Posts Tagged ‘grandparents’

‎The phone rang three times, and then four. After it got to five I waited for the voicemail to click on. I heard a cough, a throat clear and then my grandfather’s booming voice came on the line. For a moment I was confused. Hello? Is that you? Then I clued in to the fact that it was the answering machine, he had just recorded a new message.

I smiled, listening to him. I wondered why he’d done a new message. The old one had been there for years; I’ve heard it so many times I could recite it by heart. I was lost in my own thoughts and almost missed it. He got to the part where he said he wasn’t home and my heart caught in my throat when he said both their names. His name and my grandmother’s name.

The old recording just said “we’re not here.” Safe, simple, basic. The new one made me catch my breath. She’s not home because she doesn’t live there anymore. She’s not home because she lives at what could nicely be called a retirement home. She’s not home.

It got to the end of the recording and I waited for the beep, still wrapped up in her name. She’s not home. ‎ I left my message, passed along some information to firm up our plans to go down to visit for Thanksgiving. We’ll bring the turkey and sides if he could take care of picking up a couple of pies. We’ll be there between 3 and 4pm, depending on how long it takes for the bird to cook. We’ll try to eat around 5:00. And then I hung up, put the phone back in the cradle and ‎leaned back against the kitchen counter. She’s not home.‎

As it does so often now, it suddenly occurred to me how much she would have hated that recording. If she were still who she was before and not who she is now, she would have made him redo it. She would have told him it’s not nice to cough on the answering machine recording and he would need to record it again. He would then have to read through the instructions again, commenting on how small the print is on everything these days, and he would have to do it again. Because she said so.

That’s the way she was. She had a way of doing things that was so capable, so competent, so inherently right that it wouldn’t even occur to you to question it. You wanted to please her; wanted to do things just right so she would lean over and give you a hug. I remembered the hours I spent on a little stool in the kitchen, pulled up close to the counter so I could see what she was doing and if I was lucky enough, help.

There was a certain crystal dish for the pickles and another, almost identical for something else. But of course you would never put the pickles in the dish that was meant for something else. Those dishes used to sit in a cabinet in their living room but now they are at my house, in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. He keeps cleaning things out, selling what he can and giving away what no one will pay for. He doesn’t know where he’s going to go, or when, but he’s determined not to leave us with a big mess when he goes wherever it is he’s going to go, whenever he goes. I snagged the pickle (and other) dishes early on. My dinner parties usually involve a bbq on the back deck and the pickles are served right from the jar, the lid cracked open if I’m feeling particularly “hostessy,” but I couldn’t bear the thought of the pickle dish being in some stranger’s house. Goodness only knows what they would put in it, nuts or some other such nonsense.

She would hate that.

Every time we go visit her at “the home” as we call it, the little word “the” in front of “home” saying all that needs to be said about it, I look around and see things she would hate. Not that it’s a bad place, they do the best they can, but she would hate the mismatched sheets and people in slippers all day. She would hate that she needs help to do things. She would hate the way my grandfather talks almost constantly, filling in all of the spaces that she use to fill with her stories and her laughter. I know he does it so maybe we won’t notice how little she says, how easily she gets lost, can’t keep up with the conversation. I know why he does it, love him a little bit more because I know why he does it, but she would hate it.

And when we go down for Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday she will sit quietly on the couch, trying to participate, asking a question here or there but she won’t go anywhere near the kitchen. That’s where it always hits me the most. I will be in there, trying to find her wisk to stir the gravy or the right pot to cook the potatoes and she will be in the living room. What I wouldn’t give for her to come around the corner and ask me what I’m looking for, while effortlessly digging out the potato pot and kissing me on the head. She would have done it better.

But now she’s not home. And she would hate that.

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I saw my grandmother last weekend and it was fine.

When we got there she was already at home; my grandfather had already picked her up and brought her home so it was just like it always was.  We sat around in the living room and chatted; we had drinks; we ate dinner.  The kids played in the other room.  We had dessert.  It was fine.

Then, after everyone was finished their dessert and we were just sitting around my grandfather said “well, I guess it’s time to take you back.”

It hung there in the room.  The knowledge that she doesn’t live in that house anymore, not really.  It was exactly what everyone had been tip-toeing around all evening and it couldn’t be ignored any longer.

She said, “I guess so” and everyone sighed a little.  She wasn’t putting up a fuss, we wouldn’t have to deal with a situation where she fought going back, fought leaving this house, fought the place where she now lives.  Whether she actually felt that way, we’ll never know.  Maybe she was just making things easier, easier for all of us, easier for her family which, in a way, is what she had done all of her life.  I like to think that’s what she was doing because that would mean she’s still in there.  The grandmother I know is still somewhere inside the woman that I recognize less and less each time I see her.

It was fine.

We all got up from the table and milled around, not really knowing what to do with ourselves.

It was fine until I stood in the hallway and watched her putting on her shoes and her jacket.

Then it wasn’t fine anymore.

I had to turn away; ashamed at myself for not being able to deal with it.  I had agreed with the decision that she needed to move into that place and now I had to deal with the reality of that decision.

We all gave her a hug and my grandfather helped her into the car; and she was gone.

It was fine. I was fine.  Or so I kept telling myself.

We cleaned up the kitchen, putting away the leftovers, making my grandfather up some dinners he could warm up.  I tried not to think about him sitting at the kitchen table eating them by himself.  He came back from dropping her, we chatted briefly and I wrestled up the kids and all of their toys that were now spread over three rooms of the house.  It was time to go.

It was fine.

I made it as far as the highway.  Then I lost it.

It wasn’t fine anymore.

I started sobbing, quietly, I didn’t want the kids to hear.  I didn’t want to have to explain why I was crying.  When I had spoken to them at the time my grandmother moved I tried to be upbeat, focusing on the positive.  That was last week.  There in the car, speeding down the dark highway I couldn’t focus on the positive.  It wasn’t fine.  I needed to be sad.  I needed to cry.

My husband took one hand off the steering wheel and reached over in the darkness to take my hand.  He knew it wasn’t fine.  He had been through the same thing with his grandparents and he got it.  He knew.  It was okay with him that I wasn’t fine.  I didn’t have to pretend with him.  I cried most of the way home and it felt good.  It felt good to get it out, to feel the tears drying on my cheeks.  It felt good to hurt.  But it still wasn’t fine.

I told myself I didn’t need to write about it.  That there, in the car on that highway I had gotten it all out.

Obviously I was wrong because here I sit, one week later, on a quiet Saturday morning and I’m writing about it. I guess the tears weren’t enough.  I should have known.  After all this time I should have known there would need to be words.

It’s still not fine; it’s the kind of situation that will never be fine.

But now that there are words, it feels a little bit better.

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I stood at the back of the line, juggling a handful of shopping bags while simultaneously attempting to get my walled out of my purse.”Can I have a donut Mama?”

I should say no. I should tell him to choose something healthier, some yogurt and fruit or something. I turned to look at him, jumping up and down excitedly.


He had been so good all morning as I dragged him around the mall, running errand after errand, slowly crossing things off my back to school to-do list. I caved.

“Okay,” I said. “What kind do you want?”

“A sprinkle one!”

Photo courtesy of gypsy carnival

I turned to check the display case to make sure they had such a thing and spotted a bunch of them, in all their sprinkled glory, in the case behind the counter.

I smiled, and was instantly transported back to the summers I used to spend visiting my grandparents. Every Saturday night we would go out to a movie, or a musical, or some other type of show. And every Saturday we would stop at a coffee shop on our way home. My grandparents would have coffee and I would have a hot chocolate, and we would each pick a donut.

I always picked the sprinkle one.

I don’t know what made that memory come to me at that particular moment. The ways of the mind and memory remain a mystery to me, but right then I didn’t care about the why or the how, I just let the memory wash over me.

In that moment, I was 10 years old again, feeling so grown up and special to be out late on a Saturday night, getting to pick whichever donut I wanted. We would sit together at a small table, chatting about the show we had just seen or our plans for the next day; all was right in my world.

Almost 25 years later, I now know that everything is not right in the world. My grandmother is not well and my grandfather is no longer able to take care of her at home. Any day now the phone call will come telling us a room has been found for her and she will move out of the house she’s lived in for almost 40 years.

That’s the reality of being an adult; far from the concerns of a 10 year old sitting at a donut shop biting the sprinkles off the top of her donut. Sometimes being a grown-up sucks and I wish I could go back, if even just for a moment.

And so, when it was finally our turn at the counter I ordered two sprinkle donuts; one for my son, and one for the 10 year-old version of me that still exists somewhere deep inside.

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