My grandmother was an iron-willed woman, the feared matriarch of our New York family back in the 1950s.
When I was five years old, she invited some friends and relatives to her Bronx apartment for a party. Among the guests was a neighborhood big shot who was doing well in business. His wife was proud of their social status and let everyone at the party know it. They had a little girl about my age who was spoiled and very much used to getting her own way.
Grandmother spent a lot of time with the big shot and his family. She considered them the most important members of her social circle and worked hard at currying their favor.
At one point during the party, I made my way to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. A minute or two later, the little girl opened the bathroom door and grandly walked in. I was still sitting down.
"Don't you know that little girls aren't supposed to come into the bathroom when a little boy is using it!?" I hollered.
The surprise of my being there, along with the indignation I had heaped upon her, stunned the little girl. Then she started to cry. She quickly closed the door, ran to the kitchen, and tearfully complained to her parents and my grandmother.
Most of the partygoers had overheard my loud remark and were greatly amused by it. But not Grandmother.
She was waiting for me when I left the bathroom. I received the longest, sharpest tongue-lashing of my young life. Grandmother yelled that I was impolite and rude and that I had insulted that nice little girl. The guests watched and winced in absolute silence. So forceful was my grandmother's personality that no one dared stand up for me.
After her harangue was over and I had been dismissed, the party continued, but the atmosphere was much more subdued.
Twenty minutes later, all that changed. Grandmother walked by the bathroom and noticed a torrent of water streaming out from under the door.
She shrieked twice—first in astonishment, then in rage. She flung open the bathroom door and saw that the sink and tub were plugged up and that the faucets were going at full blast.
Everyone knew who the culprit was. The guests quickly formed a protective barricade around me, but Grandmother was so furious that she almost got to me anyway, flailing her arms as if trying to swim over the crowd.
Several strong men eventually moved her away and calmed her down, although she sputtered and fumed for quite a while.
My grandfather took me by the hand and sat me on his lap in a chair near the window. He was a kind and gentle man, full of wisdom and patience. Rarely did he raise his voice to anyone, and never did he argue with his wife or defy her wishes.
He looked at me with much curiosity, not at all angry or upset. "Tell me," he asked, "why did you do it?"
"Well, she yelled at me for nothing," I said earnestly. "Now she's got something to yell about."
Grandfather didn't speak right away. He just sat there, looking at me and smiling.
"Eric," he said at last, "you are my revenge."