a taste of mortality and early summer

This morning at eleven found Ralph and I readying for company: my parents, aunt Patti, and grandpa (and assorted small, useless dogs). Ralph helps me in the kitchen and the kids play relatively non-destuctively as we chop vegetables, put the coffee on, and wash dishes. My family pulls up to my yard and as I look out the window what appears to be two very old men creak out of the minivan. The first is my father, not very old at all but bald and patchy from his latest round of chemo. Happily, his rather intense facial rash has subsided and his skin looks good. Most importantly, he is feeling a lot better lately. Then my Grandpa, getting a little thick again around the middle but looking genial (he takes a “gentle blue pill”) and very good for 80-plus.

My family of origin (FOO!) is a “sit around and visit” kind of family. That’s what we do for fun – no board games, no museum trips, and Good Christ Heavens no hikes or bike rides. That’s fine, I guess; if there’s one thing that sends me to Boringsville it’s hauling my ass from tourist event to tourist event, as would be the wont of many families visiting this lovely burg. Still, sometimes I feel trapped when I’m stuck with company who far prefers to sit on my couch and yak; I turn into a barnacle myself and in the meantime feel shame and paralysis at my inability to find an activity we can all do together (it never occurred to me to try to do something with the FOO until I met and married Ralph, who can sit still all of ten minutes).

Oh yes, and we eat – we eat food the Ladies / Matriarchs shop for, prepare, cook, and often earn the money to buy (Ralph is a notable exception to this familial trait since he considers these duties his as well). Today the (old) men eat burgers, chips, coleslaw, and pie and ice-cream (one of the easiest, tastiest and least expensive pies I make: the acclaimed Rhubarb Custard from Allrecipes.com). Great-grandpa takes a car nap; my father sits and talks on the couch. Practically the next thing I know the men are loading up in the minivan and heading back home, taking the little dogs with them. My mother, my aunt, Sophie and I hit the downtown for a little yarn-and-fabric groping and a coffee.

I usually find out how my mother feels about me by listening to her around others, or hearing what others tell me she says about me. When the FOO is around you’d think she was coaching her deaf daughter into talking (people who know me know I have no such problem telling a story). “Tell them about Nels puking in Swains,” she demands. “Tell Patti what you teach in your sewing classes,” she urges. “Tell them about the time dad had a car collision when he didn’t get his fries from McDonalds!” I know in her way she is showing off her child(ren) and her grandchildren; but in a more real way she is sharing who we are to her.

My Grandpa sleeps a lot. He has a very sharp mind and is a class act. I miss the able-bodied, powerful man he was when I was a child living with them. Now he is a tiny bit hard of hearing, but when he does hear the conversation he catches every nuance of humor. He and my aunt have become “the couple” since my Grandmother’s death four years ago. Whenever I see my Grandpa I remember him the day he was widowed. I remember sitting in a diner with him, and my mother, and my husband, and my four-month old daughter and I remember being stunned with the realization he was without his wife of near six decades, for the first time in his life. He has changed since her death. He is a bit vague. They were like a machine that ran well together and now the remains of the machine limp along at a brisk pace, in a way still vital and alive, but missing something. I miss her as well.

It’s a short visit – as it always is with my FOO – but I am grateful as always. Death and age hover about us like a cloud and only my children do not see it. In them is the promise of life and renewal, feeding Ralph and I for years to come until, God willing, we are on the other side watching our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and we can feel life begin to ebb from us the way it is meant to and somehow know this is a good thing.

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