By Michelle Hayes
Being raised by a single father left me frequently in the care of my grandmother, to whom I am especially close. She is a fascinating lady with a lot of character whose life story bears telling. I could write an entire novel based on her life and have written a short story based simply on one small piece of it. In 1980, she was the El Dorado Rose for the small community where I was born. This is a great honor bestowed on elderly women who have given of themselves selflessly to the community. She has volunteered thousands of hours to the local hospital, historical society and museum among other things. She has been a devoted wife to two husbands who have passed on before her, and a devoted mother to two children. She is the perfect example of what it means to be a wife and mother in every sense of those words.
At 94, she is now in assisted living, and everyone that knows her, just loves her. She is a great example of what it means to ‘keep on keeping on’ and that ‘this too shall pass’ philosophies. She remains upbeat and positive and is proud of my writing accomplishments so far.
The dreaded day in my grandmother’s life finally came. At 92 years old, she’d realized with a saddened heart, that she must leave her beloved home of over 55 years. The home she shared with two dearly loved husbands; whom she devotedly cared for during the days of their illnesses until they passed away. Recently, her health has demanded that she no longer live alone. I met her at the same place where she always came out the door, smiling and waving, before one could finish pulling up the driveway. I choked up at the realization that I was heading up my Gramma’s driveway for the very last time.
However, this time, she didn’t hear me as I parked under the carport in my rental car, and I quickly pulled myself together while I let my service dog, Harley, out of the car. I swiftly said a quick prayer for strength and composure during my visit so that I would not cause her to be upset. We are extremely close; she took care of me while my single dad worked when I was just a toddler. She was both grandmother and stand-in-mother to me during those very impressionable early years. We share a special bond that neither time nor distance can separate.
Straightening my skirt and running a hand through my hair, I closed the car door, called Harley and knocked on the door before letting myself in. So many memories came flooding through my mind as I walked into the kitchen.
“Gramma?” I inquired, as I did not see her. As Harley sniffed around, I looked into the bedroom off the kitchen, then through the living room to the converted master bedroom. Empty. Where could she be, I thought. She had previously promised us that she would not go down the steep stairs to the garage by herself. Falling off balance easily and hurting herself could be disastrous if no one were around to hear her cries for help. With osteoporosis, one bad fall could land her in the hospital indefinitely.
Back through the living room, kitchen, through the dining room to the sliding glass door to the back deck I went. Opening the door, I hollered, “Gramma?”
“I’m down here.” She answered in her shaky voice from the garage that is below the deck and a few yards away.
I hurried down the steps, Harley trailing behind me, nose to the ground smelling all the different smells like a doggie smorgasbord.
“What on earth are you doing down here?!” I scolded her. “You know how easily you fall! You could seriously hurt yourself! You promised that you wouldn’t go down these stairs alone!” I reminded her.
“I know… I just wanted to check on something.”
“You should’ve waited for me to come before coming down those dangerous stairs. You know if you fall you could break something!”
“You’re worse than a kid! Here I am scolding you! Who would’ve thought, huh?” I said, smiling at her. Kissing her cheek, I enveloped her in a big hug. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay. Did you find what you were looking for?” I asked as I stood back to take a good look at her, just to make sure she was really okay.
“No. I can’t find anything in here. My renter keeps moving everything around and I can never find what I’m after.” Throwing her hands up in the air, “I up!”
“Are you hungry?” I said, changing the subject, “I’m famished!”
“Hmmm… what sounds good to you?”
“Anything but sushi!” I replied, grinning ear to ear.
“Ok. Well, the Murdock has a great sandwich selection.”
“Perfect! Let’s lock up here and we’ll be off.”
An hour later, we were enjoying the sandwich we decided to split and giggling like little girlsagain. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how old my grandmother gets, she still has some mischief left in her pretty blue eyes. They always seem to sparkle when she’s happy. We always have a good time together and enjoy each other’s company. I love spending time with this tiny little redhead and listening to her stories of how life was when she was little; such simpler times even though she was a child during the Great Depression and remembers it vividly. It explains why she is a pack rat and never lets her food supply get low. She’s very thrifty with her money and has been an awesome example of how to survive well, no matter the situation. She has also been the best example in my life of how to be a kind, generous person… always. It saddens me to see this strong woman, who has always been there for me, become so frail. She used to take care of me and now, it’s my turn to take care of her.
“I remember when I was little and we would go into town and how I always watched you when you drove. I can still hear your keys in the ignition of that ugly, orange Comet you had for so long. Now it’s my turn to drive you around!” I said smiling, trying to turn my thoughts around before she noticed the distress on my face. One cannot hide from one’s grandmother; especially those who have a strong bond with them.
She smiled at the memory. Then suddenly, I noticed pain flash across her face for just an instant.
I reached across the table and grasped her hand gently. “What’s wrong, Gramma?”
“It’s so hard to leave my home. I really hate to give it up. I have so many good memories there… ” she trailed off.
“I would say, ‘I know,’ but I don’t really know. I do know that I will miss your home. It’s all I’ve ever known. I wish I could buy it, and take care of you so you wouldn’t have to leave it.”
“I know you would, dear, and I would love nothing more than for that to happen. But that is not an option for us, now is it?” She smiled knowingly at me, patting my hand.
“No, no, it’s not unfortunately.” Noticing the melancholy on her face, I changed the subject. “Now, where else do you need to go today?”
The waitress came with our check at that moment and asked if she could give Harley some ‘scraps’ from the kitchen. I said sure and she disappeared into the kitchen and returned with what looked to me and Gramma were good sandwich makings! Harley was most appreciative of the special treat and quickly gobbled it up. Paying for our lunch in spite of Gramma’s insistence on paying for it, I left the waitress a generous tip and we headed back towards my car, arm in arm.
“Honey, I’m getting kind of tired, can we just go to the drug store on the way back to the house?”
“Absolutely! Do you remember where I parked the car?” I said looking down at her and grinning ear to ear. It was a family joke with her memory and where she used to park her car, put her keys, etc. The pained expression immediately changed to one of her characteristically familiar smiles.
“You’re too young to be forgetting things already!” She replied.
After the drug store, we returned to the house to pick up a few items to take to her new apartment at the retirement community she just moved into.
“Is there anything you need, dear?” Gramma asked me as she moved from room to room looking for things she might need.
“Actually, I need a pillow. Do you have any spares?”
“How ‘bout this one?” She asked as she tossed me a big fluffy one.
“Perfect!” I said, holding it to my face and smelling it. I took another long deep breath of the pillow and could smell her ‘scent;’ everything that means ‘Gramma’ to me. I could smell a blend of her make-up, perfume, lotion and even lipstick. A tear started to form in my eye and I knew right then I needed to get going. “Thank you, Gramma! Are you ready to go?”
Taking another quick glance around, she grabbed the bags of things she had collected to take with her, “I think so.”
Taking the bags from her, I put Harley in the back of the car and Gramma’s pillow in the trunk with her bags, while she locked up the house. After ensuring she was in the passenger seat, with her seatbelt on, I went around to the driver’s side and wiped away a stray tear and choked down the realization that would be the last time I drove to Gramma’s house. After putting on my own seatbelt and starting the car, I slowly pulled away from the front door and down the driveway. I reached for her hand and simply held it for a minute.
“I love you, Gramma.”
“I love you, too, dear” she replied, squeezing my hand.
About Michelle Hayes
I was born in a small town in Northern California, and raised by my father for the majority of my life. My grandmother, his mother, helped out as often as possible and we became especially close. During my mid-teens, my father remarried and suddenly I had a ‘Mom’ in my life. After high school, I enlisted in the United States Air Force where I learned to be a mechanic for Aerospace Ground Equipment. After the Air Force, I concentrated on being a single working mom to two children, one of whom is currently serving in the Air Force. I moved around often until recently, coming to rest in a very small town in Idaho where I am concentrating on becoming a writer with a great desire to tell my grandmother’s story. I am married, own a dog and am owned by two cats. My love of family, animals and the written word are closest to my heart.