My grandmother was a pirate. The other was an astronaut. She would have been, anyway, had she not failed her medical exam due to large traces of cocaine in her bloodstream. She was also a drug runner across the border, much to the shame of my father and uncle. She would jump into large trucks headed for Colombia and hitchhike her way back to the United States, her grandmotherly handbags filled to the brim with high grade nose-candy. That’s what my father used to call it when I was little. Grandmother deals with nose-candy, he would say, turning away from me with downcast eyes.
The pirate is also a Jewess. And my mother says her criminal behavior was most likely a response to the oppression she felt growing up in Poland as a young Jew. She fled to America with her husband, a proctologist with, coincidentally, a fierce cocaine habit. They landed in Brooklyn, but my grandmother, after giving birth to my mother and aunt, fled to New Orleans where she fell in, apparently, with the wrong crowd. Her piracy began with mere con-jobs. A beautiful woman, my dark-complexioned grandmother soon became one of the most prized prostitutes in the Nolia. She befriended Louis Armstrong, or so my mother says, smiling. It was Louis, legend has it, who first introduced my pirate grandmother to a scurvy gang of scallywags and their captain, Doctor Bloodshanks.
Both women were quiet, both subtle and coy, both clever. My pirate grandmother quickly disposed of Doctor Bloodshanks, first luring him to her bed and then cursing him by spelling occult symbols on his back during their lovemaking. He was found the next day with his head caved inwards into his torso. His blood had been almost completely drained, and what was left was brackish and thick as southern molasses. My astronaut grandmother also used her womanly wiles to climb the ranks of NASA. While she never cheated on my grandfather (she did, my uncle always states in his drunken stupor, love him till the day she died), she would knit shawls of the most provocative maroons and sensual oranges. Her tea cozies would melt any man’s heart, and more than a few women found themselves amorously stroking her needlepoint pillows.
My pirate grandmother became, of course, the scourge of the Caribbean. You might have heard of her, but I will not repeat her name. My mother has been trying to escape from under that shadow for her entire life. Her ship, christened the Adonai, cut through the waves like a plague, laying waste to cruise liners and naval battleships. Survivors, paralyzed in fear, could only describe the black flag with the blood-red Star of David.
I picture my astronaut grandmother as a little girl, gazing starwards with her grandmother lips pursed tight in anticipation. Her lines and wrinkles (for surely she was born with them) like deep shadow gashes along her moonlit face. She must have been rather pretty.
I like to think that my pirate grandmother was provoked by anti-Semitism into her grisly profession. Perhaps this is not so, perhaps she was born into her blood-lust. My astronaut grandmother would have attributed her behavior to the alignment of the stars on her birth night. My astronaut grandmother used to tell me, running her brittle fingers through my hair, that I was born when Orion’s Belt was smiling and the Big Dipper was tipping over. That is why I am smart and beautiful, she used to say.
Even though my pirate grandmother had abandoned her two daughters, she was surely thinking of them always. She would send large packages to her husband back in Brooklyn. The boxes contained gold doubloons, Argentinean sheep, cow’s heads from Peru, Jamaican marijuana and, once, a small infant from Cabo San Lucas. These my grandfather would sell to supplement his income and, sadly, his destructive addiction to high grade nose-candy. He was a truck driver. While I sympathize with my mother and aunt, it is my grandmother’s booty that is paying for my college education.
My astronaut grandmother never walked on the moon, but she passed along to me her wild imagination. She would tell me stories of over-sexed Martians, Venutian civil wars, and the political disputes between the rings of Saturn. The galaxy will always be filled to the brim with excitement for me, and when I look up I remember her soft voice and soft, soft eyes.