It’s one of my earliest memories of being away from home. Rene, my maternal grandmother, was ecstatic to be in possession of a grandchild for the first time. I was the first of the grandkids, though from reports of my cousins, she was as good to each of us in our time. Some folks are simply best with babies and kids.
Her bed sat in the center of her room, which struck me as odd, coming from a home where beds sat in corners. Corners were good. Monsters could not get behind you if there was a wall in the way.
Rene knew every monster. Her mother came from Europe, which is where all the monsters came from. Well, they lived in Europe and Russia, but, “you’ll understand the difference when you’re older.”
Not only did she know about giants, but she knew how the mean ones had died. Huddled under her blankets, with an old hand stroking my shoulder, she explained how Jack had tricked one into falling off his cloud.
Mom and Dad had never told me that one. I asked if she knew any others. When she mentioned a candy house in the woods, I got a little less sleepy.
After Hansel and Gretel baked the evil witch, I said the woods were scary. She said they were fine, and told me about Little Red Riding Hood, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs. You see, the woods and wolves weren’t so scary. The bad ones had been taken care of.
She was incredible. How was she making all of these stories up so quickly? I couldn’t even manufacture an explanation for cookies missing in the kitchen. And she was good at it, both at making up neat things and in telling them in this soothing, loving voice, like she adored all the carnivores of folklore. She was surprised when the heroes were surprised, and proud when they survived or were victorious. I couldn’t figure out if these things really happened, or if she was making them up now. And in truth to the way children experience faith, I didn’t care either. I just wanted more stories from this endless mind.
I’d never manipulated an adult like this, or so I recall. Every time she finished a story, I only had to ask her to tell me another. This being her first shot with her first grandson, she never said ‘No.’ Somewhere around Cinderella meeting her Fairy Godmother, I faded out.
I was disappointed the next morning to find her more interested in the newspaper than telling more fairy tales. Even more disappointed with discovering what a “grape nuts” was. But those things were trivial. The old lady with an entire culture in her head and at her command has stuck with me for the archetype of the storyteller.