`I'm not a grandma, I'm an Ardie'

SOME grandmothers do not wish to be referred to as grandmothers. My grandmother, Ardie, preferred this viewpoint. In her 17-room house in Venice, Fla., she sat, looking nearly swallowed by the deep armchair, reading a paperback under a gooseneck lamp. ``Grandma, would you like to go shopping with us?'' I asked.

She was reading Erle Stanley Gardner's ``The Case of the Screaming Woman.'' She looked at me delightedly.

``I'm not a grandma. I'm an Ardie,'' she quipped.

I treasured remarks such as this. They were contradictions of etiquette. I was taught never to call a grandmother by her first name. Ardie believed the opposite. She would rather be called Ardie than grandmother. Consequently, her preference kept me out of the doghouse when I was 10 years old. Ten-year-olds sometimes have a Dennis the Menace streak in them, saying things that are true, but improper. If someone displayed unusual behavior, in Ardie's sight the people were not unusual, they were simply ``not regular.''

Ardie loved reading detective and mystery stories. She had every Erle Stanley Gardner book in existence, from ``The D.A. Calls a Turn'' to ``The Case of the Wandering Waitress.'' She was a devoted Perry Masonite, convinced that actor Raymond Burr was once an attorney.

Ardie loved to go places with us, from a rummage sale to a monster movie. My brother and I wanted to see the adventure film ``Journey to the Center of the Earth.'' Ardie wanted to come, too. We didn't think she'd like it. Another misjudg-ment. She had a delightful time watching James Mason and Pat Boone explore caves, contending with earthquakes and giant lizards.

Everyone in Venice knew Ardie and could relate some act of kindness or comical incident. She drove around town in an unfamiliar automobile called a Crosley. To say a Crosley is a small car is being generous. It was canary yellow, with riding-mower wheels and a sewing-machine engine. The speed limit was about 25 in town at that time. So the Crosley was spared a lot of hard work.

There was difficulty one year when she went to renew her driver's license. The officers asked her what her age was. But she couldn't tell them anything because she had forgotten what her age was. The officers remarked that was impossible. Nobody forgot how old they were. But apparently Ardie had done the impossible.

Ardie loved Hollywood. Movie magazines told all. If you wanted the latest news of Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, or Frank Sinatra, Ardie knew all about it. The humor was in hearing her discuss possible solutions for movie stars' problems. The possibility that the magazines might exaggerate or make things up was just unthinkable.

She had a real ability to cheer people up when they were sad. She could sing certain commercial jingles off key. ``Would YOU like to be QUEEN for a day?'' she would sing out, imitating the announcer of a '50s show. It was difficult to stay sad with all this going on.

Sometimes she wouldn't remember a name or a title correctly. She once remarked that her favorite James Bond movie was ``Golden Fingers.'' It is a blessing that everyone on the earth is not exactly the same, and we were grateful that Ardie could not be anybody else but Ardie.

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