My maternal grandmother was one smart cookie. Or perhaps shrewd might be a better word to describe her. Grandma had the uncanny knack to be able to size people up in one glance and nine times out of ten her summation was right on the money. I recall one time when someone new moved into the apartment next to hers and appeared shortly afterward to borrow her broom. She loaned it to him but after he was gone she announced it was the last item he’d be borrowing from her since he was clearly a freeloader.
“You just met him. How can you know that?” I asked.
My grandmother smiled. “He had five people helping him move and the only thing I saw him carry in was his portable television set.”
She was right, of course. During the entire time that particular neighbor lived next door to her, he showed up on her doorstep at least three times a week to borrow something. Grandma usually lent it to him but always with a strong reminder to bring it back. How did a woman with a third grade education get to be such a great judge of human nature? Simple. She was a devout devotee of the National Enquirer, the newspaper sold at grocery store checkout counters everywhere. The Enquirer was full of not only “news” but human interest items too, such as how to read someone’s personality by the kind of soda they drink or how they wear their hair. Laugh, clown, laugh, but my grandmother learned a lot from reading the Enquirer.
Although not a reader, she consumed the National Enquirer each week and consequently was a whole lot savvier than many college professors if not for the depth of her knowledge certainly for its breadth. She was a regular walking encyclopedia filled with “facts” about the stars, especially Sonny, Cher and possibly especially Liberace and could tell you without a moment’s hesitation how Elvis really died and who was truly mourning his departure.
But not only did she learn many fascinating Hollywood (or Hollyweird as the Enquirer liked to call it) tidbits, she also learned a lot of practical advice that sticks in my mind to this day. For example, did you know walking barefoot for at least half an hour of every twenty-four results in a higher degree of happiness? Neither did I until my grandmother ordered me to take my shoes off whenever I visited. And you know what? She was right.
Of course, some of the articles were above my head, such as the ones offering marital advice on how to handle your husband’s temper tantrums or how to tell if your marriage is in danger of slipping—advice that meant nothing to me when I was fourteen but would make mighty interesting reading now. How I wish my grandmother had left me her old tabloids instead of her flatware.
From the time I was old enough to appreciate what exceptional reading material the Enquirer truly was my favorite day of each week was going to my grandmother’s apartment the day after the National Enquirer came out because then it was my turn to catch up on the important news of the world. While I didn’t believe every single word the Enquirer printed, I believed enough of them to make that weekly ritual quite pleasurable. It was a habit I maintained up until the late 1990’s, a time when all magazines and newspapers seemed to go shockingly downhill in quality while prices went uphill just as shockingly.
I no longer read the National Enquirer other than old ones I pick up at garage sales and antique stores (you know you’re officially old when you find a National Enquirer published the week you graduated from high school at an antique store). I’ve reached an age where I don’t care about celebrity gossip because I don’t know who any of the new celebrities are and I’m not sure if the Enquirer still has how-to save your marriage, lose your middle, or become a millionaire articles. But I have to say I believe not only am I a more educated person because of the National Enquirer, I’m also much more well-rounded thanks to an entire scrapbook of celebrity recipes ranging from Hoyt Axton’s stuffed pork chops to Kathie Lee Gifford’s sister’s sweet potato casserole. Life, in those days, was not only entertaining, it was delicious.