1. Grandma dressed like Skeletor to play Masters of the Universe with me!I shared this one last year on Masters of the Universe Day, but I'm sharing it again here:
Many of my action figure related memories stem from my grandma, but one of the most significant ones that sticks out for me was when I was staying at Grandma's house and she came out of her bedroom dressed like Skeletor. The 1987 movie had just came out, but I was too scared to go see it, only being around 3 or 4 at the time. Anyways, I did want to play He-Man and so I went and grabbed 2 belts, some red shorts, and a pot lid, and came out looking for evil. And find evil I did! When Grandma came out of her room dressed in a hooded robe with her face covered in cold cream and wielding a broom as her Havok Staff, I actually was kind of scared at first. When your grandma dresses up like Skeletor to play Masters of the Universe with you, you know she loves you!
More memories after the break....
2. Grandma showed me where the 1-Up Mushroom was hidden in level 1-1 of Super Mario BrothersOne year when we went on vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC, my parents let me take my Nintendo with me. While sitting in our hotel room one morning playing Super Mario Brothers, Grandma asked if she could play. I tried to explain the buttons to grandma, but she took off flying through the level and jumping as often as she could. To my surprise (and my dad's, since he had been the only one in our family at that point to have beaten the game,) Grandma discovered the hidden 1-up mushroom in the first level. We always laughed that Grandma showed us something we never knew about in the first level. Let this serve as a lesson that we can always learn from our elders.
3. Grandma had me freaked out that there was a ghost in Quake 2In July of 1999 I was staying at my grandma's house for the summer and had just purchased Quake 2 for my Nintendo 64. Grandma would always sit around and watch me play video games, Quake 2 included. One evening while playing the game, Grandma asked me what the little ghost on the screen was supposed to be. I tried to explain to her that the enemies weren't ghosts but Stroggs, but she said that this wasn't the typical bad guy: It was a ghost of some kind that was floating on the screen. I began to get a little nervous as there were clearly no ghosts on the screen. I kept playing, and Grandma kept telling me the little ghost was following me everywhere I went. I started to get more nervous, wondering what exactly grandma was seeing or if she was beginning to grow delusional. Finally, I asked Grandma to point it out to me. She got up, then stated it had disappeared. It turns out it was a reflection from a light across the street shining through a window onto the TV. When I sat down where grandma had been seated, it did indeed look like a ghost had been floating around the screen. We both laughed, but it definitely creeped me out.
5. Between both of my Grandmothers, I received a complete first series of the vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figuresSometime during the summer of 1988, Grandma-cue (that's what I'll call my paternal grandmother), drove me to a really cool little toy store (Grandma-cue was very cool and actually used the hand motion turn signals in addition to the standard car turn signal) where my life was forever changed. Yes, we ran across the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, displayed in such a way as only a toy store in the 1980s could do it. I was so excited by the toys (I had no clue who the turtles were at this time) that Grandma-cue let me pick every figure. Except that I could only buy one of the turtles. I think Grandma-cue thought they were all the same, just with different colored bandannas. I was still ecstatic and just grabbed one turtle (honestly not sure who it was) and every other figure: Splinter, Shredder, April, Rocksteady, Bebop, and a Foot Soldier. When Grandma-cue dropped me back off at my grandma's house, I had by then read the story on the back of the packages and realized how significant the other three turtles were. I told Grandma this, and she drove me back over to the store to pick up the other three lean, green, pizza eating machines. I honestly wonder if my grandmothers would ever believe that I would still be writing, talking about, and buying TMNT figures 26 years later! (Addendum- the next year, Grandma-cue bought me Ace Duck, Baxter Stockman, Krang, Genghis Frog, and the Turtle Blimp on a trip to the same store! I wish I still had my blimp!)
6. Grandma took me to buy Banjo- Kazooie in a car with no brakes.Granted, we didn't know there were no brakes at the time (or more accurately, that the brakes were completely shot), but during June of 1998 while I was staying with Grandma we made a trip to the store to pick up Banjo Kazooie for the Nintendo 64. Grandma didn't drive much at that time and I wasn't old enough to drive, but we both needed to get to the store, and I wanted Banjo Kazooie. We set out in Grandma's old van, at some point realizing that the brakes didn't quite work the way they were supposed to. Driving very slowly, we safely got to the store and back and we spent the rest of the summer trying to beat Gruntilda. My grandma loved Banjo Kazooie as we'd sit around playing it quite often while eating Drumsticks. A couple of years ago when the game was released on X-box arcade, I downloaded it and started playing it. Pretty shortly after starting, I decided to run to the store for some Drumsticks and gave Grandma a call. She also had the same vivid memories of the time we had spent together. It's amazing how such wonderful memories of someone you love can be tied to something as insignificant as a video game and a frozen confection.
7. Grandma dressed up like a monster to help me with a public access TV show videoWhen I was in high school I often contributed to a local public access show called Static. My widowed Grandma met a wonderful man (Hi, Grandpa!) and brought him to visit our family as they were planning on getting married soon. While they were visiting, I was working on a video for the TV show and asked Grandma if she would help me. The theme of the video was that I was buying a haunted house from an unscrupolous realtor. My grandma played one of the ghosts, wearing a set of red onesie pajamas, two giant foam claws, and a latex Halloween mask. In front of her soon-to-be husband. Yes, this was incredibly awesome. Surprisingly, soon-to-be Grandpa jumped in on the fun and ended up playing the realtor for my video. It was a hit!
8. Grandma's alter ego: Ninja GrandmaWhen I was younger my cousins and I would always want to play with a giant wooden fork and spoon that hung on my grandma's wall in her dining room. They were decorative pieces, but we thought they were really cool. My cousins and I would make up stories about how our grandma was actually a ninja and those were here weapons. One day when we were being a bit too rambunctious at her house, Grandma slipped off and came back with a scarf over her mouth and the giant wooden utensils in her hands. She told us that if we didn't behave, Ninja Grandma was going to bust us. Even though Grandma had never laid a hand on any of us, we took her seriously. Because she was a mother flippin' ninja. That's why. The fork was also like two feet long.
9. We made Grandma think she was really, really good at Super Mario 64When my cousins and I would stay at Grandma's house, we'd often spend much of our time playing Nintendo 64. Sometimes Grandma would ask for the controller so she could try. One day, we gave her a controller that wasn't plugged in while I kept the active controller under a pillow on my lap. My cousins and I were pointing and directing Grandma where to go and what to do while grandma excitedly hit buttons on the non-functioning controller. It almost broke my heart to tell her that she wasn't actually playing as she was getting really, really excited by how well she thought she was doing. But of course when we told her, Grandma laughed along with us, so everything was OK.
10. Grandma and I made some really awesome tombstonesI've covered these before, here, but I love them so much that I want to include them again! These tombstones were made in 1987 (although the dates fool you into thinking they're older) and were made with the help of Grandma. Looking at these, they're pretty honest and regular. Usually gravestones used for decoration have silly little sayings on them or the names of movie monsters; these ones apparently served to educate kids about the harsh realities of life before the discovery of penicillin. They also helped me to become an expert at the Oregon Trail in computer class. On the far left, notice John Brown who died around the age of 42 from pneumonia. Then in the middle we have Bessie Smith who died at the age of 86 from the flu. That's not really a bad run, if you think about it, especially considering they didn't have seat belts or gluten free bottled water back then. On the right is the conundrum: poor Tom Ham, who died from murder. While you're probably thinking: "Finally! Something awesome and spooky," you might want to stop and notice that Tom Ham was killed at the age of 96. Who kills a 96 year old? Was Grandma trying to teach me about mercy killings at a young age? Someday in the future, I imagine historical revisionists will probably look back at this picture and anachronistically claim that Tom Ham was the victim of a Soylent Green styled government death panel.
While sadly I have always lived further away from my grandmother than I would have liked, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend many summers with her while I was growing up and to go on vacation with her and my grandfather many times, including most recently in 2011. I was also able to visit her this past November so that her and my infant daughter could be acquainted. I know my grandmother loved my daughter even before she met her and I hope that through the memories and stories shared by me, and by my wife and parents, that my daughter will be able to love her great grandmother even though she won't have any memories of her own. It's because my parents and family have been such wonderful storytellers and keepers of information about my Pappy (my paternal grandfather) that my vague memories of him and the few possessions I have from him have blossomed into love, respect, and even a feeling of closeness to a man who passed away when I was just a very young child. I hope to be as good of a storyteller for you, my dear Adora, so that you'll have some connection to a family member whom you only knew briefly but who still loved you dearly, and near the end believed that she held you every night. Connections to those we love who have passed away are valuable, even if that connection is just a memory, an action figure, a silly home movie, or a song about old Jake Rockwell.