A redheaded, 90-year-old grandmother

I should’ve seen her coming.

I should’ve known I was about to blow sky high.

When you put a cellphone into the hands of a 90-year-old grandmother, it is like putting a Porsche into the hands of a 16-year-old. It gives them the license to squeal their wheels, conquer their world, and the power to say, “I’ve arrived.”

Well, I also arrived early at my watercolor class. I have a method of setting up, getting ready to dazzle the guests at the Wyndham Resorts with my 45 years of art experience and knowledge.

The students arrived early and found a place where they would create a beautiful watercolor. It was their moment to discover the world of art in Betty Slade’s watercolor class. Yes, it would be a moment of greatness for everyone.

It didn’t exactly happen that way.

I noticed a little, redheaded lady playing with her phone. I know how it feels to conquer technology in your later years: it’s like standing on a mountaintop and shouting, “Look what I’ve got. I even know how to use it.”

Ten minutes before the class began, grandma received a phone call. I thought it would be quick. After all, these students paid to learn how to paint.

The call went on and on.

The students were looking at me, at her, then back at me.

I introduced myself over the muffled voice coming from the phone, and then had the students introduce themselves and tell a little about their art experience and where they were from.

Grandma was still talking on the phone.

I looked at the clock. It was 8:55. We still had a few minutes before we started. I sent the list around for them to sign in. I did all the preliminaries.

Grandma was still talking.

When the clock struck 9 a.m., I said to her, “Please take your call outside.”

She held up her hand and shook her head.

I said it again, only with more authority, “You need to take your call outside.”

She shook her head again and put her hand over her eyes.

Remember, the rest of the class was looking to me to do something. Their eyes were going back and forth from me to her. They were waiting, patiently.

I needed to do something to save the day.

I looked at her niece, who came with her. She looked the other way.

Finally, grandma put down her phone and I said very stoutly, “Everyone, please turn off your phones. It is not right for the other students when your phone rings. It disturbs the class. It’s courtesy.”

She said with entitlement, “That was a very important phone call, I needed to take it.”

“I don’t care, it’s disturbing to the class.”

Then she said, “I was talking to the people at the Arlington Cemetery. They are going to handle my dead husband’s ashes.”

I looked at her sternly. She wasn’t going to pull that card on me. I said, “It’s rude to talk in front of people and keep everyone waiting.”

The class members gulped and softened with a quiet, “Oh, how sad.” They had switched allegiance to her side.

But, I didn’t waiver. I said to her, “Please turn off your phone.”

Finally, we all pulled ourselves together and continued, creating beautiful watercolors. That evening, Al and I met with our children for pizza.

One of our daughters said, “Mother, tell them about the 90-year-old woman at your painting class.”

I was still a little upset about it all, but I put on my storytelling hat, gave a slight laugh and began telling about my experience that morning.

My other daughter said, “Mother, what’s wrong with you. You didn’t have to use that tone. You could have softened it. You’ve been angry lately, I’ve not known you to be this way.”

“It wasn’t my fault. It was her fault. She was using her dead husband’s ashes to be rude.”

My son-in-law jumped into the conversation and took my side. He told of his woe about a phone call earlier that day during a meeting. He understood.

I quipped back, “It’s just rude.”

“But you should have been nice.”

“I was, I was just stern.”

“You could have said it with a different tone. Did you apologize?”

“No. She should have apologized.”

“Mother, you need to be kind.”

We left the restaurant and the pizza was lodged in my throat. I was determined never to tell my family anything else again, except maybe my son-in-law.

But, then again, I’ll have to choose my stories. He gets a little uptight about these articles.

Oh me, what’s a person to do?

Final brushstroke: I should have taken the higher ground and been kinder. Sometimes, it feels so good to wallow in the mud, even if it’s just for a few minutes, but it doesn’t produce a good night’s sleep.

I’ll try to be kinder next time.

Artist’s quote

“Kindness is an inner desire that makes us want to do good things even if we do not get anything in return. It is the joy of our life to do them. When we do good things from this inner desire, there is kindness in everything we think, say, want and do.” — Emmanuel Swedenborg, 1688-1772, scientist, philosopher and theologian

Readers’ comments

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This story was posted on August 8, 2013.