Pink Elephants & April Fools

April Fool’s Day passed in a relatively quiet manner this year. It was Sunday and the kids were roused with a ‘we’re late for school!’ call. Not funny as they stumbled out of their beds….for about 30 seconds. Then there was the telephone call to Non and Pop in Florida. Snow storm in Michigan and the kids were out playing in it. Foot and a half of snow was dumped over night…easy. Naw, they said. Bantering back and forth for about 10 minutes as the sun flooded in the bedroom window and the kids were stuffing blankets in their mouth to keep from laughing. Finally, just as we were to hang up and I had Non hooked…line and sinker…I said ‘April Fool’s’. It was a funny, funny scenario in my kids’ eyes. One we tried to copy later with Aunt Darcy…but lost it in giggles too soon. Oh well.

This ‘holiday’ has never been one that I took particular delight in. I don’t like being the fool. And unfortunately, being a too trusting and somewhat naive individual, I was usually…the fool. It is a day however, that never passes without thoughts of pink elephants.

When I was growing up, our telephone would ring on April Fool’s Day and it would be my Grandmother. “Quick…run to the back door,” she would say. “There are pink elephants flying over your house!” And I would do it. Every time. There was a year or two when I would argue and she would insist and I would always check. And then there was the year (I was in college, I think…) when I called her to tell HER to run to the window to see the pink elephants. The tradition continues.

My Grandmother died last summer. She was 97 years old and still living on her own in a nice little house in Florida. She lived for long drives in the car, flea markets and meals eaten at restaurants with the best senior citizen discount. She was fortunate to have her children – a tremendous support system – around her to help her sustain that life style. They drove her here and there, ate with her in restaurants and looked after her daily needs. Even in the end, she was lucky. We were all there. Admirable. Ninety seven years old and taken out by a careless driver in a head on collision. She hung on for several days….surrounded by her children, grandchildren and four of her great-grandchildren. Lucky her…..

My Grandmother and I had a complex kind of relationship. I was never an easy child. Big for my age, cloddy, loud, occasionally obnoxious (okay…maybe more than occasionally), heavy, hearing impaired and introspective, I had been born smack in the middle of my Grandmother’s ‘favorites’. One was a cousin two and a half years older that she helped raise and the other was my sister, four and a half years younger. Her computer screen name isn’t ‘litte ray of sunshine’ for nothing. It is a childhood nickname that stuck. Sigh.

I never, ever felt like I quite measured up in my Grandmother’s estimation. She was a stern task master and demanding individual. When I spent the night at her house I puked on the inside of her brand new van. When I went shopping with her we would always buy my clothes in the fat lady section….no matter how much I argued. I broke a glass figurine that was displayed on her glass table. I consistently fought being seated at a ‘kids’ table’… especialy when the afore mentioned cousin made the move to the ‘big table’. I was always too loud…or too boisterous…or too…whatever. Hungry for attention from someone that didn’t have it just for me. So I thought…as I grew up.

Oh, I have great memories because of her as well. My family camped on weekends with my grandparents as I was growing up. We spent many holidays at a special restaurant in Frankenmuth with them….and when we celebrated at home her cole slaw was the best tasting ever. And I never got her recipe. There were birthday cakes with quarters wrapped in plastic and stuffed inside the birthday kid’s piece. There were chins dripping with peach juice from the fruit grown in her backyard. There was money that turned up in surprising amounts in surprising places. She took my sister and I to Hawaii the Christmas after my Grandfather had died. An unbelievable and treasured time. I will never forget the look on her face when we hung a filled stocking for her to find on Christmas morning that year…in the hotel shower. We continued that tradition for her for a couple of years after.

I was in my 20’s when my Grandfather died. He was the third of her four husbands, the Grandpa we had grown up with and her undeniable soul mate. It was a difficult, difficult time for her. For all of us. As we were filing into a pew for his funeral service, my Grandmother unexpectedly slipped between my sister and I to sit. That was the first – and only – time in my life when I ever felt like I was able to please her. We held her hands that day. I prayed…long and hard and passionately that she would find peace.

That day passed and we moved on with our lives. She moved many states away to Florida. We didn’t see much of one another. She loved the fact, however, that I loved to write. It was probably the one thing we had in common…aside from our prickly personalities. A traveler with good memories of trips to China and Korea, she delighted in the fact that my children are Asian.

We forged a relationship of respect….but never one of real friendship. That relationship belonged to the ‘little ray of sunshine’. Heh. I am fortunate that I have gotten to know my Grandmother better through my sister and her sharing. And I am fortunate to have been there in the end. My children have several days worth of memories with ‘the freaking OLD people’ as my Grandmother and her entourage babysat for me while my mother was in the hospital last summer. Those will be memories that stick with them for a long time.
Kind of like pink elephants flying over your house.

Mabel Elizabeth Green
Thayer McLeod Mattoon Hawkins
1909 – 2007

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One Comment on “Pink Elephants & April Fools”

  1. Touching story. What a wonderful, beautiful woman.

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