Monday, September 17, 2012


Lately I look in the mirror and see my Grandmother Rock’s face (which isn’t a good thing since she’s been dead for more than 30 years). What’s remarkable about this is I don’t resemble her at all. I have my Grandpa Rock’s round face and temperament, and my Grandma Andrews’ sturdy calves, slender ankles, and shelf-like bosom.

But when I’m tired, the resemblance to my maternal grandmother, Violet Stubbe Rock, stares me in the face. The lilac shadows under my eyes and the hollows around my lips are hers.

Her remarkable fashion sense (she rivaled Imelda Marcos in number of shoes until she, like me, developed bunions) eludes me to this day. She also had a way with the rouge pot and knew exactly how to layer on scents (Tabu and Amber).

Playing dress-up at her house was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. Her flowery housedress discards, tucked into an old hardbound suitcase, were paired with real reptile-skin platform pumps (four-plus pairs: two ruby red, two emerald green, plus one brown pair of peep-toe).

The days I spent at her house (my grandfather died when I was ten) were dictated by routine: I’d get up and watch TV while munching on Pop Tarts or those marvelous 70s snacks: Space Sticks, reputed to have gone up into the stratosphere with the astronauts. Much later, she’d come down and have her usual breakfast: orange juice, coffee, toast, and a cigarette.

Later, we might go shopping at Sears Roebuck & Co. for clothes or the dime store for paper dolls. When I was younger she’d take me miniature golfing (my favorite) or to the Elks Club to swim. We also played countless hours of gin rummy or double solitaire for nickels. She loved to gamble. Often we’d ‘dine’ at Howard Johnson’s where I’d gorge on clams or spaghetti and chocolate milkshakes. Grandma Rock would order a ‘double bubble’ martini with her meal.

Evening time my grandma would knit and smoke, and we’d watch Twilight Zone re-runs or old Clark Gable movies. Also part of our ritual was the ‘midnight snack’ which consisted of M&M’s, miniature marshmallows, and sometimes cashews. This long-time tradition ended when my grandmother was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. The summer of the Watergate hearings I spent time watching the proceedings at her house and  following her exchange plan ‘diet.’ I lost 20 pounds and went on to lose a total of 45 my freshman year of high school.

Eventually emphysema and alcoholism took their toll, and she moved into a nursing home in her 60s. She died five months before I got married at age 22.

Her IQ score was off the charts, and in the 1930s Violet headed off to college to study journalism with a fur coat and her own car. She dropped out and married my grandfather, who graduated with a pharmacy degree and later bought his own drugstore.

She loved to drive and, as chronicled here before, would take my mom and her siblings plus great grandpa on car trips all over the country. My grandfather could never leave his business. The only state that ever did her in driving-wise was West Virginia (birthplace of my younger son and ‘home’ for 15 years), pre-interstate highway.

Whenever I’m stressed I crave M&Ms mixed with mini marshmallows in a little paper cup.

And wish all of life’s problems that cause those lilac shadows under my eyes could be solved by a ‘midnight snack.’