I’ll never forget the time my grandparents took my brother and me up north when we were little kids. My grandmother was originally from Canada, and so this one summer, I think it was like 1993 or 1994, we drove from New York to Ontario to visit some of her relatives.
They always spoiled us, the way that only grandparents can, crossing all of the normal boundaries that made up our regular lives back home. I remember, among other things, my grandfather enlightening us that “goddamn” technically wasn’t a curse word, and so regarding my parents’ rules regarding foul language, well, goddamn it, we could say “damn” as much as we wanted.
Or the Super 8 Motel we stopped at overnight, somewhere near Corning, New York. I look at a Super 8 motel now and it’s like, well, it’s nothing special, it’s a cheap place to break up a long drive into two days. But my grandparents made even a dumpy motel room into something special. They rented Batman Returns for us to watch, way too graphic a movie for two little kids, much more adult than any of the Disney movies we watched back home. And in the morning we woke up to chocolate éclairs, an unheard of dessert breakfast to start us off for that second leg of the trip.
But the memory that stands out most happened before we ever crossed the border. It was in the backseat of their sedan, I can still picture the scene unfolding in real-time through my head, all of the sudden my brother and I noticed a buzzing, it was coming from right behind us. It was a wasp, and when I think about it still, I can’t come up with any explanation as to how this thing got in the car, and why it was so quiet for such a long stretch of time.
Because we were two or three hours on the highway when this thing started freaking out. My brother and I panicked, throwing ourselves against the opposite end of the car, unable to even make out words to describe what was going on. My grandparents just kind of looked at us for half a minute or so, they couldn’t figure out what was up. But one of us must have choked out something like, “A bee! A wasp!”
And I don’t know, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I remember this thing being bigger than just a bee. I can see a light brown body, that giant middle section, a crooked stinger clearly visible under the blur of its frenzied wings. My grandfather spotted the source of our screaming before my grandmother did, and I can remember him letting out a non-expletive of his own as he slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder.
The only one who maintained any sense of calm or composure was my grandmother. As the three of us scrambled to jump out of the car, Grandma rolled up a piece of newspaper and jumped headfirst in the backseat, swinging away. I couldn’t even comprehend such courage, but after three or four whacks, she emerged from the car, holding the squashed source of our fears for us to see before telling us to get back in the car.
“Those bugs are more afraid of you than you are of them.” I think she called us a bunch of sissies, or ninnies, or some other old-fashioned word you’d only ever get called by your grandmother. And that always stuck with me, whenever I had to deal with a bug, even if I couldn’t get past my own fear, I knew that my grandmother wouldn’t have had any problem showing an insect who’s boss.
Grandma, thanks for all the great memories, I’m so lucky to have had such an awesome thirty years with you in my life. I’ll miss you a lot, and every time I get freaked out by a goddamn bug, no matter how big, I’ll think about you while I swallow that lump in my throat and look for some newspaper to ready my attack.