Friday, January 8, 2010

Be My Guest

Whenever a massive snowstorm hits, I think of three things.

First, 302. 302 was the number that meant Lower Merion Schools were closed. Snow day! When I was growing up, my sister and I would huddle in her bedroom at 6 a.m., crowded around her pink Sony clock radio and cross our fingers that the radio announcer would say that magic number. If we heard 302, we knew we could go back to bed, watch TV all day, go sledding, bake cookies, sip hot chocolate, or anything else we chose. (Remember the days before computers and the internet?). It was glorious.

If the radio announcer called out, "300, 301, 303, 304," we would sigh audibly and head into my parents' bedroom, our heads hanging low. Very quickly, we would prepare a plea deal.

"Mom, school's open, but it's gonna be TERRIBLE out today. I mean, seriously, EVERY other school in the state is closed!" Sometimes we exaggerated.

"The roads are icy, that treacherous BLACK ice, ya know, it's downright dangerous out there." Two powdery inches lay on the ground.

My parents giggled sleepily. They had always taught us to think creatively and argue a position with persistence and flair. My mom would roll over and respond sleepily: "If there's more than 6 inches of snow, you can stay home." By far, the coolest rule my mom ever devised. I would take out a ruler (and sometimes tilt it) and often find 6 inches of snow on our wooden deck out back. AMAZING.

The second thing that I think of when it snows is being in labor at home in the middle of a huge snowstorm last March, curled up on my sofa, watching the movie, Milk, with my husband, not knowing that our lives were about to change forever just 12 hours later.

Whenever it snows, I also think about how my grandparents came to stay with me for a night when they got snowed in at the Philly airport in February 2003.

My mom called me in a panic, "Gram and Grandpop are stranded at the airport!" My mom was known for her creative flair and tendency to exaggerate also.

"What do you mean STRANDED?"

"They sat on the stupid runway for 4 hours and all they got was a bag of pretzels! Now the whole airport is shut down and there's a 2 hour line for a taxi!

The most serious part of this story, the four hours with only pretzels, was not lost on me. "Mom, didn't they pack sandwiches?"

I could not fathom any family member of mine boarding a plane without first picking up/preparing Boars Head turkey sandwiches on rye bread or perhaps a sesame bagel. A good plane outfit was first priority. Sandwiches, second. Photo ID/passport, third. If my grandparents boarded that jet to Miami sans sandwiches they were just asking for trouble.

"Forget the sandwiches, Stacy, do you know anyone with an SUV who can go pick them up?"

I hung up and made several calls to friends, but nobody was venturing out in the blizzard. There was already a foot of fresh snow on the ground and more expected. I called my mom back to tell her the bad news. "It's alright, they're in line for a taxi now," she told me.

"Oh, good." What a relief.

"And they're coming to your apartment, because it's the closest to the airport."


"Wait, what?"

"They are going to sleep over."

"In my tiny little STUDIO?"

"Yes, they can't get home to Wynnewood, they can't fly down to Miami until tomorrow at the earliest. And, listen, they don't have anything with them except their carry-on bags. Not even winter coats."

I jumped out of my bed and started "grandparent-proofing" my apartment. I grabbed the long cords from my blow dryer and hair iron and wrapped them up frantically, as they now presented a tripping hazard. I plucked stray sweaters off my walk-through closet floor. I made sure my area rug was not curling in any corner. I scooped a stack of 10 pound law books from my floor and placed them with a thud on my wooden desk.

Next, I pulled out a sponge and scrubbed my minuscule black and white '70s tile bathroom, a far cry from the gigantic marble bathroom that my grandparents called their own in their North Miami Beach condo, where they had been headed before the storm hit.

What would they think of my tiny apartment that could have fit easily into their bathroom? You could practically do the dishes in my kitchen sink while laying in bed. That's how small is was.

I started to think of the positives. My building was right ON Rittenhouse Square, not too shabby. But you would have never known it by the view of the imposing red brick wall from my two windows. If you stood exactly one inch from the windows and you craned your neck approximately 90 degrees, you could make out a sliver of park life below. Nobody ever stood that close but me.

My grandparents' condo was located on an island, which Sophia Loren, a resident herself, had dubbed "the Florida Riviera." Their home had a sweeping wraparound balcony that overlooked the glistening Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Hundred foot yachts would cruise lazily by all day long and manatees would pop their heads out of the water happily.

I started rifling through my drawers for clothes that could double as appropriate pajamas for my grandparents. I found a pair of men's scrubs and an XL Budweiser University of Michigan shirt, tattered and well-lived in by my friend, Eric, for 4 years of college. My grandfather was 84 years old, had fought in WWII, and here I was trying to dress him up like a frat boy. I found some large sweatpants and an oversized Harvard sweatshirt, which I thought, in my delusional state of mind, would be perfect for my grandmom,.

I pictured Gram's pink silk robe hanging idly in her Miami condo, wondering what the hell happened to their plane.

The screeching sounds of my next door neighbor singing her heart out and pounding her piano keys flooded my apartment.

"Not again!" I yelled to myself.

"Oh, the weather outside is FRIGHTFUL!" she howled off-key.

My grandparents had a neighbor in Miami who sang too. Whitney Houston.

I put on my ipod and found some Billie Holiday. I cranked the heat up to 75.

I was sure that my grandparents would arrive in foul moods, exhausted and stressed out. Instead, a happy knock struck my door.

"Who issssssssss it?" I asked, feigning ignorance, like they used to do when I knocked on their door as a little girl.

"Mailman!" my grandmom hollered back in a gruff male voice.

The party was ON!

"Yay, you made it!" I greeted them, opening the door. They stood there with light sweaters on, snow-covered Gucci loafers, and huge grins on their faces. Gram's vibrant red hair was sprinkled with snowflakes. "Are you guys okay?" My grandpop held up airplane size bottles of gin and vodka proudly in each hand.

"We brought the cocktails, sweetie pie," my grandpop laughed, giving me his usual bear hug. "We asked for more bottles while we were sitting on that stupid runway," Gram admitted. "Do you have any mixers, doll?"

Within minutes, I was mixing cocktails, mashing tuna, toasting bagels, and, for the first time in my life, hosting my grandparents.

"Sorry my place is so small," I said.

"It's cozy in here," Gram gushed.

"I can sleep out at my friend's house, so you guys can have my bed," I offered.

"You're not going ANYWHERE!" my grandpop boomed in his military tone. "You'll sleep in bed with Gram, I'll sleep on the sofa." And that was that.

After our little cocktail party, we watched the Weather Channel to find out we had 19 inches of snow outside. Of course, you could barely see it from my apartment windows.

Gram was tired. She emerged from the bathroom wearing my oversized Harvard sweatshirt and sweatpants. "You look like a college girl!" She giggled. She soon fell asleep in my bed under my warm down comforter, while watching, What Women Want (of course, this was years before Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic diatribe made headline news).

My grandpop and I stayed up late. He refused to wear my college frat boy outfit. "I've never worn pajamas in my entire life," he declared. Okay. He was a tough cookie. If he didn't want to wear the pajamas, I was not going to argue.

He told me war stories, starting each tale with his signature, "True Story...." He told me about the odd jobs he had growing up, like driving a hearse when he was only 15 years old and without a driver's license. We talked about our family. I told him how glad I was that after some time he had opened up his mind to accept and love my dad, even though he had started out life with a different religion. He patted my hand and smiled.

I covered him with the colorful mohair throw blanket. He was sitting up on my green leather sofa, loafers off. "I feel so badly that you have to sleep like this. You should be in your cozy bed in Miami," I told him. He shook his head.

“Sweetie Pie, we are THRILLED to be here!” he responded.

And I was thrilled to have them.


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