On January 16, 1982, a Mimi was born. A fancy grandmother.
Was Mimi ever not a fancy grandmother? How did she exist before her first grandchild came into the world? Who did she make chocolate pudding with the skin on top for before that day? Who did she talk about at Garden Club and Birthday Club meetings? Who did she smell good for?
She had a life before she was a Mimi. By the time you met her, she had already had her heart broken and shredded. You would later on learn about her little girl who died before her seventh birthday. You’d see Marla’s grave marker with a pleasant patena all over it next to her father’s – the grandfather you never met. A young widow. You would rarely hear Mimi talk about them. Her own childhood was far enough away for her to be a bit more candid. You wish you had listened closer. You listened when she talked about working at Oak Ridge but you didn’t really get the full weight of her job there.
But in 1982, those things were in the past and Mimi was not yet aware of all the heartache that was still to come. But that was OK. She had been too busy preparing her dusty peach castle for your arrival. It was your playground. You didn’t have to be told not to touch the artifacts surrounding you in her house; it was obvious that they were just to be observed and admired. She had married again – a grocery store proprietor – who built her a home at your disposal. You played in the Venus di Milo fountain in her backyard and pulled the paper off her birch tree, even when she told you doing so would kill it. Mimi’s trees were for pulling apart. You slept in the pink guest room which Mimi called The Princess Room, and the nearly inaudible click of the light on the security box in the room lulled you to sleep.
She had a cleaning lady named Cather who prepared her home for your family’s late afternoon summer barbeques. Cather came to Mimi’s funeral and your dad treated her like family, and it wasn’t just because they had both cried that day. Cather would clean while Mimi prepared the food. A platter full of tomatoes, lettuce leaves, and big thick circles of raw, sweet Vidalia onions all piled up on a plate to garnish the burgers. On an outside buffet table – an outside buffet table! – the garnishes went where Mimi deposited them under a tiny mesh umbrella to keep the flies away.
You made a note to use the food umbrellas later for a tent for Barbie.
As the adults skittered around and made the food, you made yourself a beverage. There were several choices at Mimi’s house: Diet Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Diet Pepsi. There was also La Croix seltzer water but you learned the first time you tried those things that the bottle was just kidding when it said it was flavored like strawberries. So, Diet Pepsi it was. You took the glass bottle from the kitchen pantry to prepare the drinks in Mimi’s living room bar. The bar, which was set in an alcove and could be closed up with sliding doors, had recessed lighting and glass shelves. It housed an icemaker and Mimi’s collection of swizzle sticks from around the globe. The more swizzle sticks you put in your drink, the better it tasted. That’s just commonsense.
The ones with little Peabody ducks at the end were the most medicinal, so after you made yourself a Diet Pepsi, you returned to the bar with Mimi’s Teddy Ruxpin, which she had acquired for your enjoyment at a silent auction at a Summit Club fundraiser. There was always something wrong with that Teddy Ruxpin. His tape never synched up with his mouth, which required him to go to the doctor, have his tan outer vest removed and swizzle sticks inserted in all his orifices.
Just as the operation was about to take place, the meal was ready: hamburgers and slaw and potato salad that you likely wouldn’t eat. Mimi only put yellow mustard, onions, and lettuce on her sandwich, an oddity you wrote off as a function of her relative oldness. She was too fancy for ketchup with that word on its bottle.
You mulled over your plan to stay the night. Staying the night at Mimi’s was the best because she let you do what she did. There were no pre-planned child activities for your visits. If you were flying solo then she’d take you down the street to Wendy’s and get a taco salad for dinner. Later, you both got into your jammies, popped a bag of popcorn, and watched The Golden Girls. Mimi would smoke a cigarette or two while you both giggled at the whimsy of Betty White. No matter that you had no idea what was going on. The Golden Girls were the Mimi equivalent of watching Grease at your house: likely too inappropriate for a seven-year-old but oh what the heck.
When the popcorn was dwindling and the night’s episode of Evening Shade wasn’t featuring the funny southern nurse, you retired to your princess room and asked Mimi to read Eloise to you. Eloise was Mimi’s favorite book that she read to you at night that wasn’t Danielle Steel. Not that she read Danielle Steel to you; she had boundaries. Curled up next to you, Mimi would show you New York through the eyes of a precocious six-year-old. Mimi did not manufacture a child sing-song voice as she read. As far as you knew, Eloise spoke with the same tone as a 62-year-old woman, and although the book does not feature a great deal of punctuation, Mimi’s rhythm always slipped a period in. She knew the exact right moments to pause for effect and which exact part you should skip. Hint: it’s the part that involves singing. Mimi didn’t sing much if she knew she would be heard. Church didn’t count because her voice was incorporated among all the other voices. She still went to the early service just to be sure she wouldn’t suffer overexposure.
Out went the light and off Mimi went down the long hall to her room, leaving a lovely smell of cold cream and perfume in her wake. You buried your head in the down pillows and felt like Annie during her first moments at Oliver Warbuck’s home. Mimi really was yours and you wouldn’t have to go through the formality of a feature-length film to know that the safety and security you felt in your fancy Mimi could only be hinted at with the click click of the room monitor.