Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Not Only That, But We Also Managed to Get Out of There Without Granddaddy Asking Al If He Was Related to Flip Wilson. Again.

As part of our trip down to the homeland last month, we spent a couple days visiting my family in South Carolina. One morning as Mom and I wrapped up our morning, she suggested we go visit my grandparents at their home in the assisted living center about 10 miles away.

To which I answered "WellIdunnoyouknowPeabodyhastotakeanapandIhaven't

Y'all? I lo-o-ove my grandparents. OHMYGRANNY, I do. Those two people treated my sister and my cousins and me like little princesses our entire childhoods. They routinely took us off on trips, just us kids. My grandmother patiently taught us to cook, knit and crochet. She even let us drag out all of the lovely and mysterious old hat boxes she kept up in the tops of several closets in her house, exotic boxes that bore the most eclectic array of head gear imaginable, many of these show-stoppers made by her own hands, and put them on one another and giggle until we couldn't draw breath anymore. Oh my heavens, this woman had some hats, people. Hats that'd make Aretha Franklin blush and say, "Oh I don't b'lieve I could carry that one off, honey."

My Granddaddy'd entertain us for hours on end with Tiddly-winks, Tinker Toys, Bingo and dominoes. Some weekends we'd all go with him to the B. F. Goodrich sales office he ran, and while he took care of a few things, we'd run rough-shod over the place, claiming our own offices and pretending we were the people whose names appeared on the plasti-wood plates on each door. I was always Brenda, I remember that. We'd perk some decaffeinated (he was easy-going, but not dumb, my grandfather) coffee which we'd load up with sugar-cubes and sip out of those nifty disposable plastic cups that fit into the burnt umber and avocado and goldenrod molded plastic holders, run the Xerox machine until it was coughing out blanks and leave reams of cryptic While You Were Out notes for all the secretaries to try to decipher Monday morning.

On holiday weekends Granddaddy stood down in his basement at his homemade green plywood table beating us in game after game of ping-pong, until we got good enough that we were almost challenging opponents. Granddaddy taught me all about money and investing and he did such a great job sparking my interest that I grew up to become a stock-broker.

They were awfully good to us, my grandparents. I couldn't have asked for better, and you don't have to tell me, people, that I should LEAP UNEQUIVOCATINGLY (made up word) at the chance to see them and tell them that whenever I get the chance.

But I don't.

See, I have all these issues with aging, and death, and the thought of seeing my grandparents, who have always been active and vibrant, the life of every party and a couple of my biggest heroes, now tired and worn down and fading away scares the pants off me. And I'm your basic selfish coward, so I choose to avoid facing my fears versus doing what I know is right and what would bring them, these two dear people who helped give me such an amazing childhood and have blessed me long, long into my adulthood, a little joy. I generally skip a visit with them when I'm home.


Also, and it's hard for me to say this, my grandparents are obviously from an earlier generation, and they grew up in the rural South, and thus they hold some out-dated beliefs, assumptions, and, well, just basic ignorance, when it comes to skin-color. I won't go so far as to say that they are proper racists, but mostly I say that because they ARE my grandparents and I love them and sometimes you have to give the people you love the benefit of the doubt because you love them and you want to KEEP loving them. I'd classify my grandparents beliefs about non-white people as classic under-exposure and misunderstanding, really.

(Side-step, side-step, shuffle-step, hop.)

Thanks to this little, shall we say, "quirk of personality" in my grandfolks, my husband has been treated, at gatherings on my side of the family, to such conversational pearls as the one in which my Grandfather noted with astonishment Bean's very, very curly hair and my Grandmother explained sotto voce, "Well you know, Chester, her father is diff'rent." And the time that my Grandmother, accepting a compliment from her neighbor on baby Bean's beauty, answered, "Well, she's light now, but she'll darken up."

And we've laughed to ourselves, you know, because what else can you do? They're in their 90s now, so probably well past the point of changing their minds. Still, a part of me just wants to keep my little family away and protect Al and the kids from what might be said. Why court disaster?

But this trip, my mother and my husband wouldn't let me squirm out of seeing Grandmama and Granddaddy. No, that morning they combined forces and gently encouraged me to go, and to take the kids, to do it for my grandparents, not for me, because who knows? (I can't make myself finish that thought but you know what I mean, right?)

And I went. We all went. I rode over there with a knot in my stomach, frightened about what they'd be like, fearful of how the visit might play out. But when we pulled into the parking lot, I sucked it up, screwed on a smile and marched myself into their building, determined to set aside all of MY ISSUES and let the next 90 minutes be about somebody besides me.

My grandmother doesn't hear well, and Granddaddy's mind (and thus the conversation) gets stuck in tight little loops thanks to the ravages of Alzheimer's, so we had to tell them loudly, WE LIVE IN CHICAGO NOW. And YES, WE DO LIKE IT. And SURE, WE MIGHT MOVE BACK DOWN SOUTH AGAIN SOMEDAY about umpteen times. And Al sweetly and politely chuckled as Granddaddy joked, every 10 minutes or so when he'd get to that part of the loop, SO YOU'RE A STOCKBROKER, AL? WELL I NEED TO TALK TO YOU, THEN, BECAUSE I HAVE A LOT OF MONEY I NEED TO INVEST!

But for awhile Bean played outside with Nana, and Al kept Peabody reined in, so there was relative peace and quiet, and I got a chance to tell my grandparents how much I love them, and what GREAT grandparents they've been. I reminded them of many of the special things they've done for me, and with me, and how much their love and generosity has shaped who I've grown up to be. And my grandfather even found a place in one of his crazy conversational loops to look me straight in the eye and say, "You've always been a smart girl, Megan. I knew that from the time you were little."

And when we left, I hugged and kissed them both and left feeling so thankful I'd made the trip over to see them. Not because it was the right thing to do for THEM, but because THEY, once again, had given me something I really wanted and needed: The opportunity to see that no matter how old they get, they're still my Grandmama and Granddaddy Clover, and they always will be.

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  1. Megan -I'm so glad you went and I'm so glad it went well. I know you're glad you were able to tell them again of your love for them.

  2. HI Meagan, I so understand the guardedness around people who make....comments...about my colorful family. I guess I should trust my family's resilience a bit more. But instead I feel stiff and ready to fend off darts at any second, whether they come or not. I am glad you had a good visit.



  3. This is a beautiful post, and full of grace, which we all need, all the time!

  4. I'm so glad you made the visit. I've heard my grandpa say some funny things to us too about Mini. He asked me if she'd have a [Korean] accent. LOL.

  5. I love your writing! It always gives me a good laugh or makes me think (especially the ones regarding the ups and downs of a two child household-which we will embark on early 2010, and the one about you and your husband just being together, JUST you and him.) I love your open and honest approach to life and your family! :)

    This post was great, and I'm glad that you decided to visit your grandparents!! :)

  6. I always leave your site with tears in my eyes - whether they are from joy or sadness or tenderness. xoxo

  7. A very nice story...

  8. I agree with Jenn, this post made me feel tearful also. I am glad the visit went well. :)

  9. I am always so blessed by your posts. Thank you, thank you, for sharing your life with the greater bloggy world.

  10. Oh yes. I understand this. I hate seeing my Nannie old and in that cycle of thought. I hate that she isn't dignified anymore and that she spends most of her time missing my Poppie, who died 8 years ago last week, when my Natalie was just a few days old.

    But she is still my Nannie, and when I went to visit her in her Southern Ladies Home last fall, I was paying tribute to the woman she was over a lifetime, not just the faded person she is today.

  11. Oh, that is a great story, Megan. Thank you for sharing that. I miss my grandma now.

  12. Oh tears!!!! I never met my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandfather died right before my 3rd birthday but i always had my Mom's Stepmom (Mawmaw Shawver) and my Mom's mom (MawMaw Ferrel). Mawmaw Ferrel always lived in Florida my whole life so we were not close but man did i love my Mawmaw Shawver. She sadly passed away when i was 14 and never was able to meet my husband or her great grandkids. My Mawmaw Ferrel also being from another generation had a hard time adjusting (as did my dad) to the difference between races. Either way they loves us and we love them and in the end love is what joins us all.

  13. That was so sweet. I had a little chuhckle and a cry.

    We are going through the same things with my husband's Grandparents (they may even be at the same nursing home as yours in upstate SC). They are so sweet, but their health is failing. I have to make him go see them. It's hard on him, but I don't want him to have the same regrets I did. I skipped out on the last opportunity I had to see my Grandmother alive. The last time I saw her was so hard, especially when she told me, "Remember me greatly." I sure do remember her greatly.

  14. Megan, I found your blog about a year ago through another blog that I read. I live in Illinois, but I'm from Alabama, and I understand (and enjoy) all the southern references you make. And I understand your comments about the South and racism. I have two precious grandsons whose father is of a different race, and they are not welcome at my Alabama family reunions. My mother is gone now, but she loved and accepted them, so my other relatives' attitudes are hard to understand. Love really is what it's all about. Thanks for reminding us.

  15. Beautiful and touching and powerful. SO love reading you again. ♥♥♥

  16. I know that visit was difficult. Good for you for taking the leap.

    My family lives in SC, as well. It is always interesting when we go down for a visit. I get a little nervous about what may pop out of my grandparents' mouths (especially around my children). I love them dearly, but some of their ideas/beliefs will never change.