Her front door was glistening from the varnish on the dark wood that reminded me of a church door. There was a small window towards the top and a black iron handle. I tapped my foot on the top step that looked like it was made from puzzle pieces: triangles, squares and circles; well, kind of circles—black, grey, green and dirty white. I wasn’t in San Mateo anymore.

My grandmother, in her navy Geppetto pumps and a pleated skirt that twirled, unlocked the door; “Now, go in Kid. This isn’t your house so don’t spin my round coffee table. We are in the big city.” She took my hand; “They can’t do anything right in that god damn San Mateo. A woman can’t find a descent place to get her hair done.”

Her flat smelled slightly of perfume and coffee. I slid on the wooden hallway floors.
“Don’t get canary;” she gave me those eyes that could cut a diamond; “Oh Andrew, this isn’t a playground.”

“Yes, Nan,” I smiled. I just loved her and also knew better than to cross her—my mother had instructed me.

“You’re gonna sleep in here. Watch this, Kid.” She opened the dark wood doors in the living room, “See this bed comes down from the wall.” She shut the doors, “Now don’t be a baby—you’re not sleeping in my room.” All of eight, I could get a little anxious without my mom.

The canary tweeted. “Honk!” My grandmother said, “Sammy Pete, he’s my pal. Now don’t open the cage.” Sammy Pete began to chirp louder. “That goddamn bird gets seed all over the floor.” She bent down and with a paper towel scooped it up. Sammy Pete’s cage was gold and hung on a matching pole. Nan had a green patterned, skirt made for the bottom to catch the seed.

She had a lot of things made. “I’m petite,” she’d say, “So the dress-maker whipped this dress up. Silk.” When she would talk about those kinds of things, my mother would raise her eyes and make a half smile. My grandmother didn’t want to be a “Fatty bloata,” she would tell me that, too; “I ate a big banana today—all I need.”

We walked back to her bedroom where the shades were pulled down. She opened the bottom drawer of her Mahogony dresser, “Put your stuff in here.” She unzipped my bag, “Go on, don’t be shy. I’m going to take you downtown in a bit—so keep yourself together. We could take the leaping tuna.” That’s what she called her pale lavender chevy with the cream top or get the street car.

“Or the Street Car?” She raised a brow.

“How bout the street car” I said; “I like those.”

“Alright then.”

We soon left, me in my pale blue V-neck sweater, my zip-up red jacket and she with her camel coat with the links collar.

“Feel this. George Manning bought me this. I put it on in your honor. Nothing like fur on the neck.” She tipped her head back and laughed. She whipped a scalloped navy scarf from her pocket, “Watch this; the scarf splits in the middle, keeps my hair in place. Your mother has good hair—I have to be careful, or mine goes flat.” She put a dollar bill in my pocket.

We walked down Dolores to Market Street. It was noisier than San Mateo: a fire engine whizzed by, honking horns, sirens and more sirens. There was a man who kind of stunk standing on the corner.

“How do you do?” My grandmother said and slipped him some change.

“Thanks. Mrs. Maloney.”

“Poor bugger.”

“You know him, Nan?” I looked up at her.

“I know everyone, Kid. If Fireman Fred comes by later, I’ll introduce you. Sometimes he drops me off the paper and a couple movie magazines. I just love Fireman Fred. He’s good looking.”

“Who’s Fireman Fred?”

“You ask too many questions. He’s good, that’s all you have to know.”

We stood on the platform and waited for the trolly. The fog was low and everywhere. “Look,” my grandmother said, “It’s coming.” She slipped a quarter in my hand; “I’ll show you how to pay.”

The trolly rang its bell and stopped. The doors opened like a folding chair. She took my hand, “Step up.” I watched her drop her coins in the money-taker they jingled as they went down—it almost swallowed them. I dropped my quarter in and the driver handed a paper ticket. Nan dragged me a few seats back, “Get in and put that paper ticket in your pocket—we’ll use it later.”

There were different looking people on the bus. Mostly women in coats. More ladies than men—and one raggedy unshaved man across from us. “Don’t stare,” she whispered; “He likes a good drink.” She pointed cautiously, “See the bottle in his pocket?”

In about seven stops, we stepped off; “Now stay close, don’t want to lose you. Your mother would never forgive me.”

I laughed, “You won’t lose me.”

Our first stop was I’ Magnin’s. The floors shined; the counters were glass and gold. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling. We kind of had to slide between other ladies. “There’s a lot of good stuff down here.” Nan picked up a perfume bottle from a gold tray and sprayed it on her wrist. She placed her wrist under my nose, “Take a whiff, Kid; this is what you call a good stink.”

Our last stop was Eppler. Nan twisted her watch, silver with small diamonds, “Let’s head down there. I love Epplers.”

“What’s Epplers?”

“You’ll see.”

The bell on Eppler’s door tingled as she opened the door. There were silver trays of cookies, cupcakes, cakes and breakfast pastries—even doughnuts. I could smell warm bread. My head was about as high as the whipped cream cakes behind the glass. I bumped my head twice on the glass case like a drummer.

Nan pointed to the Butter horns, “Give me two of these please.” The woman dressed in pink-and-white with an apron on put two in a bag with tissue.

Nan looked at me, “What do you want?” I pointed and tapped the glass in front of the ice box cookies. They were half-white and half-brown. And then I crept around Nan and pointed to the cinnamon butter horn. “In a separate bag,” my grandmother said.

As we walked out, she handed me my white bag, “Hold onto it.” I knew I would; my cookies were in there. Then Nan handed me a cookie, “Where did you get that?” It was chocolate chip.

“I copped one when she wasn’t looking. She left a tray out by mistake on the counter,” I bit and laughed.

Back at home as the sun broke through the fog, Nan brought me back to the kitchen, “You like chicken. The bird on Nelly’s hat. I’m nobody’s cook.” And she opened the oven door.

The oven was lined in silver foil and on the rack was the pan of chicken pieces and a big brown potato the size of my Buster Brown shoe. “That potato is huge, Nan;” I rubbed my right blue eye.

“We’re gonna split it right down the middle. Watch.” And she did with a long knife and placed a half on each plate. They were lovely plates—looked like they were made from dark pink flowers with some green and cream colors on the edges. She cut a hard piece of butter and dropped it in the middle. She broke the potato up with a fork, then took a chicken breast with a silver fork, and cut it into pieces; “The hell with this bird—I’m done. We’ll share this for now.”

“I’m hungry,” I looked up at her.

“You got your grandmother to cook, God damn you,” she smiled. We sat at the glass top table. She handed me a big square napkin like the special ones we use at Thanksgiving. She crossed her legs under the table and chewed slowly. I tried not to use my fingers because she might raise an eyebrow.

After dinner, we sat together on her bed. She turned on the news, channel five. She got up and fiddled with the antenna on top, “That better, Kid?”


She wasn’t a cuddler like my mom, but she let me stay close. Her pillows were puffy and soft. I pressed my head into it. It almost sighed. I looked at her. Her lipstick had worn off and her glasses were brown and big, shaped like wings. Her eyebrows were thinly shaped.

“Do you do this every night, Nan?”

“Wouldn’t miss the news—have to keep up, so nobody can call me ignorant,” she laughed and puled on her nose; “That’s rich.” I didn’t always understand her, but in a way, I knew what she meant.

“Okay, Andrew when this is done, time for a shower;” I had never taken a shower.

“But Nan, I take a bath!

“Not tonight.” Soon, she walked me into the bathroom. The tiles were pink and black and glossy, “Let’s get those pants off you.” She unzipped me and pulled them down, “You can manage the rest.” She went out and brought in a big pink towel. I stood there with my arms folded. She pulled back the shower curtain. turned on the water and felt it with the back of her hand. She looked at me, “Now get in. Your mother babies you. Go on; get under and use the soap. See it?” I nodded and she closed the curtain, “Don’t get my floor all wet.”

I just obeyed, tried my best to get soaped with the white bar.

“Rinse yourself good,” I heard her say from the hallway.

I felt a little shaky like maybe I would rather go home. She reached in pulled back the curtain, turned the shower nobs and wrapped a big towel around me, “Step out. On the mat.” Then she spread some lotion on my face and arms, “Help me out. Spread it around. This is good stuff you’re getting. You know, I am nobody’s maid.”

From a bag, she pulled some pajamas. They were red and soft. “I bought these for you. It’s good goods.”

My eyes widened, “I love red, Nan.”

“I know. I’m nobody’s fool.” Then she tapped me on the head. They were a little long but other than that, they fit me well. I rubbed my arms. In about an hour, she walked me from the bedroom down the hall way. She had changed into a pink nightgown and a peach-colored robe. Her hair had a few tin curlers in it and she had wrapped some tissue around her head; “Got to keep my hair in place.” Her slippers clapped when she walked.

I knew what was coming. The living room shades were pulled down. Sammy Pete was covered. She pulled the bed down and then the sheets and blanket back. It had a big satin trim. “Now don’t get all nervous, Get in. You’ll sleep fine.” She sat on the edge of the bed and caressed my forehead. “If you need me, yell fire,” and she walked away.

The room was dark except for street lights that shone through the shades. A siren went by then another. I looked over at Sammy Pete, but I couldn’t see him. There were garbage trucks outside squealing and grinding. I was afraid of something I couldn’t name. And then I saw a shadow on the wall. I got as still as I could.

I put the blanket over my head and remembered what my mom said, “Your grandmother doesn’t sleep well, so don’t bother her. You’ll have fun in the big city.”

I tapped the mattress with my feet. Squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could. “Just yell fire,” I whispered; “Fire, Nan. Fire.”