Things I have learned

My grandma was a tiny, little person who lived in a big, detached house in a town called Formby in the north of England. She walked each day to the village, never learned to drive, and was married to my grandpa for almost 50 years; he died just a few months shy of their anniversary. When he went to fight in the war, she stayed home of course, and waited for him for almost 4 years. Occasionally he would send letters and boxes of citrus from the north of Africa. When he returned, they met at Lime Street Station in Liverpool: a place I visited with my Aunt Barbara just two summers ago. My grandma was a horrible cook with a fantastic 1950s kitchen; everything she made was grey or beige and had a similar, floppy, boiled consistency. My grandpa used to say that the Yanks won the war by throwing my grandma’s cooking at the Brits!

My grandma died in 2004 of kidney failure complicated by vascular dementia. By that time, she time traveled almost daily and confused people, places and times. She told us loads of stories that had been secrets and maintained her love and devotion to my grandpa, who had left us 10 years earlier.

Tonight I sit in my dining-sewing room, at my table, staring into my living room and listening to the sounds of the air conditioner. Tonight I noticed that the light is changing, and the beams cast out by a setting sun are gold and pink and at such a slant that it catches, metallic, in the corners of your eyes, forcing your gaze up at an autumn sunset. It is a beautiful time of the year.

Cody and I have been taking care of Cody’s grandma for about a week. Maw Maw grew up in Port Neches, Texas, on Wilson Street, in a tiny green house. Her mother died in childbirth and she was raised by a stepmother and her father. She met Cody’s grandfather in high school when her girlfriend was dating him, but changed her mind and suggested Marie might like him more. They married and he built them a house a few streets over, on Lee Avenue, in 1962. It was a small house with 4 rooms and one small a/c in the window of the childrens’ room. He later expanded it with a second living room and a master suite. She spent 88 years living in such a small area: just two streets minutes from each other. She worked as cafeteria manager at the elementary down another side street, and her house is mere blocks from the intercoastal waterway: a path to the ocean. Last night she asked me if there was anywhere around here to get shrimp. I had to laugh and tell her we are a ways away from the coast. She is sweet, and easy to talk to, and a straight shooter. Taking care of her, however, is quite difficult and takes so much time. It can be a real struggle, and is an experience not understood by almost anyone we know. But there is beauty in it, and in small moments of chatting on the side of the bed, and making small victories in skin care or adjusting medicine or getting someone to stand up who hasn’t for a month.

I wonder what it would have been like to know my grandparents as most people know theirs. I still miss them, despite the fact that I only saw them every few years, and they died when I was still too young to really understand their importance. Despite that, I think of my grandpa and grandma all the time: when I eat cookies, or smell smoke, or feel wool, or eat lettuce, or think of windy beaches, good people, laughing, blue eyes, and true, loving care.

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