My Grandma Forgy would be 101 today. I sometimes feel like I’m not working hard enough so I can skid into the Afterlife with my pants on fire, but she never stopped encouraging me to keep on keepin’ on.
“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.”
― Ralph Marston
She was one of a handful of people in my life who never said “You can’t do that, do this instead.” Her advice to her family seemed conceited at times, but I’ve grown comfortable with it over the years.
“You are a Forgy. You can do anything.”
So far, she’s right. And she could do anything too.
- At 15 years old, she graduated from high school. She was smart.
- She married Harlan Forgy, who she’d been friends with since childhood. You have to be a little crazy to marry into the Forgy’s.
- Gave birth to my dad, Roy, in 1939, while Europe and the rest of the world watched war brewing again. She hoped for the best.
- Later graduated from William Penn College. She never stopped improving herself.
- Taught elementary school in Bussey, Iowa for years. Did I mention she was a little crazy?
- She beat breast cancer into submission. She was tough.
- Let my Dad live even after his endless quips and barbs directed at her. She had a great sense of humor.
“Blanche was a fiercely devoted mother who truly delighted in the company of her children and grandchildren. She was also a talented poet, a voracious reader and a musician. She was known for her wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and her (occasionally wicked) sense of humor.”
Blanche Forgy Obituary
Grandma passed her intellectual curiosity down to me. It’s always felt like I can never absorb enough information about anything but I give it a shot. When I was in second grade, I received a book on volcanos from Scholastic. I sucked every word off every page, and breathlessly relayed my new specialty to her on our next visit. When I mentioned magma, the conversation took a turn.
Grandma: What’s magma?
Me: [my expression full of disbelief] You don’t know what magma is?
I stared at her, a grade school teacher, with what I’m sure was a second grader’s version of “Are you an idiot?” I thought everyone knew what magma was. I was surprised when everyone sitting around the kitchen table burst out laughing. I glanced around the table and all eyes were on me. If you’ve never watched a flock of Forgy’s laughing at something you said or did, you have no idea how intimidating it could be. I wasn’t sure what was so funny. I turned back to look at Grandma, who still cackled with laughter, and I could see and feel her eyes saying “You made me laugh. Thanks!”
Several years later, we were sitting at that same kitchen table. I don’t recall who was there other than my Dad, Grandma Forgy, and myself. I was somewhere in my early teens, and the subject of sex came up. I threw some smartass comment into the conversation- I forget what it was now – and Dad turns to me:
Dad: Sometime we need to have that talk about the birds and the bees.
Me: Okay, anytime. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.
Dad’s eyes filled with amusement but he didn’t say a word. For one, he was grinning so hard it would have made his cheeks too sore. And nobody would have heard him anyway over the (volcano pun alert!) eruption of laughter. This time, I didn’t look around the room to see why everyone was laughing. I only looked at Grandma, into her eyes, and I could see and feel her tell me again. “You made me laugh. Thanks!”
During a family gathering at my Dad’s home in Ottumwa, Iowa, Grandma watched my oldest son Derik play on the floor. I noticed her grinning down at him, over at me, and I grinned back.
Grandma: He’s a keeper.
Me: That’s what the damn lawyers said too. He is my favorite only son.
Grandma: [wicked grin] You were always my favorite oldest grandkid.
One year at Christmas at Dad’s, I was upstairs watching my Uncle Jim show his oldest son David how to handle a gun safely. It was a rite of passage. I’d been through it, and watched my favorite only brother Kirk go through it, too. My dad Roy had two gun cabinets in the upstairs hallway of his home in Ottumwa. That might seem excessive but he had more than a dozen guns when he died. Dad was watching Jim and David go over the ritual of gun safety, not saying a word. When we grinned at each other he unconsciously took a sideways step toward me. I knew he was remembering one of many lessons he had passed down to me over the years.
Uncle Jimmy was holding the business end of the barrel of the rifle David was holding against his shoulder, offering tips and rules on how to always be safe, “close the eye you’re not looking in the scope with,” never ever point at another human, etc. I didn’t need to watch the tutorial, I’d seen it many times. Watching David memorize everything Jim said while his eyes lit up with enthusiasm was what kept Dad, a handful of other family members, and myself glued to the ritual. We were beaming down at David when Grandma reached the landing of the stairs on a quest for the restroom and realized her six year old grandson was slowly moving a deer rifle away from her general direction. The conversation went like this:
Grandma: [silence but wickedly amused grin]
Uncle Jimmy: Hey Ma. Go out for a long one.
It was another perfect deadpan delivery from Uncle Jimmy, a joke he delivered to the Forgy clan as if he were a football coach. It was all I could do to keep from crumpling to the floor and curling up in the fetal position while my stomach muscles cramped up from the belly laugh. David looked at the faces in the hallway, and I grinned and winked at him. I’d been where he was so I knew the feeling. Then I scanned the room to see everyone else’s face before turning to look at Grandma again. She was laughing right along with us. Wicked sense of humor is right.
Every Thanksgiving, Grandma would make this … Stuff. I forget all the derogatory terms her own kin gave to this dish over the years, but I’ll describe this Stuff to the best of my recollection. It was green Jello and something else, but I don’t remember what the something else was. Maybe carrots, or corn, or pickled pig’s feet. Maybe all of the above. Dad claimed she scraped it off the dungeon walls of the giant farmhouse in Albia, Iowa. The dungeon was where Grandpa Forgy fought and won battles with a coal-fired stove the size of the Titanic. It was also where Grandma Forgy kept the torture rack, according to my Dad.
Grandma would always tell Dad to make sure he got plenty of the Stuff, and I always made sure I wasn’t drinking anything when he replied. It was always something new, and I never failed to laugh, and hard. Just a few of his replies off the top of my head:
- I’ve never eaten a vegetable in my life and I’m not starting now!
- It has bones in it!
- I hope you fall down the stairs getting next year’s harvest!
He didn’t mean a word of it, she knew it, and laughed every single time.
1967 Pontiac GTO. Grandpa Forgy’s GTO was red, and If I remember correctly, it was a convertible.
My Grandpa Forgy always drove giant Cadillacs and Buicks, and not because he was a showoff. He was that too, a little, but he bought cars big enough to live in because he had a wife and five kids to haul around.
During the Muscle Car craze of the 1960’s he bought a 1967 Pontiac GTO off the showroom floor. It seems to me it was a convertible but I can’t remember for sure. I know it was red, and it had the red pinwheel stripes around the tires, very shiny, and beautiful. Not nearly as beautiful as my female crushes at the time, but I was in love with that car from the instant we heard it rumble up the street and park at the curb at 227 Marianna Avenue, the home I grew up in. They had come to our house to take us for a ride. And what a ride it was!
We climbed in the back seat, and Grandpa brought to life the sexiest piece of machinery I’d ever been in. That car was an animal! I could feel it vibrate deep in my heart parts. Grandpa let out the clutch and we idled in first gear to the end of our street. When we turned onto Glenwood Avenue, I could feel the beast unleash. Grandpa drove it smoothly, like there was an eggshell between his foot and the accelerator, and I listened to the RPMs climb steadily, a brief jerk of my head going forward when he slipped the gearshift into second gear, then another tug on my neck as she — all vehicles are female to me — as she pushed my head backward on my neck. I remember thinking “This is the most powerful machine I’ve ever been in!” What I didn’t know was that Grandpa hadn’t even scratched the surface of her abilities.
We reached the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Ferry Street, and waited until the coast was clear to make the left turn to head north on Ferry Street, toward the highway. We stopped at a red light, and a young guy in a brand new Camaro pulled next to us. I looked over at his Camaro and noticed the window sticker from the Chevy dealer still glued in place. I also noticed when he blipped the throttle a few times and looked over at Grandpa as if Grandpa owned him money. Mr. Camaro was ignored for a few seconds, then Grandpa turned and stared with his thousand yard stare. And believe me when I tell you this: When Harlan Forgy stared, bulls of every species, even if they were in heat, looked the other way.
The light turned green and the GTO turned into a jet fighter. Grandpa stomped on the accelerator, slipped his foot off the clutch, and we were cleared for takeoff. The GTO, or Goat as they were nicknamed, stuck her rear end in the air, wiggled to one side, and filled the Iowa night with a scream I’ve heard and can’t get enough of. It was on!
I stared up at the starry sky not out of boredom, but out of sheer torque. If I had any idea what that She-Goat was capable of I would have been wearing a neck brace, a grin from ear to ear, and an extra pair of tighty whities on the outside of my pants. I was convinced we were going to die. When Grandpa pushed the clutch in to change gears, my head jerked forward from the negative G-force so fast I thought it landed somewhere on the hood. He dumped the clutch again, gave second gear all it was good for, and did it again into third gear. In every gear, the sound of the Goat’s V-8 powerplant would rise from a growl to a scream. And another scream filled the air, too: “Harlan! Harlan Forgy!” Yup, you guessed it. Blanche was what they call displeased. Harlan wasn’t listening, and the brake pedal on her side of the Goat wasn’t working. I took a good look at the Camaro and admired the beauty of it’s grille.
We reached fourth gear and Grandpa took his foot off the gas pedal. I could see his grin even though my eyes felt like they were crossed. We rolled to a stop at the next light, and another Forgy witticism was etched into my brain:
Grandma: Stop so I can drive!
Grandpa: You can’t drive this car.
Grandma: Why not?
Grandpa: You’re in the wrong seat.
It would be years before I would defy my grandparents in any way, but all I was thinking was “Do that again!”
Blanche once wrote: “I am really rich: my treasures are my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and my dear friends, who love me even when I am not lovable.” (May 2007, Iowa Writes, a program of the University of Iowa.) She wrote a book of poetry. I’d rather eat a handful of carpet tacks than read most poetry, but I read hers from cover to cover in one sitting. They were heartfelt glimpses into her soul at what was going on around her at the time.
I played alto saxophone, and wondered if Grandma Forgy would be disappointed when she learned I traded in my sax for a bass guitar between elementary and junior high school. Nope. She was immensely pleased and said she couldn’t wait to hear me play. During another visit at my Dad’s place, Grandma voiced her opinion that while she was pleased Dad added the pipe organ to his amazing repertoire of mastered instruments, she hoped he wouldn’t give up the piano completely.
Me: You should have known he would start playing the organ.
Grandma: [eyes dancing, anticipating another laugh] Why is that?
Me: He never could keep his hands off of his.
My horoscope always seems to be full of lies. It’s not their fault, I usually have the exact opposite events it predicts. Like this:
You have an awful lot to say now, and you won’t care at all what someone else thinks of it.
Everything before the comma is true, everything after is a lie. My Grandma Forgy was looking over my shoulder watching every keystroke this morning. She’s always had my back, like in this photo taken on my fourth birthday, and she still has it.
If you’ve read my novels, you know I talk about a woman’s eyes a lot.
Eyes are the window to the Soul.
Look in her eyes.
Look in mine.
Hear me now?
Happy birthday, Grandma! And Happy Holidays.
Pick up a free copy of Mirth Defects.
Don’t take my word for it. Award winning author Carole P. Roman loved it too.