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Grandma on her 90th birthday

When I was 12 years old, writing was my primary source of income. My Grandma paid me a penny per word for anything I wrote. In pursuit of this wealth I wrote thousands of words. Then I spent most of the money on Breyer horses. I still have the horses. I still have the essential belief that writing has value. I have my Grandma to thank for both of these things.

Grandma is smaller than she used to be. The years have shortened her stature even as they leached the color out of her hair. What used to be a rich brown is now gray and white. She is still brown haired in her mind though. She declares that she only has a little bit of gray. I touch the whisper soft locks and agree that her hair is still beautiful.

“Are you writing another book?” Grandma says to me with her upper Mississippi accent.
I look up from my laptop at her. “Yes. But this one won’t have pictures.”
“I get to read it when you’re done.”
“Of course you do.”
“I’ll let you get back to your typing.”
“No. That’s okay. Sit down and talk.” I shut my laptop. The writing will wait for me, but this visit with my Grandma is short. I’ll be here only a few days.

I had forgotten, or not known, what a humor-filled person my Grandma is. Every other sentence is a joke or a playful teasing. It is such a contrast to my childhood memories of her when she seemed sharp and strict. “You mind me!” was a frequent order. And I did mind, because I was a little afraid of her. I did the worksheets she put in front of me even though it was summer. I washed the dishes and pulled the weeds all at her command. But I forgave her orders, because of the food she supplied. Southern Fried Chicken, cornbread dressing, deviled eggs, and corn on the cob and that was just dinner.

I look at her now, and I can not imagine myself being afraid of her. She is so soft and cheerful. She is glad to have my kids and me here, I think. Her health complaints have slowed to a trickle and are replaced with stories. I sit quietly and listen when my mother and Grandma start story swapping. I try to catch the stories in my memory so that I will have them. Grandma will not always be here to tell them.

Today is Grandma’s 90th birthday. I think she has mixed feelings about her age. In one sentence she calls herself an old lady, but in the next she declares herself young. Both are true I think. She is old in body, but young at heart. She delights in flowers and small amusements. I watched her playing with the pile of magnetic toys that my dad put out for my kids to find. Grandma was so pleased with herself when she took one apart and put it back together. She is in no hurry, she has no agenda, she is free to enjoy each moment in which she participates.

Grandma counts the flower buds as they form and tracks their progress into blooms. I understood how deeply rooted my love of gardening is when I watched my Grandma with her flowers. My mother has not always had an easy relationship with my Grandma. There is always a careful dance between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. But long ago they decided that they were family no matter what. Now my mother buries flower bulbs in the yard so that Grandma can discover them as they sprout. It is a loving conspiracy to get Grandma outside and walking. Grandma loves flowers enough to go looking, even on the days when her whole body aches.

The other day my mother listened to me on the phone, talking long distance to help my teenage daughter through an emotional crisis. When I hung up, she said
“It’s really nice that it’s your job to manage all that. I can just enjoy them.”
Later, I listened to my mother making a doctor’s appointment for my Grandma. She will have to coax Grandma into attending the appointment. Then she will have to coax Grandma into taking the medication and doing the prescribed therapies. Grandma does not like nor trust doctors much. I watched my mother note the appointment on the calendar and thought how nice it is that I get to just enjoy Grandma. And she gets to just enjoy me and my kids.

I woke late this morning. Once I achieved consciousness I sought out my kids to see if they needed breakfast. “No.” They assured me. “Great-grandma fed us sausage.” My heart warms to think of my Grandma feeding my children as she once fed me.
“They ate four a piece!” Grandma declares when we ask her. She is pleased that they loved her cooking.

Later tonight we will have a party with cake and presents. Grandma will be the star of the show. Tomorrow will be my daughter’s turn to be the birthday girl. Grandma is 90 my daughter turns 9. I am glad they can be together for this weekend.

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