The grandmother of the family I lived with is from Ibiza. She is a woman of wealth. A woman that because of her audacity, ambition, and desire to do everything against social norms, suffered depression after being shunned from social life. Separating from her cheating husband before divorce was legal, opening up her own business, and refusing to dress a certain way are just some of the ways which she had defied her social upbringing.
She is a tall yet hunched over woman of over 80 years, with short brown hair and a permanent stern look on her face. She mumbles constantly, makes dramatic hand gestures, and shuffles her feet as she walks. Her sneering laugh is boisterous and usually unwelcome to the rest of the family (she pokes fun at everyone). During my experience working as an au pair, she has been one of the most entertaining parts, and I’d like to help give you a short explanation of what it’s like to live with her.
Born and raised in Ibiza in the 1940s she has always been a “city gal.” The mother of the family likes to say that as a child, the grandmother found comfort in the “loud noises” of the 3-4 cars that existed on the island at that time.
While Ibiza has been a popular tourist destination for decades, it was only in the 60s that the first hippie tourists started to arrive transform the island, and then later when massive clubs and the electronic music scene converted Ibiza into what people know it as today. Seeking a deep, insightful answer from the grandmother, one day with her in the car I asked, “And what was Ibiza like when you were young? How has it changed? Have you changed?” To which is curtly responded, “There weren’t a lot of roads to the beaches. It took a lot longer to get there.” And apparently wasn’t interested in delving any more into the topic.
The first time I saw the grandmother was the first day that I went from Ibiza Town, where I was staying, to the family’s house in the countryside. I was given clear instructions to arrive at the grandmother’s apartment complex and hold down on the buzzer for at least 10 seconds. Then told to repeat 3-4 times. Otherwise, she doesn’t notice.
Around five minutes after I held down the buzzer, the glass door to the building flew open and she shuffled out with a rolling cart behind her. Without greeting me, she waved her hand in a gesture meaning to follow her. We got to the parking garage and got into the car without speaking. The radio station was set to the top 40, and the juxtaposition of Katy Perry and this woman was too much for me.
A few months later, I had to use her car to pick up the girl from school because the one I use was in the shop. I turned on the car, and was startled by booming French rap that I couldn’t figure out how to turn down or off. I like her music tastes.
The family likes to say that driving with her is like driving with a 17-year-old with a learner’s permit. Giving no care in the world to traffic laws, she zooms by pedestrian crossings, cuts people off, and speeds furiously. That first day in the car with her, I also noticed that she screams at people who commit the same violations as she does. The only thing she said to me in car that day was when she turned to me and said, “I always let people in when they’re waiting to turn left. I go when it’s my turn.” I can’t say I agree.
Because she has a house in the city, she splits her time between the family’s country house and hers. While she’s here, if she’s not taking care of the chickens, talking to the dog, or feeding leftoever to the cats, she’s usually in her room near the back of the house. It’s there that she sits abnormally close to the TV and watches dubbed Lifetime-esque movies that usually have a cheesy and stereotypical love story. The volume is so loud that you can hear from outside the house. When the little girl goes to visit her in her room, she usually comes back with a mouthful of chocolates or cookies.
When she leaves her lair in the morning and comes into the kitchen, I’m usually giving private lessons. She typically makes a “my lips are sealed” motion (as not to interrupt the class), followed by “good morning” in 3-4 different languages, repeating which language it was after each phrase. She does the same at night (“bona nit in Ibicenco, buenas noches in Spanish, good night in English”), when it’s raining, or when it’s hot outside.
Maybe it’s her personality, or maybe it’s old age, but I laugh every time we talk about food, because she typically tells me the same thing over and over again. Because she grew up in a time where there was only local products on the island, she is repulsed by several foods that she wasn’t introduced to until adulthood. For example, anytime we have food with spices that are not natural to Ibiza, she’ll let me know that she doesn’t like them. She’ll explain that, because this ingredient and that ingredient are foreign, they disgust her.
Every time we eat veal at the house, which is frequent, she’ll repeat that she doesn’t like it, because she didn’t have it until she was 25. Once, I was cooking salmon in the kitchen, she walked in and pretended to gag. She said, “I hate salmon. It’s from abroad, so even the smell of it makes me sick.”
However, one of my favorite images that I hope to never forget is when I walk into the kitchen and she’s gnawing on an entire lamb’s leg, pig foot, goat neck, or any other big animal’s body part. She holds it up with one hand and picks out the bits that get in her teeth with the other.
One quality about the grandmother that even trumps gnawing on a leg of lamb, is the fact that she can never remember people’s faces. It takes her months before she is able to see someone and recognize that she knows him/her. Sometimes the mother has people over that the grandmother has met several times, and she never remembers. I have another au pair friend who works in a family that is friends with my family. I am lucky in that my family lets me invite her over when we’re not working. Every time the grandmother sees her, I say, “Do you remember her?” She bursts out laughing and says, “No clue.”
Between the chickens, the rap music, and her food preferences, the grandmother has made my life here much more amusing.