Some stories from the past, and my ongoing series, "Aunt Clara's Wheelchair"
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Twenty One and Eighty Two
I went to live with Grandma and Grandpa in late spring. She was eighty-three and he was eighty-two. Grandpa was still more active than most folks his age. He worked almost everyday, or at least when he wanted to, on his tree farm. He could still shoe a horse and drive his jeep, but he was not as well, physically, as he'd once been. He had fallen off a horse the year before and now had to use a cane. Grandpa was not one who cussed often, but he cussed that damn cane. His mind was sharper than ever. He had a keen wit and his eyes looked at you knowingly and with clear direction.
Grandma, on the other hand, was kind of the other way around. She could carry a bucket of coal from the coalhouse out back the fireplace in the livingroom. She could go for a walk down the road or through the woods on the pathway Grandpa had made for her. At the same time, her mind was slipping somewhat. She might, for a moment, think it is 1948 in the autumn when it is actually springtime in the 1970's! Grandpa just kissed her sweetly and went on reading or doing whatever he was doing at the time.
Well, growing up, us brothers and cousins... the grandkids, had a sort of theory concerning Grandma and Grandpa. We all agreed that if Grandpa went first, which probably wouldn't happen, poor Grandma wouldn't last another week. She would just not be able to stand life without Grandpa.However, if Grandma died first, which probably would be the case, Grandpa would grieve and be sad for awhile, but then he would be okay and just keep going on. It's not that he wouldn't miss Grandma terribly, but he was just stronger and more able to cope with such a loss.....well, we were wrong.
It is a hot day in July now and I am twenty-one. I'm driving Grandpa, in the Willy's Jeep, over to Aunt Olga's house, five miles away. We're going over to fertilize some baby Hemlock trees. Now I am walking along a few feet behind him. He's carrying a bucket and spreading the fertilizer by hand. When the bucket gets low I pour it half full from a fifty pound bag. We are nearing the end of the last row and his bucket is almost empty and there's not much left in the bag either. I say to him, "is it going to work out alright, Grandpa?" He turns and says to me, almost laughing, "my boy, everything will work out just fine." My cousin, Paul, is talking to a friend, a boy we called Moose, in the field just a few feet away. The old man walks over to the boy and thanks him for helping out earlier in the summer. Moose had helped Grandpa build a splitrail fence. Grandpa reaches in his back pocket and pulls out his wallet saying, "I wouldn't want leave here owing anybody any money." He takes out a five dollar bill and, as he is handing it to the boy, Grandpa sways a little to the side and begins to fall backwards. I try to catch him, and almost do, but I go down with him and his head is now on my lap. He takes a deep breath in and then out and Paul and I are looking at each other. One of us, I don't remember which, says, "Grandpa's gone", and so he is.
Grandma is shattered when told the awful news and we all worry about her, but the days turn into weeks and months and years. Nine more years as a matter of fact. And although Grandma could no longer live by herself, she was "at home" at Uncle Fred and Aunt Marge's. She may not know what she'd had for breakfast an hour ago, but she'd talk about a Saturday morning in 1904, when she was a girl, like it was yesterday. And, sometimes, I was my father when he was a little boy. And, often, Grandpa had just gone down to Griffie Morton's store to get some milk and butter and he would be back in a few minutes.