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His Grandmother Trained Him to Be a Gentleman

When he became interested in girls, he knew just where to turn for guidance: a grandmother named Honeybunch.

Kyle on his graduation night with Grandma Honeybunch; photo courtesy Brenda Brown

Every Wednesday when I was 16, I’d change into a nice button-down and my best jeans after school. Then I’d ride my bike on the path between our house and my grandmother’s outside Meadville, Pennsylvania. Exactly at four, Grandma Honeybunch—we always called her that, though I don’t know why except that it fit her sweetness—would pull her dark green Dodge Stratus sedan into the dirt driveway.

“Hi, Kyle!” she would call out, trying to hide how worn out she was from a long day on her feet at the chair factory. “It’s our date night! Give me a few minutes to get ready.” I waited in her living room, fiddling with the Nintendo console I knew she practiced on so she could beat me. Grandma Honeybunch loved her bragging rights!

Out she’d come in a flowered print dress, her short, curly gray hair freshly brushed, wafting in a cloud of the perfume she wore just for the occasion. “Where’s my purse?” she’d ask, absentminded as usual, and I’d retrieve it from under the table or between the couch cushions.

Then we were off, with me behind the wheel of the Dodge so I could log 100 adult-supervised hours for my license. Our biggest adventure had been when I drove us to St. Louis for a family reunion, windows down, the wind blowing through our hair, as Grandma Honeybunch tried to navigate, something she wasn’t too good at.

Most Wednesdays we headed to Taco Bell or KFC in Meadville, me tootling along well under the speed limit. Sometimes we’d splurge and dine at Cracker Barrel in Union City.

I’d just started trying to woo the ladies, so one night I asked Grandma Honeybunch, the most ladylike of them all, to teach me to be a gentleman. Her generation was, after all, much more romantic and polite than my own. I hurried to open her car door, then escorted her to the restaurant, where I again held open the door. “Perfect,” she said.

I pulled out her chair, then took my seat. “Napkin in the lap,” she reminded me. “Then wait to hear what the lady is having before you order. That way you’ll know you have enough money for the bill.” I followed her instructions to a T. The waitress beamed at us. “Now on to the proper silverware etiquette,” Grandma Honeybunch said, “starting with the salad fork.” Over our meal, she teased me about girls. “I see you have your eye on Susan at church.”

I blushed. “What should I do to make her like me?”

“Be sure to ask her how she’s doing,” Grandma Honeybunch said. “And smile a lot. Let her see you’re a happy person.”

I paid the bill, leaving the tip Grandma Honeybunch instructed, and drove us to church, where I’d go to youth group and she to Bible study. Before we went in, she dug into her big black purse. She pulled out a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and offered me a stick, our ritual.

“Nothing is more important than fresh breath,” she said, holding out her hand for the wrapper, which she crumpled into her purse. Sometimes she’d pull out the gum at a random moment, never failing to take the wrapper, which cracked me up.

I did end up dating Susan from church, with Grandma Honeybunch’s full approval, though it didn’t last. Even after I got my license and my own car, my grandmother and I continued our Wednesday date nights, but once I graduated and got busy with college and a part-time job, I didn’t have Wednesdays free. I still spent as much time with her as I could, regularly losing at Nintendo by then.

The Thanksgiving I was 22 and she was 67, Grandma Honeybunch left my aunt’s house after dinner to go home. Hours later, the police called. They’d pulled her over hundreds of miles away, in Ohio. She had no idea how she’d gotten there.

It was a shock for all of us; she had always been so absentminded that we’d missed the early signs of her Alzheimer’s. We knew we couldn’t let her drive anymore; I took her car. Driving the Dodge was never the same, though, without my grandmother by my side, steering me right in more ways than one.

By the next year, Grandma Honeybunch was forgetting to eat. Our family made the difficult decision to put her into a memory care unit at a nursing home. It broke my heart to visit her there, as she went from knowing who we were to becoming totally unresponsive. She passed away 12 years ago.

I haven’t found the right woman yet, but when I do, I know Grandma Honeybunch will be with me in spirit to offer a stick of Wrigley’s. Sometimes the smallest things we remember make the biggest difference in life.

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