When I was five years old, I went to stay with my dad and step-mom for the summer. My dad's wife, Jessica, was new in my life and I was intrigued about everything she did. She was beautiful, with fiery red hair, a high-pitched laugh and big black boots that she wore constantly. I followed her every move, from the kitchen to the park to the sewing room, and was most intrigued by the daily conversations she had with her mother. It seemed bizarre to me that Jessica would even have a mom, as I imagined she was some sort of fairy that appeared out of nowhere one day like Cinderella's godmother.

redhead

I had to know more about her mom, and persistently asked if I could talk to Granny on the phone until Jessica finally handed over the receiver. “Hello Chelsea,” came a deep, rumbly voice on the other end. “This is Granny. How are you today?”

I wasn't expecting the slow, gravelly murmuring in my ear. My other grandma certainly didn't sound like that. My grandma back home was sweet and loving. She made cookies, played tennis and helped me pick blackberries. This Granny sounded badass. “Why does your voice sound like that?” I blurted.

Granny paused for a moment. I think she knew that a five year old couldn't understand emphysema. Perhaps she simply didn't feel like talking about the disease or maybe she feared that my fascination would fade if I knew she was sick. For whatever reason, she sighed slowly and explained, “Well, I sound like this because…I'm a frog.”

pet frog

I could hardly contain myself. I was talking to a FROG. My dad had clearly married into a magical family of frogs and fairies. My kindergarten classmates would never believe this! I had dozens of questions about frog life, and Granny and I started talking on the phone every single day. She'd tell me about her lilypad days, her insect meals and some occasional drama within the amphibious population. I demanded to see her in real life, and she told me she already had a trip scheduled for the end of summer. I was finally going to meet a real life talking, walking, magical frog!

My last week in San Francisco we went to the airport to pick up Granny. I was giddy the entire way, imagining what she would look like. Would she be normal frog size or giant, like Kermit? Do girl frogs have hair on their heads, or are they all slimy? Most importantly, would she bring me any presents from her swamp? We went to meet her at the gate and I eyed every person spilling off the plane, keeping my eyes peeled for glistening green skin.

I was annoyed when a stocky white-haired woman walked up in front of me and hugged Jessica, beaming gleefully in my direction. I feverishly ducked to see around her. Didn't she know she was blocking my view of the frog? “Hi Chelsea,” she rumbled with a smile, sticking her hand in my direction. “I'm Granny.”

granny frog
Credit: Cecil Graat

It took a minute for me to grasp what she was saying as I reluctantly peeled my eyes away from the closing airplane door. “But…you're not…you're not a frog!” I stared at her hand in annoyance as she wavered uncertainly. I circled her bulky outfit, searching for signs of froginess. I even poked my head in her purse, anxiously hoping for my frog to appear.

My dad pulled me back, embarassed. “Chelsea, this is Granny. You've been looking forward to meeting her all summer. Aren't you going to say hello?”

No, I wasn't. Instead, I was going to burst into tears and sob the rest of the way home. My five year old dream had been crushed, as Jessica attempted to simultaneously console me and rebuke me for my bratty behavior. “You couldn't possibly have thought Granny was an actual frog,” she repeatedly mumbled to my responding cries of, “I did! I did!”

Needless to say, it was a rough week. One that ended in Granny buying me an aquarium full of tiny pet frogs.