My grandmother passed away a few years ago, in her 90’s and still the terror of the rest home where she was living. She was an amazing woman, when my grandmother met an immovable object, it moved! I loved her very much. There is much of her stubborn resistance in me.
I was probably around ten years old when these events took place, I had a younger brother and sister spaced out at about two year intervals. Every summer we’d go to Grammy’s for a week or so in the summer (we had a grandfather, but he’d given up arguing with her years ago, and my main memory of him is sitting back in a corner wreathed in cigarette smoke, doing crossword puzzles, and hardly ever speaking).
Part of the visit every year would be a cultural trip to Boston, which always included walking the Freedom Trail around downtown Boston. She would also pick a couple of other things to see, such as the Art Museum or the State House. This year she had decided that we were going to see Old Ironsides.
My grandfather would always drive us to the end of the subway line in Natick, gratefully drop us off, and head home for some peace and quiet. He was too wise a man to want to accompany us. The system was; Grammy would hold my hand, I would hold my brother’s hand, and he would hold my sister’s hand. We must have looked like a team of mountaineers roped together. This formation would be held whenever we were on the move, which was most of the time.
My grandmother, who was a rather small elderly woman, got us off the subway somewhere in the North End, and we marched down streets until we came to a military gate with docks and ships visible in the distance. A sailor in uniform with a rifle was standing guard beside a small gatehouse. Without stopping, my grandmother (with us in tow) started marching past.
“Ma’am, stop ma’am!” He was very young and obviously not used to dealing with determined grandmothers, though I’m sure he could have stopped Soviet spies and such without so much difficulty. She kept onwards paying no attention, so finally he interposed his body with the rifle held across his chest to physically stop her. She finally stopped and informed him we were going to see Old Ironsides. He then informed her that this was the Coast Guard Base, and that it was over at the Navy Base further around the harbour. Poor man, he thought this would end the matter. He did not know my grandmother. With a yank on my hand, forward march again! The sailor jumped in front of us again and repeated what he’d said, sounding more panicky as he realized he was losing control of the situation. My grandmother didn’t stop, but plowed right into him as he tried to stand his ground.
“I’m a taxpayer, and you work for me!” she exclaimed (probably one of her favorite lines) and pushed onwards. Somehow, to this sailor’s credit, he prevented her from pushing past him without actually having to shoot her or anything. She didn’t admit defeat, but off we went back up the street, with me trying to be rational with my grandmother, explaining Old Ironsides wasn’t there. She was furious, and next thing I know she drags the human train of us into a Navy recruiting office she’d spotted. She always carried a huge purse on expeditions, and as the astonished recruiter sat behind his desk where he’d been eating his lunch, my grandmother started stripping all the wall racks of pamphlets, taking every one of them and stuffing them in her purse.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but ….” before he could figure out quite what to say, my grandmother had finished and glancing around to make sure she hadn’t missed any, started marching out the door.
“I’m a taxpayer and these all belong to me!” She had had her revenge.
The next year she decided we were going to tour the governor’s mansion, which had tours of public parts of the building like the White House. We were in our usual formation following behind a tour group, when my grandmother suddenly veers off and through some door on her own. “Grammy, we’re not supposed to …” and was met with her usual admonishment that we were taxpayers and this mansion belonged to us. We passed through several rooms that were obviously not intended for public viewing, they looked more and more like rooms people actually lived in. Finally we came to a large living room, with a somewhat elegant woman sitting on a couch. My grandmother marches up and sits down beside her.
“Hello, I’m Ruth Ward, and these are my grandchildren” and started reeling off our names and ages. I was mortified. The woman turned out to be Mrs. Peabody, the governor’s wife, and she was very nice about the whole thing. In fact, her and my grandmother exchanged Christmas cards for many years after that. There are many more adventures with my grandmother, I’ll probably write about some more of them sometime.