Thursday, November 13, 2008

To Grandmother's House

I slept in The Pink Room. The queen sized bed of floral would swallow me whole as a kid, a little girl swaddled in her grandmother's silken nighties ("They're just rayon, Dear").
In a morning ritual we developed, I would slink down the interminably long hallway, over the black slate entry way, across the oriental rug in the dining room, and I would notch my tiny fingers into the shuttered doors between the kitchen and the dining room, and I would be still. I would let the air around me stop moving, and let there be no movement, save for the rustle of the newspaper my grandmother was holding as she read it and drank her coffee in the rust-red rocking chair, always with her back to me. I was a fierce thing, a hunter (for attention), and when the moment was right, I would leap from the dining room practically into the newspaper and scare the beejeezus out of my poor darling Grandma, who would never shriek, but let out a satisfying holler as I rolled into a giggle on her lap. She was never angry in those moments, but full of love and understanding.

Other times, when I was older and my brother spent the night too (more rarely than I), I would sleep in one of the twin beds in The Blue Room, he in the other. The smell is different in there- not of Grandma's fur coats in The Pink Room closet, but of Papa's Pendleton shirts- and I swear I could always detect the scent of a box of See's Candies on the top shelf. It wasn't wishful thinking, as I would often drag a chair to the closet and swat the box down, nibbling the edges of the smooth milk chocolate treasures: devour the raspberry and maple. Leave the coconut, always.
When I slept in The Blue Room, Papa would make a deal with me. If I was asleep by the time he checked on me after his evening shower, he would give me fifty cents, and would place it right on the corner of the dresser, which is between the two beds.
I always got the fifty cents (but I was never actually asleep).

For being such a brat, it is remarkable how much time they let me spend over there.
I'm very fortunate, as both of my fathers' parents and my mother's mother all live in a nearby suburb, and have for my whole life. What's more, is that they live within two blocks of each other, and I, being the first grandchild on either side, was doted upon heavily. I think it explains a lot.

My mother's mother is more of an acquired taste: she and I have bonded in recent years over similar interests in luxury retail and foreign travel. But as a little kid, I only had eyes for Grandma.

She talks often, even now, of her childhood in Colombia and New York City. We would bake cakes "from el-scratch-o" (her words, now mine) and make taffy in cinnamon, and peppermint. The splattered pages of her Betty Crocker were my Bible- my ambition and guide to being a woman. A woman who makes a damn good apple pie, a Baked Alaska for dinner parties, a woman who can wear an apron well. We built a doll house together, and furnished it fully. We rode the bus when her eyesight got too poor to drive. We went to the park. We played Bingo. I turned the exercise band they had tied to their couch in the downstairs living room into my own personal bungee-jump (when you weigh 40 pounds and affix a giant rubber band around your middle, and run across the length of the room and let the force of the band bring you flying back to the sofa, you can be entertained for hours. Days) and she would let me. Grandma and Papa had cable before we did, so I got to watch all the good Nickelodeon shows there in the gray recliner. She attempted to teach me to crochet. She taught me to use a typewriter and a sewing machine. She let me decorate her house for Christmas..when I was five. Being Catholic, her Nativity Scene and Creche were way more complicated than my own at home, and I could never figure out why there were so many baby Jesuses (Jeesi? What is the plural?) at varying stages of life. But she let me cram them all into the manger, whereas my own mother liked them spaced out. "They came all the way to see him, and you're going to make them wait in the COLD, MOM?"
"Honey, the cow does NOT need to be the closest figure to Jesus."
Grandma and I always had fun.

It turns out, we still do.
Due to some health complications for Papa following his hip replacement surgery this week, he had to go back into the hospital. My parents were fielding phone calls about it last night and the only thing I could think of was that I didn't want Grandma to be home by herself. My mother's mother lives alone, and I never go spend the night with her, but she's been a widow for fifty-something years, so I don't think about it. Grandma isn't used to it, and what's more, she can't see anything anymore (Thanks, Macular Degeneration- looking forward to meeting you) and plus, she used to be a Stanford educated nurse, and is rather upset she can't properly care for her ailing husband.

So last night, in the rain, I drove the drive to Grandma's. I called her and confirmed that yes, she would like the company, and gathered up my work things and drove over right way.

We didn't bake, and I brought my own nightgown this time, and I didn't scare the hell out of her this morning. Instead, I helped her be the independent adult she always raised me to be by helping her with little things around the house. We transferred scrawled phone numbers ("In my inimitable hand writing" she joked) on scraps of paper to blocky, printed text on card stock, to be placed in plastic sheets in her hand-made phone book. We sorted the mail (I reading aloud, she dictating which bag to drop it into), and I gathered the bath mats to be washed, and I made Papa's bed, and I gleaned all the dead flowers from the arrangement and left the lush ones.

I slept in The Blue Room.
"I will die without that house, I will die without them," something inside me whispers. I know I won't. I know the day will come. I know I will never be ready for it.
Until then, I know I will do my best to take care of them, and to read aloud to them, and to put them to bed, and to allow this Thing to come full circle, as it is bound to do.

I need to start thinking about these things, or before I know it, the news of their passing will sneak up on me in the morning while I am drinking my coffee and it will scare the sense out of me and I will shriek and cry instead of taking it in stride, with understanding and with love.


  1. I love to read your memories of your Grandmother - I can almost hear you telling the stories as I read. And trust me, there is nothing that can prepare you.

    Hope Grandpa is doing better. Tell him to do his exercises and drink plenty of water.

  2. Oh Jessica! I just started to tear up. Take good care of those grandparents, they mean everything.