Life Deconstructed: Grammies are a gift. Usually.

Life Deconstructed - Maria Jiunta Heck

My daughter’s wedding is not yet upon us, yet everyone has already leapfrogged over that milestone and has landed upon the grandchild square on The Hopscotch Board of Life. Whoa. Let’s pump the brakes, people! I haven’t even been able to zip-up my mother-of the-bride gown yet and we’re talking offspring?!

And yet …

I do think about it. A child’s life can forever be molded by the relationship they have with their grandparents, good or bad.

For example, my paternal grandmother didn’t enjoy me in the least. I have to admit, my memories of her are less warm and fuzzy and more barbed and unpleasant.

When I was four months pregnant, I recall visiting her. As she ushered me into her living room and I sat upon her Saran-wrapped, faux Queen Anne sofa, I immediately asked for pepper cookies, my favorite. She scolded: “You should think about losing a couple of pounds, like your sister here.”

Astonished, I clarified: “Gramma! I’m pregnant!”

She looked me up and down and said: “You look just like your mother!” as she turned on her heel to get the cookies for my sister and probably, a Slim Fast and a crust of bread for me.

And therein lies the crux of her discontent. I did look like my mother and they had a rather cantankerous relationship; a grinding of the gears on both their parts which I’m assuming began when her little Sicilian boy from Pittston married a little Polish girl from Parsons. I gathered she would have preferred he marry a woman more in sync with his ethnicity and less in sync with pierogies. This was a twisted dynamic that would never right itself in my grandmother’s lifetime.

My maternal grandmother, Helen, however, was a quintessential grandmother: a tough old Polish broad who concocted her own kielbasa as well as her own brand of discipline, which included a wooden spoon. We adored her. She is all the good memories I have of a grandmother.

When my sister, Jennifer, and I stayed at her house, we had a strict schedule of events. Hard labor first. She would send us “up the hill” with pails, not to collect water, but coal. We’d be gone for hours. I only understood later – she bought herself endless moments of solitude by sending us on this fool’s errand of coal-picking. We’d drag those pails back down the mountain, empty them out into her coal cellar, and heaved sighs of disappointment when we realized our combined offerings wouldn’t heat her house for four minutes.

After the coal-fetching, we had to bathe and make clothes for our paper dolls. Then, she’d “set our hair in rags.” We’d endure hours of rags spiraling around our head, pulled so tight, I probably lost most of the elasticity in my temples and I have her to thank for the crinkles I see there now. But rags produced baloney curls the likes of which no curling iron could manufacture.

After rags, we all played gin rummy, and we’d pray for the phone to ring. Because when the phone rang, Gramma would slip into the next room to answer it as my sister and I would slip her highball down our throats. Naturally, this would ensure a very early bedtime. Savvy Helen.

I think of them both often, but in dramatically different ways. I want to be the kind of grandmother my Helen was to me. Nurturing, fun, slightly strict and able to wrap strips of rags around hanks of hair in a single bound. Would I make my grandchildren pick coal? Probably not. But how young is too young to mix a cocktail for Grandma? I’m asking for my sister.

Life Deconstructed

Maria Jiunta Heck

Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at

Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at

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