Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Grandma Inky" from HOME IS WHERE...


         We also had another grandmother, whom we called “Grandma Inky.” She was Polish and very proper. She lived in New York City with my mother's sister, that sister’s husband, and their son. They would come up to our house about four times a year for the weekend, and came every summer. Grandma Inky would also spend a month with us. She was kind of a trouble-maker, telling Mom, when she came home from work, everything we had done. She was a great cook, and to this day, I still make a few things that she made. When I'm making these, the smell takes me right back home.

              We all went by bus to Grandma Inky's once. We stayed in the room off the kitchen. Grandma had a canary that sang all day, starting at the first sign of dawn. It sounded so pretty, then came the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee. We didn't stay too long, and Nancy ended up leaving her little lamb on the bus. It was never found.

         I think we called her “Grandma Inky” because her name was Grandma Paszinski. She spent many summers with us and gave us our Polish heritage, along with some Polish dishes that we fix even now.

         When Grandma Inky was up for a visit, and we were listening to music, she would come down the hall and declare, “Gotie me, I’m getting a headache. Please turn it down. What is it you are playing?”

         We replied, “this is rock and roll.” I don’t think you could ever get her to understand that we were enjoying it.

         Grandma Blake never complained about it at all.

         Grandma Inky also lost her husband too early. I think I was about four when we went to see him shortly before he passed away. Except for that, I don't remember him at all, but she told me he named me “Tommy Boy” shortly after I was born.


              Every afternoon, she would take a bath, change into a fancy dress and shoes; her hair was blue and finger-waved, and she smelled of Cashmere Bouquet powder always.

         Grandma Inky was a complex woman: very proper in dress and attitude, according to our mom. She was very strict and difficult to please, and growing up, we saw this first-hand, as had our mother and Mom’s brother and sister. Mom said Grandma washed her floors at least three times a day, and they had a living room where all the furniture was covered in plastic: they weren’t allowed to go in, except on special occasions.

         The oddest thing Mom told us: when Grandpa Inky was sick with cancer, really sick at the end, he was put in the hall on a day bed, and Grandma made an oxygen tank cover, a cozy, so no one would see.

         When she would come up for the summer, as Daddy was having his beer on the porch, she would come with this little glass, “Just a sip, Ernie,” she’d say and give him the glass. One time after she left, Daddy was cleaning her room, and in the closet in the back corner he found a good number of empty beer cans, so the mystery as to where his beer went was solved.

              She was not a generally affectionate woman, but she loved Doreen and would make breakfast for her, iron her clothes, and do whatever else Doreen needed done.

             Nancy stood a chance of maybe getting something ironed or a little breakfast, but not me, nothing. I don't know why, but from the time I could remember, I knew she didn't like me. No, it wasn't something I merely thought. She told me whenever she could, and she tattled on me, even if it was a lie, to my mom, when Mom came home from work.

             Once in a while Grandma Inky would tell on Dad. "Bobby," she would say to Mom, "do you know what time Ernie came home from town today?" Mind you, he got up at 6 a.m. and did the wash; we hung it out; he did all the floors, emptied the washer, your old-fashioned Maytag washer, and after this he would go uptown at 12:30 p.m. and come home around 3 p.m. and then get supper.

             One time Dad got so mad about the way Grandma Inky treated me and told on him, he took her and her suitcase to the end of the drive for the bus back to the city. Mommy must have stopped him; she never believed Inky anyway, but I never did get the reason for the dislike she had for me. It is still a secret.

         Before I get side-tracked, let me tell you more about myself and the other four most important people in my life: Dad, Mom, Nancy, and Doreen.


We are serializing HOME IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS: Memoir of a Happy Childhood, by Kathleen Blake Shields.  Too many memoirs, unfortunately, start with unhappy childhoods. You'll enjoy this exception, available from its publisher, Outskirts Press, and from on-line booksellers like and

I coached Kathy and edited her book. Visit

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