In Nanny's Kitchen
In a 1910 railroad flat apartment building, three young siblings scrambled down the two flights to their grandmother’s apartment. It was 1964.
“How come we have to wash her feet?” said John.
“Because she can’t bend down to do it herself,” said Sue.
“Why do we always have to do it?” said George.
“Because we’re the youngest,” said Sue.
”We just washed her feet last week,” said John. ”It‘s not like she‘s been out playing in the mud or anything.”
“Oh, just shut up, and keep moving,” said Sue. “Why do you two always complain? You know you’re not getting out of it.”
When they entered the apartment, their grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table humming an old tune. She was large. Bigger than the seat on which she sat. She was dressed in a blue-checkered housedress. It had two big pockets. One on either side of her hip. Her handkerchief was kept in one. Her cough drops and coin purse in the other. Her feet were bare. She was ready.
“Hey, you little ragamuffins,” she said. “The wash basin is in the bath tub.”
She was delighted to see them.
“Hi, Nan,” said Sue. “I’ll get it.”
“Don’t fill it up too much,” said Nanny. “You’ll get the floor all wet. And don’t forget the wash rags.”
“I won’t,” said Sue.
Nanny turned her attention to the boys.
“You two been behavin’?” she said.
“I have,” said George. “John got the slipper for making fart noises with his mouth when we were supposed to be sleeping.”
Whenever the children misbehaved and there was nothing else within her reach, their mother would remove one of her house-slippers and start swinging. No one was safe. Sometimes even their dad would have to bare the brunt of a misplaced slipper swing.
“Snitch,” said John. “At least I didn’t get the yardstick and have to go to confession for cursin’ in front of a nun.”
When sister Elizabeth announced to the fifth grade class that their would be a surprise math quiz, the word ‘shit’ was heard among the many groans. It was a word that trampled over those groans and left no mistake as to who was in charge.
“Who said that!” the nun demanded.
No one spoke a word. They didn’t have to. All heads turned to George.
“Up and out, George!” she said.
Sister Elizabeth reached for her yardstick and followed George out the door. He would not sit with an comfort for the rest of the day.
“How many whacks did you get?” said Nanny.
“Four,” said George.
“Four?” said Nanny. “That’s nothing. You see this knuckle?”
Nanny put her right hand out in front of the boys for inspection.
“The middle one,” she said.
“Where is it?” said George.
“Exactly,” said Nanny. “It was beat into oblivion with a twelve inch ruler by Sister Mary Margaret.”
“Wow,” said John.
“Wow is right,” said Nanny. “I got blood all over the cuff of my new school dress that day, and when I got home I got a good whipping for that. So save me your nansy-pansy story about four smacks on the heinie.”
The word heinie always caused the boys to laugh.
“All right,” said Nanny. “Enough funny business. Time to soak my feet.”
As Sue came out of the bathroom, Nanny lifter her feet and Sue placed the wash basin full of warm sudsy water on the floor. She gave each boy a wash cloth.
”Thank you, dear,” said Nanny. ”Good job.”
“Get busy, you two” said Sue. “I’ll do the dishes.”
“And don’t rub so hard,” said Nanny. “I’m very delicate, you know.”
Each boy soaked his wash cloth in the water and went to work on Nanny’s ankles.
“Ah, that feels good, boys,” she said.
When they were done with the ankles, each boy lifted a foot by the back of its heel and dug in. They scrubbed the top and bottom of each foot and then worked the wash cloth in between her toes. Which made her laugh.
Sue handed the boys a towel and they went about the business of drying Nanny’s feet.
“It’s good of you kids to do this,” said Nanny. “I don’t know what I’d do without you three. Your old Granny’s getting a little heavy and arthritic in her old age.”
Nanny reached into her house dress pocket and pulled out her coin purse. She gave each one a quarter.
“Now, off with you riff-raff,” she said. “You need to be outside playing.”
“Okay, Nanny,” said Sue. “Thanks for the quarter.”
“Oh,” said Nanny. “Here’s an extra quarter. When you’re finished playing, bring me back a Diet Rite cola. I got a touch of diabetes. I have to stay away from sugar.”
"Okay," Nanny," said Sue
When the kids hit the street they heard the music coming from the Mister Softee ice cream truck getting closer.
Nanny sat at at he window and watched as all three raced down the street to make their purchase.
She rubbed at her missing knuckle and smiled.