Didi is the name I called my grandmother on my Father’s side of the family. She was a widow for as long as I knew her. She lived in a large four-story town home in Wilmington Delaware with a huge back garden. As a young child, I think I loved her house almost as much as I loved her.
The house was a source of innumerable pleasures and I had a ball when I visited Didi there. Her house had double, enormous front parlors. One room was used for entertaining her friends, and the other was devoted to playing cards. She loved games. I used to play canasta in that room with her for hours at a time and I still love cards. I always carry a deck or two with me when I travel.
There was a grand staircase next to the dining room that led to the four floors above and under it was the phone table. A single, rotary, black telephone sat on a small square table and a stiff chair was nearby. That’s where Didi would call her friends or family. There was another such table and chair on the second floor in her sitting room. There were no other phones in that big house…not like now-a-days where there’s one in every room or we carry our cell phone around with us everywhere.
One of the best things about that house was its back staircase. The steps were steep and narrow but so much fun to play on. I pretended they were for the hotel staff’s use. I would grab a yellow legal pad from the bottom drawer of my grandmother’s desk (she kept dozens of yellow pads there for whatever reason? As far as I know, I was the only one who ever used them). I’d go downstairs to meet my imaginary hotel guests in the front parlor and escort them to one of the many bedrooms on the various floors. I could spend hours playing by myself and imagining where the guests had come from and why they were in town. That’s probably where my creativity began.
Didi had a laundress who ironed the sheets on a huge contraption in the basement. I was fascinated by how she maneuvered the linens through the enormous machine and how smooth and unwrinkled the sheets came out at the end. Today, I still love the feel of freshly ironed sheets, but don’t take the time or make the effort to do it myself. In that basement, I watched as she skillfully folded the sheets and stacked them to place later in the linen closet.
My grandmother loved to shop, but preferred the stores in Philadelphia. Wilmington stores were too small and didn’t carry a wide enough selection of goods. At least once on every visit with her, we would drive to Wannamaker’s, a big department store in Philadelphia, and spend the many hours searching for treasures. My grandmother was not too concerned with the price of things. Instead she wanted it to find something unusual and unique. She did not want to look like everyone else. After shopping, as a special treat, we would have a sandwich at a local deli and I felt especially grown up when Didi allowed me a cup of coffee drowned in milk.
Sometimes Didi would take me and my sister out to dinner at a restaurant or to the Hotel Dupont dining room, but mostly she preferred to eat at home. She employed a cook who made us whatever we asked for. My favorite dish was hot pea soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I could eat that same meal morning, noon and night. My parents finally had to beg Didi to only serve me peas at only one meal a day. They swore I was turning green.
Didi always dressed exquisitely for meals and for shopping, wearing elegant dresses and beautiful jewelry. Even when she was resting, she would lie on the chaise lounge in her bedroom in a long, flowing silk bathrobe and wearing stocking. Stockings? Can you imagine? I never saw her without them.
Unlike my other grandmother, Momo, Didi did not keep an eagle eye on me, fearing that I’d get into some awful mischief. Rather, she encouraged my playfulness and imagination, and when I began writing short stories in boarding school, she was my biggest fan. I called her “collect” every Sunday night from boarding school and she always asked about my latest story and what I had done that week. Even after all these years, I still remember sitting in the phone booth on my dormitory floor and asking the operator to place a collect call from me. I’d say, “Please dial my grandmother at Olympia 8. 4. 0. 9.5. It’s Peggy calling and, when Didi answered the phone and accepted the charges, I was so happy.
I’ve just realized by writing this blog that I should dedicate my next book to her and I did. Didi was, after all, my first fan, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her in some loving way and because of her, I have a desk drawer full of yellow pads.
Until my next inspiration…ciao.