Mail from my grandmother

by Eric Ginsburg

Checking my mail and finding something from my grandmother Barb is like that moment you take a deep breath and jump into a pool. Sometimes water shoots up your nose or it’s much colder than you anticipated; you jump out shivering and disappointed. Other times it is the perfect relief on one of Greensboro’s blistering summer days, a moment to share with friends and look back on fondly.

It doesn’t matter if the mail is electronic or an oversized box sitting on my front step — it’s always a surprise. Over the years I have been able to identify some patterns in the types of things she sends, but I am still never fully prepared.

If it’s a physical item, it was either on sale or is related to an event at Denison, the college in her small Ohio town outside of Columbus.

If it’s an e-mail, it’s usually about something in her life or a chain mail about adorable animals or useless (but entertaining) facts.

On a recent Friday night I checked my e-mail before going out and opened one from her that I expected to fall into one of these categories. Sure enough it started out describing a Red Cross event she attended to learn about CPR, but what came next caught me completely off guard.

“So… for Valentine’s Day, I ordered the CPR kit with a ‘dummy’ for practice and the DVD for each of you,” she wrote to my sister, our two cousins and me. I couldn’t believe it so I read it again before laughing hysterically.

She explained that often the life you save would be a family member’s (despite that my sister and I each live hundreds of miles from other relatives) and concluded by including the website where we could order more kits if necessary.

Barb is known for her incredibly unique gift ideas. We used to visit her every Christmas, when she insisted on giving everyone, including my parents, the exact same number of gifts. One year I received an enormous weather balloon; she bought me a Furby after my mom told her I did not want one; and this year she sent almost all of us socks specially designed for people with diabetes, even though none of us have it.

Every so often, her gifts hit the sweet spot. Out of the blue she sent me a book of poetry by Ernesto Cardinal this summer, and once I got a grey hoodie from a fair-trade coffee cooperative she visited in Colorado.

I was out of town on my 23rd birthday, and when I came back I found a small box from her in my freezer. The package said, “Keep frozen,” so my roommate stashed it next to the ice tray, but when I opened it I found a black T-shirt, the entire front decorated as a vicious wolf head.

I didn’t hesitate to mention my grandma’s e-mails at the beginning of my last relationship, and I started forwarding them to my girlfriend so we could laugh at the videos of emperor penguins or precautions to avoid homemade bombs and home invasions.

Once in a while the e-mail thread involves an international conspiracy — this time a year ago the topic was whether Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was fomenting a continent-wide Communist revolt, aiming Russian missiles at the United States, all with Iranian backing.

I’ve learned many things from her e- mails, though I only believe about a third of them, on far-flung topics like what Coca-Cola can do to a steak, how imprisoned British soldiers escaped Nazi Germany using Monopoly boards and tidbits of family history.

The day after receiving the e-mail about the CPR dummy and instructional DVD I was trying to explain some of these stories to a friend. When I got home, the newest dispatch from Ohio was in — filled with trivia primarily about geography. Did you know the nation of Brazil was named after a nut and not the other way around? Or that there are more Polish people in Chicago than any city in the world besides Warsaw?

I promptly forwarded the e-mail to my friend to illustrate the point I was trying to make, but I don’t think anyone who hasn’t directly experienced Christmas with my grandmother can completely appreciate her.

I miss seeing her with more frequency and have fond memories of visiting my mother’s hometown, but in the interim, I’ll eagerly await her next e-mail and keep thinking of pranks to pull with my CPR dummy when it arrives.