As far back as I can remember my grandmother reminisced about her days on stage back in the Vaudeville era. Her and my grandfather were well known, in New York at least, as performers of music, dance, and probably even more so, comedy.
Grandfather, before he died, swore he’d made up Groucho’s famous “Outside of a book, a dog is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read,” line back then on the stage. It’s true, Groucho did attend one of their performances with his brothers, but regardless, there’s no way to prove that claim.
When I was little I would spend summers at my grandparents’ home in suburban New York, a small property that working the stage had paid for. Mother considered it an extended visit, a vacation. I loved it. Dad, eternally disliked by my grandmother for pulling my mom out of the spotlight and marrying her, hated every moment. Using work as an excuse, he would drive up from Philadelphia, our hometown, on weekends.
As I got older, after grandfather died, our visits were really all my grandmother looked forward to. She would have my room all done up with a frilly pink bedspread (something I pretended to love even after I’d outgrown it) and would serve all of my favorite meals. She would cater to anything I wanted as if I were her own daughter. Actually, even mom didn’t have it as good as I did in that old house.
And every summer, like clockwork, she would pull out her old prop umbrella, worn out and missing the knob, and we would do one of the skits she loved so much with me playing the straight man. She’d put on a funny hat and dress and jump right in.
“There are so many ways to understand what a lady is saying just by how she carries her umbrella! Like if she holds it like this-”
And I would break in, “It means it’s raining?”
“No, no,” she would correct. “It means she’s married! And if she holds it like this-”
“She’s single?” I would ask, giggling.
“No! It means she’s married and her husband is coming.”
“So you run?”
“Of course not. Then you nod, like so.”
“No, stupid! It means you want to meet her around the corner!”
“But she’s married!”
“Exactly, so you have to wait for the signal from her.”
My grandmother would then flirtatiously lift her dress a bit to show some leg, usually with dirty work pants and boots underneath since she was always gardening. This would have me doubled over in laughter by this point, keeping me from finishing the skit.
She would always chuckle along with me, then sit down in the nearest chair and remember the good old days, working the Vaudeville circuits with my grandfather.