Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Doing Without Frosting

Today would be Gram's 99th birthday, but there will be no cake. (I'm losing weight, and Morgan's following a best-foods-for-your-baby diet, which limits sugar.) Gram would have tsked us and sought relief for her sweet tooth elsewhere.

I notice that even after more than four years I still feel the gaping wound in my world left by the one person who always had time for me. Not that any of the people who love me, and there are a lot of them, wouldn't drop what they were doing, if they could, and pay attention to me. But I don't usually insist, and when I do I feel selfish and foolish, resentful that I have to ask, and somehow less independent. And my independence is often all I feel I have. I am usually, or I used to be, very grateful for all the time I have to myself. But sometimes I just need someone to talk to, to look at. And I loved her.

Grandma was rather a captive audience and was somehow infinitely interested in me without seeming to be at all. The days at the nursing home passed slowly, and I know she wasn't always aware of time passing. But we passed hours together; what did we talk about? I can't remember. The birds, the trees out the window, the park across the street. She appeared to be absorbed in yesterday's newspaper, although she could rarely get past the headlines, and I told her my plans. I explained e-mail and DVDs. I asked her the important things, when I thought of them, and her answers were usually satisfactory. I took my violin and tried to play quietly, but the violin isn't a quiet instrument, and I found that the other residents, those who could hear, enjoyed my serenades.

I drew her pictures. I brought her stacks of large-print books which, when I returned them to the library, yielded a wealthy harvest of bookmarks, folded tissues and newspaper clippings. I had to repeat things, and in the repeating found I could sort things out, clean them up. I learned to babble without regard, because she liked the sound and often seemed not to be listening, but when I stopped I usually found that she had absorbed more than I expected. I learned how to explain concisely, how to squeeze the condensed juice out of a story to hold her focus if I knew she'd enjoy the tale. Sometimes she was alert enough to want details, and I learned how to polish those, too.

Even in California she was my sounding board. I talked to her while we walked slowly, until she couldn't walk more than the length of a few houses or more, and then I'd push her in her wheelchair and talk some more, sometimes casting about the neighborhood for things to talk about. Roses the size of our heads, dogs and cats, kids I knew from school. Occasionally I'd get her bundled in the wheelchair and spin her to the library, and other times I'd put my trombone in its case on her lap, and we'd wheel up to Jazz Band rehearsal at the high school, two blocks from the house. She seemed to remember some songs from dances years before. She always seemed surprised, when we wheeled home, to see palm trees.

I don't remember much about the vast expanse of my childhood, but I remember the underlying consciousness that Grandma was there, always, if I scraped my knee or wanted a snack or if Morgan wouldn't do what I wanted. I remember wanting no one but Mom when I was sick and particularly treasuring weekends when she was home, but Grandma was the daily thing, the constant thing, the thing I took for granted. I don't think we talked much then, but I know I always had her attention, even if she answered me from behind a newspaper without peering over her pink plastic glasses at me... and she paid much more attention to newspapers then.

I guess I should get used to her being gone. I guess I should make more friends or wedge myself more assertively into the lives of my family if I want more attention, since I seem to need it lately, but I have a feeling it won't be the same. Hers is the attention I miss, subtle and undemanding, and I can't get it back. An irreplaceable dynamic. The thing you don't know you have until it's gone.

99 years, the best century. Time is going very fast, and I can't seem to stop thinking about it, noticing it. I get angry when people say "all the time in the world." That's nothing, no time at all. All I can do is look at the span of her life and conclude that a life seems very long, indeed, if you're lucky, sometimes a little too long. I was prepared for the end, mindful that she was, too, but I couldn't have let her go any sooner.

The only time she wouldn't pay attention to me was when I whined. Or if she did, it was only to tell me to buck up. So I will. I can still talk to her. After all, it wasn't always obvious that she was paying attention. I had to go on faith.


Anonymous KB said...

It's so easy to remember Molly calmly picking up the screaming A & simply placing her on the counter while going about fixing dinner in Big Piney. I did have ice cream in her honor today.

June 25, 2009 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger A said...

HA! I guess I didn't give her much choice. I think I must have been kindof spoiled. :)

Glad you celebrated. I think I'm going to try to make some ice cream -- Bekah gave me an ice cream maker -- in some odd flavor, something Molly would have liked- black tea and honey, maybe? I think she'd approve of the enterprise... and laugh with me if it didn't work out.

June 25, 2009 at 8:52 PM  

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