On this Thankful Thursday, I’m thinking about my grandma. See, my grandma was admitted to the hospital Tuesday for some pretty serious issues that came up at the nursing home where she’s been living for almost two years now. Grandma is one of those women who always did for others, hardly ever taking time for herself. I guess, when you’re the middle child of 13, you don’t have much time for yourself.
When I was almost five and my sister was almost 10, our parents divorced. For whatever reason, and it’s never been clear to me, we were sent to live with our father and his mother, “Grandma”. Our dad got remarried a few years later and we stayed with Grandma when he moved out. Grandma, whose husband had passed away a few years earlier, took us in and raised us as her own. We were her girls. Back in those days, not many grandparents were raising their grandchildren, at least none of our friends were living with their grandparents. These days, it seems a little more common, but 30 years ago it wasn’t something you heard about much. We were so lucky to have been raised by Grandma. She was always there when we got home from school and she made us sit at the table and do our homework right away “while it’s still fresh in your mind” before we could do anything else. We always had a home-cooked breakfast, “dinner”, and “supper” (that’s a southern thing). And, boy, could grandma cook! She made the best lasagna, spaghetti, pork chops, and red velvet cake.
Grandma drove us all over the county for band and school functions, softball practice and games for my sister, and whatever other activities we could get ourselves into. Because we lived in town, we had to use our aunt and uncle’s address to go to a different school out in the country. The reason we did this is because they had the better band, and my sister and I are both unapologetic band-nerds. Grandma would drive us back and forth to school sometimes two or three times a day. We’re talking 30 miles round trip, two or three times a day. That doesn’t seem like much these days, but back then, it was a big deal. Grandma worked part-time on her eighth-grade education. Our father was a truck driver and our mom was a secretary; they didn’t make much money, which translates into we didn’t have any money. We lived on food stamps, whatever our parents could hand out, and the vegetables my grandma would pick from her sister and brother-in-law’s garden. She worked her fingers to the bone for us. She would clean her sister’s house to make money or to pay back the money she had borrowed so one of us could have a new pair of shoes. Her job at the pharmacy lasted for a few years until they went out of business, but she was always at the bus stop to pick us up on the days we rode the bus.
I remember having a bad dream one night, and crawling into bed with her. She never told me to go to my own bed. She was always ready to hug us, or rock us as babies. She would run her fingernails up and down my back while rocking me to sleep as a toddler. I can remember her singing, or trying to sing, a lullaby to me. She didn’t have the best singing voice, but I always enjoyed her singing. Grandma loved to sing and whistle along with Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, and the like. We watched Hee-Haw, Unsolved Mysteries, and Matlock together. I got my love of reading from her; she was forever reading a Louis L’Amour book. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many puzzles we put together. She would pitch the softball to my sister and me so we could learn to hit. She was our cheering section at just about every function we attended and she made sure we got to church and youth group on time. Grandma made us practice our band music for hours at a time until we were satisfied with it. She told us that the best we could do was good enough. She insisted upon good grades, good manners, and lady-like behavior. She didn’t always get those out of me, but she tried. Two out of three ain’t bad (I’ll leave you to figure out which ones).
Not only did she do all of this for Kim and me, but she did for others as well. When one of her siblings or friends was sick, she was there visiting them. She would do anything for anyone. You needed some food but couldn’t afford it? She would say, “Come to my house and go through my freezer.” Two of her sisters didn’t drive so she would take them grocery shopping once a week and drive them to doctor appointments and anywhere else they needed or wanted to go. When her brother moved to Florida from California after his wife died and all of his kids were grown, she opened her house to him. When we had family reunions, most of the out of town members would crash at her house.
Grandma and I didn’t always see eye to eye. In fact, when I was a teenager, we fought daily. I ran away from home and moved out at 16, to live with my mother. Grandma forgave me, and came to realize that this was for the best–our relationship was much better after that. When it came time for her to stop driving, I would take her to the grocery store and the doctor’s office. Kim and I would take turns driving Grandma around town, doing all the things she used to do for us. It was our turn to help take care of Grandma. My husband and I bought a house a couple of miles from Grandma, so almost every day I would go to her house to make sure she was ok, and had taken her medications. Kim and I traded days to help Grandma. Over the years, she became less and less like herself, and more argumentative and forgetful. Her doctor appointments started to be more frequent and to places like neurology instead of her primary care. Soon, we were talking with our dad about placing Grandma in home health care, but we couldn’t afford it. Of course, we wanted her to have the very best care we could afford because she had always done that for us. We ended up placing her in a pretty nice nursing home that has an Alzheimer’s wing where she could be watched over every day. Grandma was no longer living alone.
So, all of this is to say, I’m so thankful that she was there to step in and raise my sister and me. If not for her, who knows where or how we would’ve ended up. We could’ve been raised by a father who was never home due to his job, or a mother who was home every night, but who now had another child to raise. Three children on a secretary’s salary? No way could that have happened. Thank goodness for Grandma. We didn’t have much, but we knew we always had her. Now that she’s almost 90, she has Alzheimers. The worst part of that is that she doesn’t recognize Kim or me anymore. She doesn’t know who we are. She doesn’t know where she is, except that she’s not at her home, the home she lived in for almost 45 years. She asks about her mom, who has been gone for over 50 years. She asks about my uncle, who died in 1995. Those are the hard questions to answer. We just tell her we haven’t heard from them in a while. When we told her they were both dead, she got so upset that we decided from then on we would lie to her; sInce it’s to ease an old woman’s mind God will hopefully forgive us for those lies.
My sister and dad are there with her now, as I’m living 700 plus miles away from my family. The hardest part about living out of state from them is that I’m not there when Grandma needs me. My sister is there, but I hate that she has to take on the brunt of Grandma’s care, or that she is the one that is always at the hospital when something happens. I’m not able to be there with Grandma and Kim. Kim is so strong, and I’m glad that she’s able to sit with Grandma, but I’d love to be there, too. I can’t wait for December when I’ll be able to see all of my family, and especially my Grandma.
On this Thankful Thursday, I am more grateful than thankful for my grandma. For what things are you most thankful?