Before my grandma Louise got hit with her stroke she used to go to Atlantic City every weekend. Even though she only played penny or dollar games, she still had the time of her life, and had a silly habit, to my mom’s annoyance, of translating her Sunday playtime to proverbs. Her favorite, and most famous, saying was “my dear, when you face a wild bet, always cover your rear”.
She married very young, and had my mom and my aunt swiftly, one after the other. She became a widow at quite a young age too, barely fifty five, but spent her belated singlehood well. She was beautiful, elegant, and surprisingly flirty in a friendly, amused manner. Coquettish as she was, her love life during her golden years was much livelier and fun than mine ever were, ever since I was a teenager.
Before the stroke usurped the muscles in her face, her expressions used to change rapidly, reflecting a quick mind, and a bit of a temper, which was well reined by a sense of humor and a kind heart. Her eyebrows were always a bit raised, as if she were constantly ready to pick up an exciting piece of news (she absolutely loved to hear gossip, though never admitted it, and never passed it on). She knew how to keep a straight face and then flash a fresh, warm, contagious smile that made you feel like you’re standing in a ray of light.
Until her retirement she worked as a nurse. She wanted to become a doctor but my great grandparents couldn’t afford the tuition. “After you see what I have seen, honey” she said once, “you understand we’re all gamblers. We gamble from the moment we take these fragile bodies out of our warm beds, thru the time we manage to get back there at night”. But the experiences at the hospital didn’t make a pessimist out of her, on the contrary. She appreciated life more and made sure to enjoy her body.
Grandma Louise always kept at least two men on the date roll, and that used to shock my mom every single time. Grandma said she’s too old (and that was the only time she referred to herself like that) to hang around for anyone to be available to her. That’s why she hated the men I’ve been dating – I had a gift for picking those who linger, waver, hesitate, and break away without a warning. I was a “blind bettor” as she called me, putting all my chips on an unlikely number, instead of covering the field with even bets. “Always cover your rear, dear, always!”
After yet another guy broke my heart, she wanted to comfort and plant some wisdom in me with a story she particularly liked. “An old wood-legged woman with a light limp approaches the pit boss, saying ‘I have 1 million dollar, and I want to spend it all here in just one bet, but first let me talk to the casino manager’. As the manager comes down to greet her she says ‘listen son, I bet this 1 million right here right now that you can’t guess which one of my legs is made of wood’. The casino manager, smirking, starts examining her legs, but she is wearing thick dark pantyhose, and he’s feeling a bit confounded. ‘You can touch them, sir’, she says confidently, ‘but only bellow the knee’, she adds in a quiet tone of modesty.”
“Well, the wood-legged old lady is little, and the manager is over 6 feet tall. So, in front of the entire guests of the casino, he crouches down, gets on all four, and bows his head in the way servants used to bow to the Chinese emperor. One touch is sufficient to determine the answer, and as sure as heaven, he wins his 1 mill.”
“With joy brimming over his tight necktie, he needs a touch of a single malt to calm down. He asks the lady to his office and offers her a glass of a 16 year old Lagavulin he has been saving for special occasions. As she takes down the scotch quite bravely for her age, he can’t help but ask her ‘what made you make such a doomed bet?’”
“She reclines back in a chair as if she’s about to catch up on her knitting and spits the answers: ‘I made a bet with three of your highrollers that I could have the casino manager at my feet in just five minutes. I made 5 million.’”
Come on, grandma! That joke is so old! And that’s the PG version – isn’t she betting he’ll balls will drop, and after he let’s her check she wins a side bet for getting him by the balls?
“Well, you don’t expect me to start talking like that, do you? And you shouldn’t either, sweetheart. That’s not very ladylike.” And she winked at me. She kept a smart appearance and attitude, but there was a mischievous streak in her that saved her from being stuffy. “I know this story is older than sin, but you’re missing the point, honey - Now that’s a smart woman for you! Keeps a man at her feet while he thinks he’s ahead.”
She’s always been a smart woman, but nothing prepared her for this. I watch her struggle to speak and reclaim her beautiful face. Even in her composure, I can tell by the look in her eyes that she is angry and insulted. I know that temper as I know my own. After a long and trying time she managed to recuperate some control on her left arm, and now goes to money-casino.com instead of the Atlantic City boardwalk. But she’s a social creature who feels lonely just staring at the computer screen. You can imagine her look of pity when I told her about online dating services: “Your generation just doesn’t know how to live! Hiding behind aliases and words, and software. When someone is right for you, your body will tell you, not your email!”. She respected intellect, but in her core she believed in the mysteries of the flesh.
”When you’re picking a winner, just follow your blood, honey,” she used to say. But her own blood – overflowing with vitality, with whatever particles of enthusiasm, optimism, and adventure that make life worth living – it betrayed her one day. It just clogged up, and brought her to a halt.
It’s the face that hurt her pride most. Her feminine vanity won’t let her accept any of her “gentlemen callers” as they were once referred to. Her professional pride makes her loathe being the patient instead of the caregiver. I wish I could bring her old body back. I wish I could help her. I wish I could give her some comfort. I wish I could make everyone see who she is and why I love so much. I wish I could make you love life like she does still.