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Digital Grandma


My little granddaughter Lollipop has written a song.

We never had no songwriters in the Gunch family before. We never even had anybody who could carry a tune. We are the kind who moves our lips silently while everybody else belts out the words.

And get this – this song is about me. My daughter Gumdrop says Lollipop won’t tell her the words, but she’s going to sing it right in front of everybody at Grandparents’ Day at her school.

Grandparents’ Day is one of them required events if you’re a grandma. So every year I take time off – I’m a professional tour guide now – drive from my place in the French Quarter to Lollipop’s school on the Northshore, squish my backside into a kid-size chair, eat handmade Rice Krispie balls (say nothing about no crayon chunks that got rolled in by mistake) and smile a lot. Maybe it ain’t Thrillsville, but it comes with the territory.
This year though, I’m pretty excited.
And then, when I’m on my way, my car dies. No matter how much I step on the gas and say bad words, and how much the people behind me honk and HONK and HONNNNK, this car is dead as a doorknob. Finally, one of them tow trucks that are always circling around like vultures swoops in and takes me away and I pay the driver all the money I got in my purse.

So here I am at a garage, drinking bad coffee and waiting for the mechanic to look at my car. And come to find out, my cell phone battery is also dead. I got to ask the young guy at the counter if I can use the garage phone to break the news to Lollipop. She is beyond upset. Grandparents’ Day party starts in 15 minutes.

It isn’t just about missing the song, which is bad enough. It is that Lollipop will be the only one without a grandparent. Every kid in the school drags in either a legitimate grandparent or somebody with three or four chins who can pass for one.

Last year Lollipop had two of us: me and the competing grandmother, Gumdrop’s mother-in-law, Mandy. But today, Mandy is getting her Botox injections, which are scheduled months in advance and can’t under no circumstances be changed. So I’m the grandmother she was counting on.    

But Gumdrop got a brain that works at warp speed, and she immediately comes up with an idea: We’ll set up a cell phone video chat. This means I can see her and she can see me over our smart cell phones. Gumdrop will bring her smart phone to Lollipop’s teacher, Miss Suzy, and Miss Suzy can carry it to Lollipop, and I can still go to Grandparents’ Day, virtually.

Except my phone – which is smart enough to do this video chat, even if I’m not – is dead, which is why I’m standing at the garage counter making this phone call. I am explaining that to her, and the counter guy looks up – his nametag says Alonzo – and says “I got a smart phone here.” And he pulls it out.

Turns out Alonzo and Gumdrop speak the same cyber language, so it only take a few seconds and clicks before I’m staring into Alonzo’s screen – he politely wiped it with a clean-ish rag– and looking at Gumdrop. And a few minutes later, at Miss Suzy.

Now, Alonzo’s phone is bigger than most cell phones and the screen is about twice the size of mine, which means both of us can look into it together.

But evidently Miss Suzy don’t quite grasp the concept of video chat. She sets the smart phone on top a stack of books she‘s carrying in her arms, and what me and Alonzo see for the next few minutes, via smart phone, is a extreme close-up of Miss Suzy’s left boob, in a flowered blouse, bobbing up the stairs. Thanks for that, modern technology.

But pretty soon we’re looking at Lollipop, beaming like she’s seeing Santa Claus in person. I see a couple of her little friends peering into the phone, too, jealous because Lollipop has a virtual grandma and all they got are real ones. I introduce Lollipop to Alonzo and also to Vinny, the mechanic, who has wandered up and joined our little video party.

Miss Suzy appears in the screen, frowns and asks Lollipop who her grandma’s friends are. Now, Lollipop is a very literal child. She don’t realize she’s asking about Alonzo and Vinny. She says “Her friends? The ladies in the altar society, I guess.” Miss Suzy frowns deeper, but then she goes back to directing the party. It is time for Lollipop’s song.

Lollipop props the phone so we can all watch while she walks to the front of the room and bows, and then sings, to a tune that reminds me of the Oscar Wiener song.

“My grandma don’t sew and she don’t knit
If she makes a dress
It won’t fit
But: My grandma’s a professional
She walks up and down the street
And when new people come to town
They all say she’s neat ...”

It is very, very quiet in the classroom. Alonzo and Vinny are looking at me strange.

“The French Quarter is Grandma’s home
Where she likes to roam
Use her phone ...”

Why can’t she move her lips silently like the rest of the family?

“But: She’s fun and kind of pretty
She knows a lot of stuff
She’s a tour guide for the city
She’s my grandma – that’s enough!”

Whew. The classroom breaks into applause; Vinny and Alonzo give me high fives and Lollipop blows us a kiss.

And then it was over. No squatting on a tiny seat; no choking down suspicious Rice Krispies balls.

Virtual Grandparents’ Day. Could be the next big thing.

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