Monday, April 21, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods, Part II

If I'm going to write about Grandma's house, I have to put a little bit about Grandpa in here.

My Grandpa, from what I've been told, was a wonderful man. He was quiet and thoughtful. He loved the outdoors. He wrote poetry. He had a gentle demeanor about him. He enjoyed good conversation and the comforts of home.

The Grandpa that I remember, though, was mostly silent. Soon after the Korean War, Grandpa began experiencing strokes. They were small at first, and apparently somewhat clustered. He retained the ability to see, talk and eat in the beginning. I've seen pictures of him with thick glasses and a cane, but standing tall with the rest of the family, smiling.

A few weeks after I was born, Grandpa suffered two rather serious strokes which left him blind in his right eye, paralyzed on the right side, unable to speak (though he could vocalize in tones similar to hums and grunts), and unable to chew. Grandpa could swallow, but his food had to be blenderized and he could not have anything thinner than 2% milk. Grandma had to feed him every bite.

When we were kids, Grandpa was a fixture in the living room at Grandma's house. We would come in, shuck off our coats and lay them on the stairs, and go say hello to Grandpa. He was right inside the living room door, sitting on the love seat, his cane tucked between the cushions. There was a little table that sat to his right, which held a wooden tray holding a glass of milk and a small candy dish. The dish was full of the Generic Grandpa Candies--the small, dry, pink, mildly flavored discs that came from the drug store. We would say, "Hi Grandpa. May I have a candy, please?" and Grandpa would nod his "yes."

Grandpa always sat on the love seat when Grandma wasn't working with him. The love seat, after all, faced the huge wall of windows, which looked over his beloved rock garden and the river. He was there always--on Christmas, birthdays, and even the day my mom's youngest sister was married in the dining room. From where Grandpa sat though, he mostly saw the tops of the trees on the river bank and the water between the branches. I remember the day that Grandma said she was going to have a deck built. There was a large screened-in back porch, which when my mom was a kid was used as a sleeping porch in the warmer months, but when I was a kid it was used mainly for easily accessible storage and was no longer ideal for just sitting. Grandpa had a yearning for sitting outside, so the deck was built. One section of windows, those of the dining room, were mostly removed, and the door to go out on the deck was installed. Grandma moved the comfortable chair that Grandpa had long used on the street-facing front porch to the river-facing deck, and he would spend a couple of hours out there each day when the weather was fair.

Each day, Grandma would come downstairs before Grandpa was awake and begin to prepare for her day. She would pray, read in her Guideposts booklet, and get things ready for breakfast. When he awoke, Grandpa would use his cane to knock against the floor. Their bedroom was above the dining room, and Grandma could easily hear the muffled summons. She would go upstairs and help Grandpa sit up on the edge of the bed. Grandpa could support himself on the left side with his cane, but Grandma was his rock on the right side. She would put his arm around her shoulders and slowly help him make his way into the bathroom where she brushed his teeth and washed his face.

Down the stairs they would come, with Grandma talking to him, quietly encouraging him, directing him, and telling him about what the day would hold. She would bring him into the kitchen and sit him at the table, where he waited patiently for her to bring his breakfast of oatmeal. He enjoyed sitting by the window and watching the birds, as Grandma carefully fed him each bite. She was always so patient with him, riding out his moments of frustration (as well as her own), always serving him and loving him in such a tender way. Had I only been old enough to truly appreciate the dedication and perseverance that this required.....but as you can tell, it definitely made an impression.

After breakfast, it was time for a shave. Grandma did this, too, of course. I still remember the sound of the electric shaver, and the smell of the balm she applied to his cheeks, chin and neck afterward. It was the scent that was on his T-shirts...always extra-long, and if you "forgot" your pajamas or were having an unexpected sleep over, Grandma would get one of Grandpa's T-shirts for you to wear instead. They were so soft and worn that they felt like a second skin. And they smelled like Grandpa. That scent, together with the comforting scent of the pillowcase was enough to lull even the most rambunctious child into a deep slumber.

Grandma would let Grandpa sit at the kitchen table for a few minutes, and she would move into the living room to open up the Hide-A-Bed that was in the love seat. She would smooth the sheet and put the pillow in its place and then assist Grandpa on to the bed. There, for 30 minutes every day, Grandma would work Grandpa through his physical therapy. She would help his raise his legs, bend them to his chest, stretch them out straight, and let them back down. She rotated his hips and ankles. She flexed his feet forward and back, being always mindful of his signals of fatigue or discomfort.

After the therapy sessions, Grandma would sit Grandpa in her chair, fold up the Hide-A-Bed, and then take Grandpa in to the downstairs bathroom. There she would sit him on his shower chair and help him bathe, then dress. Grandpa was back in his spot on the love seat by about 8:00 each morning.

To make ends meet, and to keep herself near Grandpa (as he couldn't be left alone, for Pete's sake), Grandma did odd jobs. Truly they were a little odd, but they are jobs which must be done by someone. First, there was the phone on the entry hall book case. It was plugged in upstairs, and when it rang, Grandma would say, "G.E. Funeral Home, Mrs. F speaking, may I help you?" Grandma answered the phone for the funeral home right there in her house. It never ceased to astound us that this was possible. The callers were mostly hospitals or families, and sometimes attorneys, making arrangements for someone to come pick up a deceased loved one. Grandma would call her employer at home and let him know that a call had come in. That's all there was to it.

The other odd job was that Grandma collected small town newspapers from local communities and would go through the obituaries. She cut them out, making certain she didn't have duplicates, and type up an information card for each, scanning the article for the family name, next of kin, and place of funeral and burial. Then she would glue the obituary to the back of the card. Each week, she delivered these cards to the local monument company--the cards were used to help contact local families who needed assistance with cemetery markers.

As off the wall as these jobs sound, they are just a necessary part of life. Of course, Grandma's jobs are no longer needed, what with the advent of computers and voice mail. But in those days, Grandma worked hard to respect and honor people who needed support in their dark days of grief.

When Grandma needed to go somewhere (she often volunteered in various capacities at the nursing home, her church, and elsewhere in the community), she would call my mom or one of her sisters to come sit with Grandpa for respite. This meant that sometimes we got to go along. We would sit and look out the window or read a book--Grandpa did not like to watch much television, preferring instead to listen to Chapter A Day or All Things Considered. Then came the day of Cable Television. I remember well the big box on the long cord, with buttons that Grandpa could punch to change the channel. I think there were about 25 buttons on that box, but Grandpa only ever liked Number 2 (CNN) and Number 11 (PBS). Our favorite was Number 4 (Nickelodeon) because they played the old shows--Dennis the Menace, Mr. Ed, The Munsters, My Three Sons.....we loved watching those, and they were the ones Grandpa didn't mind. Don't try to watch "You Can't Do That on Television" though; Grandpa would immediately start vocalizing his disagreement, and the channel would ultimately be changed.

The rest of the day for Grandma and Grandpa would progress much the same--Grandpa would hum when he needed Grandma to take him to the bathroom or when he was thirsty. Grandma would check on him in between times, always saying, "Are you doing alright, Papa? Would you like me to sit with you for a few minutes?" Each afternoon, Grandpa's eyes would drift shut, and Grandma would sit in the recliner and put her feet up. Sometimes she would doze off, too.

Grandma would take Grandpa upstairs for bed at about 9:00. After some time to herself, she would go up to join him. Every day was like this, with Grandma taking such tender care of her husband, seeing that each need was met to the best of her ability.

Grandpa came down with pneumonia in November of 1984, ten years after the big strokes that had left him an invalid. Grandma knew that she could no longer give him the kind of care that he needed, so he was taken to the hospital. On January 21, 1985, Grandpa died. It must have been a weekend day, because I remember that my brother and sister and I were home from school when the call came.

We were sad, of course, but it was a strange sadness. Because we hadn't really known Grandpa the way we knew Grandma, what we came to miss was his presence. It was bittersweet to see the look of relaxed peace on Grandma's face after Grandpa's death. She had loved him well, and had certainly lived out their wedding vows in a way that is so rare these days. She had cared for him for ten long years, every single day, and it took her a long time to settle into a pattern of not having to do things for him anymore, and having time to herself to do the things she wanted to do. As it turned out, Grandma went from serving Grandpa to serving others even more than she had before. She continued to volunteer at the nursing home, taking the mail around and reading to those who were unable to. She taught adults to read through a community program. She typed up routing lists for the Meals On Wheels program, and twice a week, she was a driver and delivery person. Sometimes I got to ride along and visit the people she served. Grandma just has a servant's heart, and always has. To this day she continues to volunteer as she is able, though it is considerably less of late.

The love seat stayed exactly where it was in Grandma's living room in the following years. We slept on it for afternoon snoozes and sat on it to read books. When Grandma moved into her apartment, the love seat came to live in my living room, and is used for much the same purpose. But Grandpa's spot will always be Grandpa's spot.


zookeeper said...

You are right. It is so rare to witness such devotion these days. Thank you, for making me think today of the special relationship my grandpa and grandma had.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. That is just what I needed today - a great reminder of true devotion. You've spoken of Grandpa before, but this is a must read for truly understanding the bond he and Grandma had, and the true love for Christ and the Church your Grandma has as well. God bless - HAM

Jenni said...

Okay Laura, you've made tears squirt from my eyeballs with this!! This needs to be published somewhere!

So beautiful, so sweet. So rare.

Blessed said...

A beautiful story of true love - thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

That's beautiful. Thanks for sharing it. As someone who is not yet married, I hope and pray that I find and am a spouse who loves like that. :)

Jolyn said...

Came here from "One Thing", and I must say that was a beautiful story. Such devotion. Thank you for sharing it.

Annette said...

This is such a beautiful story. Thanks for being willing to share!

Candy Rant said...

Hi...Jenni at One Thing sent me a link to this post, because my latest post reminded her of it. I'm so glad she pointed me to it. Your grandma and my mom have a lot in common.