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A Little Bit of Grease

A grandmother takes a look back at the inspiring stories of her past to connect to her grandson today.

Grandmama knows what's cool!

Calm, cool and connected.

That was my relationship with my grandson Alec. I lived just a couple of blocks away, so we spent a lot of time together.

Unlike my other grandkids, who were usually bouncing off the walls, Alec was quiet and reserved. Not with me, though. Every time he saw me he’d leap into my arms for a  Grandmama-sized hug. We’d bake cookies together or catch the latest Disney flick. He’d even call me just to say hi. I felt like we had a special bond.

Then Alec hit his teens and his reticence became a roadblock in our relationship. By the time he was a senior at West High School, we’d barely get past “Hi, Grandmama” on the phone before he clammed up. Even in person it was impossible to get him to say more than a few words. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

I popped over one afternoon. “Hi, sweetheart. How are you doing?”

“Fine, Grandmama,” he said.

Well, at least he looked up from his video game. “What’s new at school? I asked.

“Not much.”

“Your grades okay?”

“Yup.” Alec shot me a smile, then went back to his game.

“Good,” I said, wondering if I’d ever feel like part of his world again. I just didn’t understand all the stuff Alec was into—video games, IM, texting. He’d tried to show me how to send a text message from my cell phone, but the whole thing gave me a headache…almost as bad as that noise he listened to on his iPod.

I’m used to talking to God about my problems, and this was no exception. Lord, I said as I walked back to my house, I feel like Alec and I have nothing in common anymore. Show me how to connect with him.

A few weeks later, Alec called. “Guess what, Grandmama! I’m trying out for the senior musical!” I’d never heard him so excited.

“That’s great, honey!” I said. “What’s it called?”

Grease,” he said. “You know that one, right?”

Grease!” I practically shouted. “Are you kidding? That’s my era—the clothes, the music. Which part are you trying out for?”

“I’m gonna try for Kenickie.”

“Wow, Kenickie! That’s a great role.” It was the second lead with lots of singing and dancing. I couldn’t remember Alec doing either in all his 18 years. Now I was worried. How would my shy grandson star in a musical?

Soon Alec called again. The audition results were in. “Did you get Kenickie?” I asked, trying not to sound too eager.

“No,” Alec said quietly.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” He must be so disappointed.

Alec burst out laughing. “Grandmama, I got the lead! Danny Zuko!”

“Alec, how wonderful!”

Alec went into rehearsals right away. Grease is full of big, bold song-and-dance numbers. The part of Danny was almost always onstage. I pictured Alec with his hair slicked back in a ducktail like the guys in my high school. Feeling nostalgic, I dug out my yearbook and flipped through the senior pictures. Boy, we looked like the cast of Grease. I called Alec and asked him to stop by after school the next day.

When Alec came by I handed him my yearbook. “I thought it might help you with your role if you saw what the hairstyles were really like in the fifties.”

He turned the pages and said, “Very cool!”

“Funny you should use that word,” I said, pointing to a note from a classmate: “To a cool girl in my chemistry class.”

Alec’s eyes widened. “They used that word then?”

I chuckled. “Would you believe it?” I tousled his thick brown locks. “Don’t cut your hair,” I said. “If you want to have that Grease look, you’ve got to have hair long enough to work with.”

“Hey,” he said, his eyes lighting up, “why don’t you come to rehearsal and show us how to comb our hair?”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, Grandmama. Come in tomorrow and bring your yearbook.”

I didn’t bring just my yearbook. I brought a giant bag filled with hair gels, pomades, hairspray and combs of every size. “Grandmama, you’re here!” Alec said the second he saw me at the auditorium door. He ran over to help me with the bag. “Guys, check this out!” he called to the rest of the cast. He showed them the pictures in my yearbook. “How did people get their hair to stay up like that?” asked Alec.

“Have a seat and I’ll show you.”

I drenched Alec’s hair with water, then slathered on a thick coat of gel, slowly working it into a pompadour. He told me more about his part, how he’d been practicing his solo “Alone at the Drive-In Movie” every night. “You’ll do great, Alec, I know it,” I told him, as I finished off his look with a shock of hair falling over his forehead à la Danny Zuko.

Alec brought another boy over to me. “Can you do mine too?” the boy asked. “I’m playing Roger.” I coated his blond hair with extra-hold pomade and—poof—he had a ducktail.

Soon another boy came over and wanted his hair done too. “We look awesome. Thanks, Alec’s Grandma!” he said. The boys asked me to come back to help them at the dress rehearsal and at their performances any nights I was free. I could hardly believe my teenage grandson liked having me around. Now that was cool.

At the dress rehearsal I was more nervous than the kids. My hands shook while I put the finishing touches on their hair backstage. I wished them luck, then took my seat in the audience.

The first notes of the opening song, “Grease,” played as the curtain opened. My heart pounded. There was Alec! He and the rest of the cast looked like a page straight from my yearbook. I watched, enraptured, all through “Summer Nights” and “Greased Lightnin’” and “We Go Together.” The kids were amazing! When Alec took his final bow, I clapped till my hands hurt. There was never a Grandmama prouder than me.

I did Alec and his friends’ hair for their big opening night, but the third day of the performance, I wasn’t able to make it. I wanted Alec to know how much I would miss him.

Suddenly, I knew just what to do. I grabbed my cell phone. “Break a leg, dearheart. Will be back tomorrow,” I slowly typed into a text message, then pressed send. Gee, that wasn’t so hard, I thought. Not even a minute later my phone beeped and a little message popped up: “Thx Grandmama. Love u!”

Calm, cool and connected. That’s my relationship with my grandson. Who would’ve thought a little bit of Grease would be the answer to my prayers?

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