Grandmother Meet Nikki. Nikki Meet Grandmother.

It is winter and normally I'm all "Blah, winter", but I've come to realize that winter is the only time I have any luck at doing one of my favorite activities: visiting my ninety-seven year old Grandmother.

She is such an outdoorsy flower bed weeding, mulch spreading, evergreen pruning kind of gal, that winter is just about the only time I can catch my Grandmother both at home and by the phone. I simultaneously adore this quality and find it mildly irritating, but mostly I like that she's too busy to be inside sitting by the phone.

I always phone before I drive the hour over to her house because I never know when homegirl will be available to hang out with me. Fortunately, she answered the phone the way she always does when I call. With a smile in her voice and a  "Gin-nay? Is that you? You comin' over today?"

Gin-nay because she's from Kentucky and that's how proper Kentuckians pronounce Jenny.

Just ask Diane Sawyer.

I smiled into the phone and said, "Yep, it's me. We can't come over today, but are you free on Monday? We'd like to come over and visit if you've got time."

"Wait just a minute, I need to turn down the TV."

If I close my eyes, I can totally picture her watching her ancient TV while laying on her davenport, covered up with a multicolored crocheted afghan with tassels around the edges. It's the same afghan she's been covering up with since 1974.

I felt compelled to ask "Are you watching Jerry Springer again? Jeez Louise."

While turning down the volume, Grandmother replied "No! Springer doesn't come on for another hour. I was watching Cupcake Wars. You ever watch Cupcake Wars? It's pretty good. Some of those people get real fancy with 'em. I think I'd like to try my hand at that."

"Yep, I like Cupcake Wars and I think you'd be all kinds of amazing on that show--"

Grandmother cut me off by saying "-- I think I'd be pretty good, too. I think you have to be a professional cupcake gal though and I'm not what you'd call a professional, but it would be fun."

"So about that visit … you free on Monday?"

Grandmother assures me that she is free and really looking forward to our visit. She said "Hey, when you come over we'll go to the mall and then get a bite to eat."

Hanging with the Grandmother always involves one thing: shopping at the mall. Boys have things such as baseball to connect the generations, my Grandmother and I have the mall. In fact, going shopping is instrumental in my relationship with my Grandmother. Since I don't know the first thing about her interests (painting decorative animals made out of cement or making snappy silk floral arrangements) and she's never seen one single John Hughes movie, shopping has become our common language.

Fortunately we're both fluent in percentage off and clearance racks.

However, my Grandmother has no patience for spending time in stores that don't have anything good. This translates to her going to the mall the day before I'm due to visit and scoping out all the clothing she likes (the good stuff).

And by good stuff I mean sweatshirts with flowers, birds or other seasonal items (like snowflakes or Easter eggs) embroidered on them. The sweatshirt may or may not have a polo shirt-esque collar attached to it. Both collared and collarless shirts are acceptable.

When we hit the mall together, she takes me to only those stores with good stuff and doesn't tolerate looking at other stores. I simply need to trust her judgement that the remaining fifty stores in the mall don't contain anything good.

I've shopped this mall with her for over thirty years and to this day I've only been to three stores.

'Cause that's where the good stuff is.

To be honest, entering the second of the three Grandmother approved stores always gives me heart palpitations and a raging case of the anxious sweats. Always. Two reasons exist for my palpitations and extreme sweatiness: one, it is a very large department store and my Grandmother is a nonagenarian with a penchant for wandering off. And two, one can only enter the store by passing the perfume counter.

Rare is day that Grandmother doesn't try to load up on the sample squirts of that season's newest scents.

Every available scent.

At least one squirt from every single bottle.


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