What do I get my grandma?
July 27, 2006 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Good gifts for a loveable curmudgeon?

It's my grandmother's birthday -- I believe she's in her early 80s -- and I haven't a clue what to get her.

She hates technology. (The DVD player I got her collects dust on the top shelf.) She can't have anything edible, as she's on a restricted diet. She doesn't go out, except to bowl and drink with her friends (despite the restricted diet). (And yes, I've given them everything vaguely related to bowling over the years.)

From what I can tell, she and her husband sit around, drink, smoke and sleep. She doesn't wear anything but polyester jogging suits. If she gets jewelry, she claims we're just giving her stuff to get back once she dies.

I gave her a blank book and a bunch of books on writing a memoir for Christmas. She couldn't have been more annoyed. "What? I have to do work?"

I used to get her lots of interesting books, but I've worn out all my approachable favorites (John Irving, Tom Robbins) and my new favorites (Umberto Eco, graphic novels) aren't her cup of tea. Also, I don't think she's willing to spend the mental energy to follow anything but fluff these days.

It can't be experiential, as I'm only in town for long enough to stop in and say hi (and when I am with her, all she wants to talk about is when I'll get married and then the conversation goes dead). She's got all the pictures of her great grandaughter that she can stomach.

She used to be a fun, artistic, amazing woman, but age and giving up on life have kinda taken that away. But I still love her so I'd like to get her something that demonstrates that. And yes, she's the kind of lady that needs dramatic demonstrations.
posted by Gucky to Shopping (20 answers total)
Would a beautiful houseplant be acceptable? Something where the only "work" involved is a daily or weekly watering?

"I hope you enjoy it, and I totally don't care if winds up dying in you, I just thought it was beautiful and thought you would too."
posted by hermitosis at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2006

along the same line- flowers?
posted by JMOZ at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2006

Er.. that should be "dying ON you"...
posted by hermitosis at 11:46 AM on July 27, 2006

Coffee table art book?
posted by leapingsheep at 11:50 AM on July 27, 2006

Nonfiction books, particularly those relating to a person or subject she's expressed interest in before? Or, if she's interested in a particular historical period, maybe light fiction set in that milieu?

Failing that, you might think about hiring out lanes at a bowling alley and throwing a surprise party for her and her friends. (She might turn up her nose at the time, but I guarantee you she'd remember it.)
posted by La Cieca at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2006

I agree with flowers. Who doesn't love flowers? That is what I usually give my older relatives who have everything they could possibly need and whose tastes in things I don't always "get". They always seem pleased.
posted by tastybrains at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2006

she just sounds like a curmudgeon. what's lovable about her? maybe that'll help with gift ideas.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2006

Make her a photo album or scrapbook of family pictures and past experiences.
posted by rglass at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2006

She's in her 80's and she smokes and drinks. Hooray for her.

Give her a carton of smokes and a bottle of Maker's Mark, or whatever it is she drinks. They'll be gifts that are appreciated, much as you might feel badly about giving them. Giving is about pleasing the recipient, not yourself.
posted by paulsc at 12:19 PM on July 27, 2006

To go along with rglass's idea above, check out this thread. It's probably not enough time to get through it all, but maybe a smaller version of some of the ideas in there? You say she's got enough pictures of the great-granddaughter, but what about an all-ecompassing view of the whole family? Esp. if you can include pics of her when young?
posted by inigo2 at 12:50 PM on July 27, 2006

I agree with Paulsc. I have a great aunt who is 94 and has smoked since she was 17. I get her cartons of camels. It is what whe wants. It isn't like I am contributing to her poor health or anything. SHe is 94!! Too late to do her any lasting harm. (In fact her doctor thought quiting might do her more harm than good when she asked him a few years ago.) Getting her smokes of drink will please her and save her money and also make her think of you for the week it takes her to consume.

The other thing I would consider giving is a long letter explaining why you like her. Doesn't cost anything but time and will relieve you of future regrets of not having told her.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:08 PM on July 27, 2006

This might seem way out in left field but - manicure/pedicure/massage. Before my mother's Alzheimer's got bad, I would give her gift certificates for either a pedicure or a massage - she loved it! She isn't a curmudgeon, but it's amazing what a little polish on the toes will do for a gal's state of mind! The massage part is a bit trickier - if you do that, see if you can find someone who specializes in elderly massage.
posted by dbmcd at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2006

Along the letter line, maybe a list of 80-something reasons (however old she is) she's so great. That could take some creativity thinking of that many things, but I bet you can. That, and just treat her to a meal/day out. You can mix the pedicure thing in with that (go along with her) and take her to lunch. My sister and I have started giving gifts of "quality time" to our parents for Mothers Day and Father's Day, and they appreciate it. We played mini-golf with just my dad and took him out to eat a month ago and had a blast.
posted by printchick at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2006

How about a cleaning service or landscaping or some other service that will save her some work?
posted by leapingsheep at 3:36 PM on July 27, 2006

Do you have time to take her out somewhere? All the grandparent-types in my life like some undivided time with their children/grandchildren. If her diet isn't too restricted, take her out to eat. If that's not feasible go to a store that she likes and shop with her and buy her something. You could buy her a portrait session so that you and your family can have pictures of her. Does she like music? This definitely wanders into the realm of cheesiness, but you could make her a mix of songs from her youth/songs you know she likes. If there's some way you can get her to have fun, take that route.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 4:47 PM on July 27, 2006

Take her out to eat

That's what I suggested to her, but she said she couldn't

what's lovable about her?

She graduated high school at 15. She was a painter and would have gone to art school, if not for the war. She was a musical director (thus the bawdiness). She was married twice, and had her "share of suitors" which I believe is a euphamism for "slutty." She sings loud, drinks hard and smokes even though she has lung problems. She asked my dad for pot when she found out she had glacoma -- not to make her better, just because she had an excuse. She was boisterous, loud, protective, overbearing/loving. She's a total drama queen, which makes her both entertaining and unbearable all at once. She bought me the skankiest lingerie imaginable for my bridal shower when everyone else gave me a toaster-like device. She likes all the Tom Robbins books I gave her.

In short, she's like no other person I've ever met that's lived to her age.
posted by Gucky at 5:12 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Based on your description, either a fresh supply of polyester pantsuits, or a vibrator. Maybe both.

She sounds like a hell of a fun lady. If she won't do her own memoirs, do yourself the favor of tape recording or videotaping her as often as she'll allow. Tuck the recorder someplace where it's easily forgotten, then let 'er rip.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:38 PM on July 27, 2006

Go to the mall or some other populated area with a tape recorder. Bring along a picture of Grandma, a short one paragraph bio (like you wrote above), plus several sheets of paper with numbered lines.

Stop 80 something people (however old she is) and ask them to wish her a happy birthday on tape.

Have each person sign the notebook next to their number - include their City/State if you go somewhere touristy. You'll get bonus points if you get someone 'famous' to do it.

My mom did this for my grandmother's 80th birthday - she used an autograph book for the signatures & gave each person a thank you note (a half sheet of paper with Gran's bio & picture) as a momento. She thought she'd have a hard time getting 80 people but it only took 4 hours at the mall & there were people looking for her so they could participate by the 2nd hour.

It was a very inexpensive project (about $15) but Gran loved it. Mom's only regrets are that she didn't bring along a camera to take each person's picture or video tape instead audio.
posted by jaimystery at 7:26 PM on July 27, 2006

She was a painter and would have gone to art school, if not for the war.

How about some art supplies? Find out from other family member what style of paintings she liked or used to create. Then buy some art books in that style for inspiration, some paint, brushes, easel, etc.
posted by lola at 11:04 AM on July 28, 2006

She asked my dad for pot when she found out she had glacoma -- not to make her better, just because she had an excuse.

There's your answer right there. Buy granny a fat quarter (and not the quilting kind).
posted by Gortuk at 2:30 PM on July 28, 2006

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