Comforts From A Grandmother

June 21, 2011

I watch my grandmother at the age of 88 hanging by a thread to the little bit of life that she has left in those slowly disintegrating bones that have ravished her legs and are working their way up her body. She sits in her wheelchair oblivious of her surroundings seemingly happy to eat her pulled chicken while listening to my mother’s rants about the evils of her job while I lay on mother’s couch waiting for Monday to come so I can head home and start a new job.

The sight of my grandmother comforts and saddens me in the same breath. It comforts me because she was a woman that has been as important of a figure in my life as my actual mother.

As a child all three of us lived together in my grandmother’s apartment in the Sumner Project houses of Brooklyn, New York. My grandmother had lived in the same apartment since the early 70’s and raised all of her children in that two-bedroom abode that hardly seemed like the type of place to raise four children in.

In that apartment my grandmother was my main caretaker. While my mother worked during the weekdays and partied during the weekends my grandmother did all of the dirty work that comes along with looking after a young boy.

After school let out I would come downstairs and find her waiting to walk me home no matter the weather. From ages 6 until 8 my grandmother would make the half-mile trip from her apartment to St. John’s The Baptist and back again with me in toe. We would stop by the local corner store and she would hand me 25 cents to buy The New York Daily News so I could feed my appetite for sports knowledge, which carries over to my profession today.

She would set me down and watch over me as I did my homework and occasionally checked over box scores from baseball, basketball and football games. As she looked on she would prepare meals that I still wish I had ready to prepare at my current bachelor pad in Columbus, Ohio. The smells of okra stew, chicken and dumplings and homemade meatloaf all teased my sense of smell as I waited to devour any delicious dish that she would set in front of me.

At nights we shared a bed together as my mother would take up in what should have been my room and rest her aching heels there. I never found it to be weird that my mother slept in my room filled with posters of baseball players and Mickey Mouse while I shared a room with my grandmom. I would go to sleep first while grandmom cleaned up the plated and pots from dinner and she would follow shortly after. Only on the weekends would I get to sleep alone. Those were the days that grandmom would pack a bag and head to my grandpops house when he was still alive. I never got why they didn’t live together but always seemed to be together. All I knew was every Friday at five grandmom would head downtown and I wouldn’t see her again until Sunday at 5. It was grownup stuff I guess.

After he died mom and I moved to Maryland while grandmom moved into grandpops old place. I talked to grandma every other day from ages 10 until 12 as my mother tried to make a living by herself. When grandmom would come down I would get really excited. I couldn’t wait to see her in person, talk to her, show her stuff that I did in school and just hang around her. She was like my best friend and almost a soul mate.

Things fell apart however and before you know it mom and I were back in New York living with grandmom but this time in grandpops old one bedroom condo. There was barely enough room for one adult to live in this place and here we are trying to make it work with 2 adults and a newly minted teenager. Grandma occupied her room while mom slept on the sofa and I slept on a pullout mattress on the living room floor. From ages 13-15 there I lay listening to my mother snoring and staring out of a window wondering why in the hell I was alive.

As a teenager everything changes. Your feelings become confused as you try to process tons of information about every little thing. In my case I was becoming sickened and annoyed with everything I felt I knew about family and how none of it was turning out to be true. I was annoyed that I never have any space to call my own, no privacy, no place to think, no place to relax, nothing. I was becoming bitter at every piece of life around me. I began to hate my absent father and my lazy mother whose only obsession was to make it back to Maryland rather than take care of me.

On two separate occasions she fled back to Maryland for three months so she could “get us situated” in her own words while I stayed in New York stumbling through school, feeling out of place and began a path toward cynicism. All the while my grandmom was still there taking care of me along the way. Everyday I would come home from school and she would surrender her room to me for my own private usage just so I could play video games, listen to rap music and just be a teenager. She still cooked for me, made sure I got up early for school, and taught me how to do laundry and cook as well.

One funny occurrence happened when I tried to make dinner once while she slept. I made spaghetti and mashed potatoes; not exactly the greatest planned meal now that I look back on it. When I woke her from her nap she just laughed and kissed me on the head saying, “that’s a lot of starch.”

Once again it came time to move and there I was being separated from my grandmom again. This time however it was for good. There were no more home cooked meals or elderly companionship. My mom had moved the two of us to Maryland for good. Once I hit 16 my grandmother turned 76 and our relationship changed.

As I fought with my mother during those angering first two years in Laurel, Maryland I stopped talking to my grandmother as much as I used to because in my eyes she was always on my mother’s side. To me she didn’t care about how I felt or what was going on in my life and told me to listen to my mother even though to me she was making my life a living hell. Our conversations shortened from the time I was 17 up until I graduated from high school and begun college.

Slowly her health began to decline. One morning I woke up to my mother heading to New York to help my grandmom after she injured herself in a fall in her apartment. Her legs had begun to breakdown and there was nothing she could do about. I couldn’t go and see her because the older I got the more responsibilities I had such as work and college. It killed me because she was always there for me for anything and thanks to a job I needed due to my mother’s money issues I couldn’t see her.

As I got older it became more and more rare to see my grandmom, when I did there was always a new problem with her body that was breaking down slowly but painfully. When I was 19 she started to use a cane, at 21 it was a three-pronged cane, 22 a walker, 23 a wheelchair. She moved from New York to Maryland and from grandpops old apartment to an elderly living complex to a nursing home. Her worsening condition made me not want to see her, I couldn’t stand to look at someone I used to see everyday that seemed so strong but is now fragile.

Yet and still when I did see her she brought a smile to my face every time. Even though her condition was declining and she was losing her wits about her she was still the same person that cared for me all of those early years and I still loved her dearly. Hugs meant more from her than they did before because she needed them more often. Even though I didn’t see her too much I wanted to let her know I still cared. Every hug I gave her was like a momma bear huddling up with her cubs, every kiss on the cheek lasted a few seconds, every “I love you grandmom” was said with enough emphasis that hopefully she would really think about it until she saw me again.

The last time I saw her was that Sunday evening where she sat in her wheelchair listening to my mother and eating her chicken. A month has gone by and since that day she spent time in the hospital due to a health complication. Whether it’s serious or not remains to be seen.

The saddening part is that at age 86 I know her time is almost up as new complications will start to arise. However, the comfort that she’s given me throughout the years makes it a little bit easier to bear. When I called her a three times last week she sounded happy, alive and even gave me a laugh or two. Even in her own sad times she still can make me feel good.


One Response to “Comforts From A Grandmother”

  1. patton26 Says:

    Great blog. Reading this blog made me think of all the time I spent with my grandmother and all the memories we had. I used to stay at her house when I was sick and couldn’t go to school. After church I would go to her house with all the rest of my family. I miss those days. She’s in Heaven now. She would watch me while my parents went to work. I literally had flashbacks during my whole time reading this blog. Reading this blog brought tears to my eyes.

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