G (proudly): Yes, I know! Aren’t we lucky to hear warnings about the dangers around us before they actually GETS IN?
I looked around. Granny had been stocking up on Raid. I looked at the show. I hoped she had a Raid Bomb in the closet, ‘cause those personal protection devices just weren’t gonna cut it in the face of 40-foot ants invading her kitchen…(I’d seen this show before; obviously she had too; and had figgered the ants were winning.)
It took me 3 months to convince Granny that Twilight Zone was NOT the news. Every time I came over she’d watch Walter and then watch TZ – and try to tell me the back-to-back feature merely represented an EXTENSION of the original show with a focus on Personal Threats.
I loved watching her watch. It was pre-Halo with all the involvement sans joystick. She tensed. She muttered in Hungarian under her breath. Her eyes opened wide, her breathing increased. At the end of the show she’d often borrow from Walter, proudly, concluding definitively: “AND THAT’S THE WAY IT IS….”
Finally, though, she reluctantly came to believe my admonitions that Twilight Zone was NOT an extension of the news. It was OBVIOUSLY fantasy. NOT real.
How could I know?? Well, when was the last time SHE ever fought a 40-foot ant? Or confronted aliens in her kitchen? Or got stuck in an alternate universe? Slowly Granny began to accept the impossible was not possible – and not the same as Walter’s (more mundane) universe.
Little did I know my ‘training of Granny’ actually took away some of her thrills. It changed how she watched TV. As I taught her about the telling indicators distinguishing TV reality from fantasy, she became a MUCH more discriminating viewer. Caught once in the specter of Believing in the Imaginary, she wasn’t ABOUT to get caught again.
And so it was that I came over one day to find her in her favorite chair, watching TV with recently-acquired new wisdom.
Me: Granny, whatcha watchin?
Granny (proudly): SCIENCE FICTION!
I looked. We were landing on the moon that year. There it was, happening right in her living room.
Me: Granny, that’s not SCIENCE FICTION – it’s REAL!
Granny looked at me with some sympathy. Obviously I had gone around the bend and was taking a long walk on the dark side of belief.
She shook her finger at me; scolded:
Granny: You can’t fool me – this is OBVIOUSLY science fiction!
Granny (proudly): Because EVERYONE knows you CAN’T WALK ON THE MOON.
Belief. Disbelief: it’s a wonderous thing. It took me 2 months to convince Granny we HAD gone to the moon. Which then totally confused her because…..
If you can put a Man on the Moon, then what’s so improbable about 40-foot ants appearing in the kitchen??
Raid again began appearing in her kitchen by the boxful.
And that’s the way it was….