On the phone earlier this year
Me: “So how about we just have a sleepover?”
Nana: [laughs] “NOT a chance!”
Me: “You’ve never given me a second chance”
Nana: “The next time I’ll let you on my bed will be when I’m on my deathbed”
Me: “OK, I’ll climb right up!”
[we both laugh hard]
My parents never negotiated with me or made deals with me about anything but my Nana always did. Usually I didn’t have to push much to get what I wanted with her. There have only been two things that she has not budged on. One is a second go at a sleepover at her house where we share the bed (this one I kind of get since I kicked her all night like a prize-fighting kickboxer and then dramatically fell out of the bed.) The second is promising me that I - not my cousin - will get to keep the special egg cream glass that sits on the second shelf of her cabinet all the way to the right side when she dies. We’ve been relentlessly fighting over that glass since we were little and while he has three years on me, I guarantee I’ve drank more egg creams from that glass.
I’ve been thinking up devious plans to make sure I get it my whole life. Every time I’m at her house I open the cabinet to make sure it’s still sitting there where it should be. “He can have the other one,” I’d always say matter-of-factly. I’d look at her hoping for that glimmer in her eyes that’d tell me she was agreeing with me without saying the words out loud, but I never saw it. Like the gambler she was she stood her ground with her best poker face and it drove me crazy. If I got to keep anything for myself to preserve her memory, this was the one and only thing that I wanted, and there’s a lot of stuff in her apartment. It’s been a while now since the topic has come up, but I have not forgotten.
If you don’t know what an egg cream is, it’s a real New Yaaw-kah drink. It’s basically fizzy chocolate milk, which might sound weird, but actually, it’s magical. My heart would skip a beat when I saw my nana line up all of the egg cream supplies on the counter. She’d mix Hershey’s chocolate syrup with milk and top it with highly carbonated seltzer water from her metal seltzer canister. It was perfect every time because the special glass she made it in had three sections so she could measure perfectly. The typical milkshake glass is tall and has wavy sides with a short and flat base. She had one of these too, but the special egg cream glass that my cousin and I fought over had three distinct, bubbled tiers. One for chocolate, one for milk, and the last for seltzer up to the top. I have never seen another glass like this. I probably liked it because filling the bottom section with chocolate syrup allowed for more chocolate syrup then most people would put in an egg cream. But for me it was perfect. She’d finish it off with a white and red striped straw that I would take out from her glass straw holder with the silver top that she kept in the cabinet.
I don’t have a typical relationship with my Nana. We joke about death, I’ve dropped a huge closet door on her foot (accidentally, of course), and we’re tattooed together. When I was 10 years old she bought me a real cash register for my birthday from Staples because I had always been obsessed with toy cash registers and it was time to take it to the next level. When the salesman asked her what kind of business she had, she said, “it’s for my granddaughter, she’s 10.” The man looked at her like she had three heads. She didn’t care.
We wouldn’t bake muffins and knit together, while we did go through a very brief knitting phase and both got bored of it pretty quickly. Instead we would do scratchies with shiny new pennies, go treasure hunting on the beach with her ancient metal detector, and rush arts and crafts projects so I could take them home at the end of the day, which once resulted in us almost setting the microwave on fire. We frequently talked about the items in her house that I wanted after she passed away. This disturbed my mom, but it was like nothing for us.
Going four blocks away to my Nana’s house always felt like a vacation for me. After I knocked on her door obnoxiously for a minute straight, she would open it wearing her raggedy house dress and slippers with her hair in a long braid, like an Armenian Rapunzel. I loved her apartment, full of artwork she had made on the walls - paintings, paper mache figurines, decoupage, and mosaics from tiles that my grandpa would hand crack for her. The chairs and couch were filled with pillows she had sewn and from the windows hung curtains she had made. Most of the apartment has been made by her. There were chotchkies all over, like any typical grandma apartment and I loved it. The smell of mothballs were like roses to me. Whenever it came time to leave her house I would cause a scene. Screaming and crying would follow hiding from my parents in her shower when they knocked on the door. Sometimes this would happen on the street. There was something about being at her house that I could never let go of. There were no rules and I felt free.
Chicken fingers and French fries for dinner, followed by a hefty dessert was never a question. And if I wanted dessert twice in one visit, that was totally cool with her too. Ice cream sundaes piled high with chocolate fudge and whipped cream or cookies and cake that my grandpa brought home from the grocery store were always an option, but my favorite treat was when she would make me an egg cream in the special egg cream glass. MY special egg cream glass.
I’d take the first big sip with a goofy grin on my face. It felt like I was gallivanting around a real life version of the board game Candyland with egg cream as my life force, flowing through my veins. The sugary sweet chocolate milk brought to life with the effervescence of the seltzer was like nothing I had ever tasted before. It hit me with a surprise of enjoyment every time. No matter how many I had over the years, the first sip was always like the very first I had ever taken. Returning to my fresh nature, I would then proceed to blow bubbles through the straw, getting the sticky, sugary drink all over her marble kitchen table. We’d lock eyes and giggle together. I still looked for that seal of approval that the glass was mine, and in those moments of pure bliss together, I think her poker face faltered.