Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gram

     It's human nature to feel pissed off, or hurt, to think we may have been dismissed or forgotten by those we love. It takes a strong character, and an understanding nature, to know, deep down, that the neglect may come from displaced sadness.

     My grandmother's memory was not up to par in the last years of her life. When her grandchildren were small, she knew them. She knew their birthdays. She knew they would visit three times a week for lemonade, and special-recipe chocolate-chip cookies, on a balmy, southern day. She knew she would see them in Sunday school. The grandchildren knew she could be found sitting in her La-Z-boy chair, working her puzzle-books in her air-conditioned home. Gram's sweet smile would appear on sight, recognizing her grandchildren.

     When the day came that Gram began to look at them with confusion, they no longer knew her. I didn’t need to remind myself that, though she no longer remembered me, she still loved me. She still loved all her family. However, being asked “Now, who are you?” was a blow to my younger cousins hearts. They felt forgotten and dismissed, and so in turn, chose to forget and dismiss. But I would be a bridge between my grandmother and her grandchildren. I made them swallow their pain.

     "She may not recognize you, but she knows you." I told them. I always tripped up the ones that had escape in their eyes. "Just remember that Karma can be a bitch. If you run from her, you'll also be run from when it's your turn to become forgetful." 

     Of the outings we'd take, there was always one important day a month in which I got Gram out of the house, and out for a drive. To see the world beyond her television, her picture-books, and the four brick walls of her comfy home. A visit to the doctor's office. Gram doesn't remember who the woman in the spanking white lab coat is. But as I'm with her, and she's greeted with a smile, then all’s right with the world.

     When we leave, I see the looks on others faces in the doctor's office waiting room. I can read in their eyes that they admire my caring for my grandmother, and it's nice to be acknowledged. But I discovered long ago that the only affirmations I sought were Gram's 'thank-you's'.
     As cushy as my car-seats are, it's my opinion that her years have earned her the right to a soft pillow for her backside. And though she doesn't comprehend a McDonald's drive-thru window, the supplying of a fruit juice cup with a straw brings a grin.

     When we arrive at my uncle's garage business to visit, he jogs out to greet us. Even 'Old Uncle Willie', a seventy-year-old black man that's been in business with my uncle since the 1960's.

     I'm perceptive enough to know that I'm years ahead in acquiring the title of 'salty ol` dame' in my extended family's opinions. My younger cousins, who work for their dad during the summer, are pretending to be blind to our visit. They don't really want me to take away their blindfolds. But they know I will.
     With a high-pitched whistle that would put a construction worker to shame, I rally my cousins to drop what they're doing and visit the national monument that is their one-hundred-year-old relative. They can cringe all they want about greeting someone that doesn't remember them. But experience has already taught me what they'll soon learn; moments like this will come to an end, and they'll be left with a heart full of 'I should'ves'. On the heels of Uncle Willie's hug, they follow in turn to reach into the air-conditioned car and give Gram a sweaty embrace.

     "Hey Gramma! It's good to see you again," my cousin Sandy says, and flips her Crystal Gayle-length braided plait over her shoulder.

     Gram may not remember her name, but I know the hug felt wonderful to her. She presumes they're related. "Oh...it's good seeing you, too. Oh my! It's very warm today, isn't it? You must be working very hard." 

     "Yeah, yeah I am. Maybe I should come over later and get some of that lemonade you always make." 

     "Oh yes. Yes, I still make it." Gram says, and smiles at the presumption that it was something she did just that morning.

     I don't know whether to just smile right through the whole farce, and simply file it away with Gram's short-term memory, or give Sandy a swift kick in the ass for playing the 'lemonade-memory' card. I know she won't come by later, and she knows that I know. For a brief second, I feel that sting of being shrugged off; that my cousin never has to worry about Gram. Gram is cared for, and lives in her own world. She doesn't remember to feel hurt at not having visitors. But what my cousin forgets, is that I don't forget. Where are my visitors? 

     Bitch.

     As quickly as the moment comes, I make it disappear. It's one thing to build up an immunity to a person suffering from a legit disease. But it's another to be forgotten by those in their right mind. I know in my heart I'm stronger than my cousins. I've never taken it personally that Gram constantly forgets who I am, and how I'm related to her, despite being with her everyday.

     Anyway, this visit wasn't for my sake. (Although, some intelligent chatting is greatly appreciated) It was for Gram, and for my family. If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, the mountain comes to them.

     Back at home, I settle her in for a nap, allowing me a couple of hours to run over to the Winn-Dixie. Steaks are on sale. I always buy a small cut and cook it up for us and my uncle on Sundays, who hangs out on the couch and leafs through the Real Estate section of the bloated newspaper.

     Drifting down the bakery aisle, I’m scanning the shelves for the red velvet cake mix box that I’ve got a coupon for, when I feel a gentle smack on the back of my arm. I look over to see my second-cousin, Sara, with her two babies. Real toe-heads, the three of them. 

     "S`up Cuz?" I ask, and grin.

     "Not my tits, that's for sure,” she snort-laughs.
     I laugh with her, but her self-deprecating remark is why I chose never to get knocked up. Her mom, Sandy, let it spill that Sara's pregnant again.

     "Yeah, you can say farewell to them ever bein’ perky again." 
     "How's Gramma?" She shifts Brant, her two-year-old, from one hip to the other. 

     "She's good. How ‘bout you? Married life still blissful?" 

     "So long as I'm poppin’ out sons," she replied, followed by a smirk.

     I expressed a sympathetic eye-roll, because we both know she’s right; Southern men pride themselves on producing male offspring. Brant begins to give a bored whine. His six-month-old baby brother, Dylan, in the shopping-cart carrier, starts to follow suit.
     "O-kay, okay. We'll get home soon," she croons to them, before turning back to me with that expression that says she craves just as much adult-time as I do. It occurred to me awhile back that only a 22-year-old mother of two, with another on the way, would understand my plight. A quick hug, and she's off to the 'no-candy' cashier lane.

     Despite being my grandmother's primary care-giver, with few opportunities to leave the house on a whim, Sara suddenly makes me feel much freer, and I allow myself ten extra minutes to scan the books and magazines display, passing up 'vanilla-reading' book-covers. One book's description promises me a whole new take on vampires, so I drop it in my shopping cart.

      As soon as I walk through the carport-door, my Chihuahua, Taco, is scrambling about my feet, greeting me with that “Feed me, Seymour,” look in her big, brown eyes. After a quick peek on Gram, I 'guess-timate' I've got another twenty minutes to myself before she'll wake up. That is, so long as Taco's fed. Her whining for Beggin` Strips begins the moment I take the package out of the cupboard. 

     "Chut! Taisez-vous!" I whispered. It made my uncle laugh the first time he ever heard me scold her in French. But funny enough, she gets the disciplining cues. She sits on her haunches and licks her lips. She's earned two Beggin` Strips. 

     "Hoo-hoo," I hear from down the hall. Guess I don't have the twenty minutes after all. But I soon find out why. "I...I think...I've had an..." 

     Gram can't bring herself to say she had an accident. But I just smile at her. "No worries, Gram. I'll get you into a bath, then I'll make you a hot dinner." It comforts her mind that I don't treat her incontinence as a crisis. Taco dislikes being alone, so she hangs out with us in the bathroom while I bathe and dress Gram in fresh clothes. 

     In the middle of dinner, my Da calls from Portland. I put Gram on the line because I know their chat will be short—like her memory for who she's supposed to be talking to. Needless to say, she's thrilled to hear her son's voice. 

     He's aware of how her evening ends; tucked into bed with her puzzle-books and Bible. We've turned bed-time into a game.

     "Gram, do you remember who I am?"  

     "Well, no. Are we related?"  

     "Yes. I'm Norm's daughter." 

     "Oh, really?" 

     "Do you remember my name?"

     "Well..." 

     "It's Jenn-" 

     "Lawson!" she would say hastily, and smile. Her short-term memory challenging her long-term memory, but remembering just enough.   

     "That's right. And your prize will be sliced strawberries on your cereal tomorrow." 

     "Oh, that would be lovely. Perhaps some toast?"  

     "And coffee?" 

     She looks at me with confusion again, but it's not due to her memory-loss. It's due to mine. 

     "Sorry...I meant tea." 

     She grins. "Lovely."


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