Fifteen Forever

By Mary Ann Crimi

Fifteen Forever

My grandmother was a beautiful woman. I think she might have had some wrinkles, but I really didn’t notice. She used to call me up on my birthday and say, “Wait a minute, honey,” and then start playing “Happy Birthday” on her organ – an instrument that could add a bossa nova beat if she was feeling Caribbean or pop into a polka if she had pirogues cooking on the stove.

I went to visit her when she was 98 years young, and we talked about all the astounding inventions that had occurred in her lifetime: electric lights, washing machines, airplanes, the TV remote, ATMs, the Internet – and deodorant!

I asked her if she wished she had gone somewhere she’d never been or done something she hadn’t had a chance to do. She said, “I wish I had learned to ride a bicycle.” When my Gram was a girl in the first decade of the nineteen hundreds she said very few young ladies rode bicycles. Polite society deemed the activity not proper for girls, nor was it easy when women’s pants suits and skorts had yet to be invented.

I told her even without cycling skills she was amazing and looked gorgeous. I said I wish I had inherited a few of her beauty genes. I thought I was too fat and too tall. I thought my eyes were too close together, and my legs would look better holding up the crossbar of a fence. She said to me, “You look beautiful. All young people are beautiful.”

At that time I didn’t feel too young. Somehow while she was getting to be 98, I was getting to be 48. “Gram,” I said, “you don’t look or act like your 98.” She said, “Honey, I still feel 15 in my head.”

I think I know what she means. In my head I am capable of just about anything. I think I can still master the yoga headstand. I still think I am going to write a best seller. I still think I can paint the garage – by myself. If I wanted to. I could mow the lawn without getting winded, I could master Mah Jong, I could walk the Great Wall of China, and I could make a par in golf. If I really wanted to.

I could even dance all night to a swing band.

Not long ago I heard a band swing. I attended a concert series which included a tribute to the King of Swing, a Benny Goodman cover band. That evening the musicians recreated a 1938 Carnegie Hall Event. In that year Gram would have been 40 years old. My dad would be a cocky 16 and my mom a starry-eyed 13. My parents hadn’t even met yet.

I am sure they listened to swing music on the radio. Benny Goodman, though, seems like ancient history to me. Although I didn’t recognize the numbers, I enjoyed listening to the music and watching the aged hipsters in the audience as they chair danced, snapping their fingers and bouncing their heads.

After the last bow, loud applause brought the performers back for the encore, a song introduced as “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

I was surprised. I recognized the first notes, and I was transported:

Benny’s clarinet starts wailing. Harry James picks up the trumpet, plumps his lips, blows and the elephants come out. I close my eyes and, no kidding, I see mops and brooms jitterbugging with each other, trees sway and clack their coconuts, and then Gene Krupka thumps the tom-tom drums, low and earthy and insistent, and the monkeys are swinging and twirling their tails. I am up out of my chair and waving my arms over my head in wild abandon – whatever wild abandon is, but I am abandon-ly wild – my long brown hair swings like palm fronds around me, and I fling – yes, I fling from corner to corner. The natives materialize from the border of the wilds in yellow and red-patterned dashikis, and they, too, toss themselves left and right and to the winds, as we all start hooting and hollering and tooting and yodeling, and across the cacophony. In my time warp my mother shrieks, “Turn it down!”

I slump in my seat because I am not in the Congo at all, and I am not even in front of a TV cartoon made in the 1950s, but I am here in Row E, Seat 5, behind a gray-headed man sedately bobbing his head in tiny nods to the beat, and I am so discreet in my toe tapping that no one has noticed that on some days I am a still a Deadhead Dancer with Stevie Nicks scarves floating out from my spinning shoulders, and on other days I am a head-banging hard rocker using a vacuum cleaner hose as a microphone to accompany the Boss as he rasps out lyrics over Clarence Clemons’ sax – when I am home alone.

And just like my Gram, I am always 15 in my head.

About this writer

  • Mary Ann Crimi has been writing since first grade but only recently has found time to revise. Retired and rested, she now meets her muse in coffee shops, at the beach, and on the porch on the border of North and South Carolina.

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5 Responses to “Fifteen Forever”

  1. Mary Russell says:

    I enjoyed reading this Mary Ann. Those little things people do for us, like playing “Happy Birthday” on the organ, might seem insignificant at the time. It warmed my heart to read that your grandmother loved you so much and made that extra effort to let you know.

  2. Your story was so inspiring and beautiful. I can so relate to yours and your grandma’s sentiments…always 15 in my head. A very enjoyable read.

  3. Rose Ann says:

    Your wonderful, wise Grandmother was young at heart and you have her genes! Loved this essay.

  4. Karen says:

    Funny how the older we get the younger we can feel…at least in our head! I thought my Gram was always old. Now that I’m her age, my perspective has totally changed. Enjoyed the tale, as always! Love your writing…

  5. Evvie says:

    Lovely tribute to your grandmother and an excellent example of your talent. You brought together so many “pieces” and I could envision you swinging out. Kudos!!!

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