Grandma and the Purple People Eaters

When I was little I stayed with my grandmother during the day while my parents were at work.  It was just Grandma and me at the house.   Grandpa worked down the block, at his Sunoco filling station.  Every day at noon, Grandma and I brought his lunch to him.  He’d climb up out of the pit where he worked under cars and smile when he saw us with his gray lunch box.

Sometimes I played with the girl up the street and other days I’d pick through the toys and books left behind in their bedrooms upstairs by my mother, Aunt Alice, and Uncle Don.  I found a giant printing set, a potholder loom and loops, and a collection of miniature furniture and animals.  In my aunt’s room, I read my first chapter book, The Bobbsey Twins.   Grandma and I fried donuts and sugared strawberries.  We sang Ethel Merman songs like “Anything You Can Do.”  I could always manage to sing louder and higher than Grandma.

Any note you can reach
I can go higher.
I can sing anything
Higher than you.
No, you can’t. (High)
Yes, I can. (Higher) No, you can’t. (Higher)
Yes, I CAN! (Highest)

Occasionally, we walked “uptown” to the bank, passing the thrift store, which fascinated me. I thought it was a combination antique store and fine dress shop.  Also en route was the home of the Purple People Eaters.  My overweight, matronly grandmother sang the song and danced right there on the sidewalk for me.  It was years before I realized the building was actually a dry cleaning establishment, painted purple.


Grandma carried the filling station’s bank deposit bag in her big pocketbook, which also held mints and pennies for me.   We stopped at the florist to say hi to some relatives and at the bakery for sugar cookies.

With all the fun Grandma orchestrated, I still got bored one time.  I was in “that mood,” the one where it seems that all is wrong with the world.  Grandma knew how to handle the situation.  She put me in an old work shirt of Grandpa’s and handed me a paint brush.

“Come outside,” she said.  On the back stoop, she’d placed an old wooden child’s chair on a spread-out newspaper. “Go to town, Luanne,” she said.  I worked hard for a long time, painting that chair, which seemed so big

When my mother picked me up after work that day, she laughed.  “Mom, you had her do the same thing you made Don do to keep him busy!”  Even today when I feel “at odds,” this example keeps me working, moving forward through the doldrums.

Grandma did her chores while I was at her house.  She cooked and baked and ran errands, which were all on foot or by bus, as she didn’t drive.  I helped her and learned at her elbow.  She ironed my parents’ clothes, too, while I played at the kitchen table and sang with her.   She didn’t waste our time cleaning too much, but everything else got done—and done well.

She devoted a half hour to herself every day, watching As the World Turns while I “napped” beside her on the couch.

Mostly, though, Grandma doted on me and made sure I could learn and use my imagination.  She sat me on her lap and told me stories “from her head.” Her attention wasn’t fragmented by a cell phone or computer.  She limited her telephone and TV usage.  She was completely there in the moment with me each day.

Can we say the same today for our children and grandchildren and the children we babysit?

13 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

13 responses to “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters

  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano

    Let me count the ways in which I love this essay. It is so simple, yet so true and evocative. Your skilled prose made me feel as if I were right there with you. Your grandmother was clearly a beautiful person who was alive and present in a way that few of us are. How fortunate you were to be able to spend time with her.

    • lucewriter

      Lisa, you’re right–she was wonderful. She was also my writer grandmother who once told me she and her sisters were like the March girls and she was Jo :).

  2. Corinne Trowbridge

    Such a treasure. Luanne’s ability to describe “Grandparent magic” is beautiful. Thank you.

  3. This really pulled me in. Thank you.

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  5. Such a beautiful story, Luanne. I had a wonderful grandmother like yours. I often stayed with her during the summer;months; she lived hundreds of miles away. She spoiled me so much, I never got homesick. How lucky you were to be with your grandmother every day! Sounds as if she made life one big adventure.

    • lucewriter

      Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. That’s fabulous that you got to spend the time you did with your grandmother. Those are the kind of memories that are so worth having! And you’re right: my grandmother did make life a big adventure. She was also an influence on me for writing and reading as she did some writing herself.

  6. What sweet memories beautifully rendered…and a great photo too. How lucky you were to have such a loving grandmother showing you a life of usefulness, caring, and creativity. I recall my father’s mother as one who loved me automatically–>the best gift.

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