by Jeeni Criscenzo
Grandma arrived in her ancient Oldsmobile
with giant sugar cookies nestled in tissue paper in a Poughkeepsie bakery box
denied us until we submitted to her yanking a lice comb through our unruly hair.
Grandma announced that this summer
she would be taking me – the eldest – as her companion
for her annual trek to Atlantic City.
I eagerly climbed into the July-sticky bench seat beside her
no seat belts, no air conditioning,
just roll down the window for a bit of precious breeze.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were billboarded on the Steel Pier
but despite my pre-teen pleas
Grandma wouldn’t hear of buying tickets.
I resigned myself that trips as Grandma’s companion
were not meant for frivolous amusement
or anything that cost money.
Grandma insisted we stand sideways in the ocean
so the force of the waves
wouldn’t break our legs.
Not convinced that showing a sliver of my midriff would be a sin,
I detested my one-piece bathing suit with the ruffled top
to camouflage my budding breasts.
Grandma insisted it was time I grew up
when I wanted to make a long-distance call
from the phone the hotel lobby.
She told me how she left Italy at my age
with a stranger her father decided she should marry
because he would take her to America.
Grandma was as dated as that musty two-story hostel
humbled between modern luxury hotels
shimmering with pools and music and laughter.
When I refused to make the bed
because there was a maid who would make it for us.
Grandma threatened to jump out the window
I dragged the sheets and bedspread over the pillows
knowing nothing of the passive-aggressive techniques
women learned to survive patriarchy.
That summer I left my childhood behind
I dutifully carried our suitcases down to the street
climbed into the Oldsmobile beside Grandma