Sunday, February 7, 2010

Holding His Hand

When I was five, I flew all by myself to Cincinnati to be with my grandparents for Spring Break. It was one of the most magical weeks of my childhood. That time, one on one with my grandparents was a wonderful fanciful treat. I stayed in a room decorated just for me, we visited the zoo, I had my hair done at my grandmother's salon, they showered me with gifts and showed me off to friends. Every night, during cocktail hour, they let me use their foyer as a kind of stage where I performed selections from Annie and Fiddler on the Roof with great enthusiasm. If they were anything but enthralled, I never knew. I must have come back spoiled rotten, my poor parents.

When I was six, I wanted to play the flute. More than anything. My cousins, older beautiful, sophisticated fourth and fifth graders that they were, both played an instrument and I wanted to be just like them. My grandparents paid for the rental. My hands were tiny; too small to make the first crucial reach of the flute's keys. I wouldn't figure out breath support for another four years and got light headed every time I touched the thing. I quit.

When I was seven, I wanted to play the piano. My parents had purchased an antique full upright and I'd been tinkering on it, plunking out commercial jingles and Rogers and Hammerstein melodies by ear. I wanted lessons. My grandparents offered to pay the month or two they figured I would stick to it. I took private lessons until I was seventeen. They ended up paying for five years of private voice lessons too.

When I was 11, I got braces. I have a mouth like a bowling alley. Tiny, narrow jaw; great big horse teeth. I had two oral surgeries, countless extractions but after years of pain and inconvenience, I had a beautiful smile, financed by my grandparents.

When I was 19, I became a single mother. My first husband had walked out seven months earlier. My daughter and I had nothing. My grandparents were part of the network of people making sure she had a good start. Thanks to them, she had tiny pink sleepers, a lovely cozy cradle, a carseat, a swing.

When I was 31, Cowboy had been hospitalized and out of work a month. My cupboards were bare. I went to sleep one night knowing I had no means of feeding my children the next week. My grandfather's 5:00AM phone call woke me. He was worried for us and was sending grocery money.

I said goodbye to my grandmother the next spring. Actually, I never got the opportunity to say goodbye. I was too blocked to write and by the time I had the courage, she'd lost the ability to understand. I spoke at her wake and in a cracking voice, talked for all of her grandchildren about her propensity for fulfilling wishes and rewarding hard work. I still think of her and thank her in my dreams.

When I was 35, I introduced my children and husband to my grandfather. I looked forward to that moment for months and fussed about it almost as long. This man, opinionated and sometimes dysfunctional as he is, has been so many things to me and I owe him so much. I couldn't wait for my family to meet him and him to meet them. I wanted him to see what bright, intelligent children they are and to know that he influenced the way I raise them. To hear him say I was doing well was like the blessing of heaven.

When I was 36, I needed a surgery to save my life. Giving me the money as a gift would have been inappropriate. I needed to demonstrate I had the strength to walk the path I was setting. It was a very big investment; one I needed to make in myself. My grandfather offered to pay half only if I came up with the other half on my own. I wanted it and I found a way. My grandfather helped me save my life.

They are moving my grandfather to Hospice this week. At 96 the man who used to walk or swim at least two miles a day can no longer walk across a room. I wish I could carry him. The man who attended weekly concerts and treasured lively conversation has been devastated at the loss of his hearing; even the best hearing aid a poor substitute. I wish he could hear through my ears. His eyesight is fading, I wish he could see through mine. These are the quality of life issues, there are others, much more serious that are shortening his time. If I could give him more time in comfort, I would. Since I can't, I can only offer compassion and hope I get there in time to say goodbye.

I owe him so much that 'thank you' seems lame. There's so much I want to say that every thing I start seems insipid. He and Grandma talked about holding my hand when I was a baby. I guess, I'll start by holding his hand and hope the words come. If I can't tell him how I feel, at least I can say goodbye the same way I said hello.


ChiaLynn said...

I think I remember that trip to Cincinnati, though I haven't thought about it in years. It was the mention of the zoo that reminded me. I believe you saw tigers at the Cincinnati Zoo, and for years, I thought the Cincinnati Bengals had something to do with the (obviously Bengal) tigers at the zoo.

This must be so hard for you, but you've written about it beautifully.

the slackmistress said...

I think that there's something wondrous about sharing people who mean something to us with the rest of the world. It gives them an opportunity to continue being that person you love.

(Friend of Chia!)

Chris said...

Beautifully written. I hope you get to share this with him before he's gone. Thinking of and praying for you & your family.