Grandma and I channel Cheech & Chong


remember 8 tracks?

Ever feel like you’re stuck in a Cheech & Chong/Groundhog Day
mashup? I do.

I grew up listening to my parents’ 8-track tapes. My Mom regularly played everything from Jesus Christ Superstar to Doctor Hook & the Medicine Show at maximum volume, especially when she was cleaning house. One tape in particular stood out to me because it wasn’t music. Maybe it’s my imagination, but whenever my parents listened to Cheech & Chong’s self-titled first album, they seemed to always go straight to the track titled “Dave.”

If you’ve never heard the routine, there’s a guy named Dave trying to deliver drugs to someone’s apartment, but the guy inside is too high to understand what’s going on. I suppose because drug humor was pretty new at the time my parents acted like this was the most hilarious thing they’d ever heard. I guess you had to be there.

You’re probably asking yourself what any of this has to do with caring for Grandma. Well, as I said I heard this tape a lot growing up, and recently it dawned on me that one of my recurring conversations with Grandma is a lot like that infamous routine. I’m Dave, and Grandma is that guy who won’t open the door. It goes something like this:

“Grandma, what did you do with your lunch?” I ask.

“Well I ate it!” she replies.

“You couldn’t have eaten all of it because there was chicken. Where are the bones?” I ask.

“I don’t know anything about any bones,” she insists. “Maybe those people who were down here took them.”

At this point I know she’s either a) hidden her leftovers or b) thrown them in the trash, which I’ve asked her about a million times not to do because it attracts bugs.

I ask again. “The hospice people didn’t take your leftovers. What did you do with the stuff you didn’t eat in your lunch?”

“I didn’t have lunch.” she replies. “You mean supper?”

“For the love of god whatever you call it I brought you food and I want to know where the stuff you didn’t eat went,” I say, hurriedly slamming drawers closed and lifting chair seats with hidden compartments underneath in search of the missing chicken bones. Eventually I notice something that looks like food in her trash can.

“Why can’t you just leave your plate on the table?” I ask. “I don’t want you to put food in the trash because I don’t take it out every day.”

“Well they told me not to put stuff in there,” she replies. “So I don’t.”

“But your lunch is in there. So you do.” I reply.

“Well I was just trying to help,” she says.

“It’s not helping me when I have to play guess where you hid your food!” I yell, drowning out that voice in my head telling me to cut this conversation short and walk away.

“So I should leave my supper on the table?” she asks.

“Yes. Just like we’ve discussed a million times. I will take care of the leftovers.” I say.

“So let me get this. I leave my plate on the table when I’m done?” she repeats.

“Yes,” I mutter, even though I know the next time I come down to collect her dishes we’ll go through the same routine. That’s dementia: Amazing details from 50 years ago are as plain as day, but neither repetition nor recent reminders make anything new stick.

As I empty her trash and collect the dishes to go back upstairs, I wish my Mom were still alive. She’d get it when I told her I know how it feels to be Dave.


Grandma’s greatest gift


Grandma may no longer remember her own generosity, but her family will always be indebted to her for her many gifts that improved our lives in countless ways.

The basement is Grandma’s lair. And you never know what tales she’s telling down there.

This week, when Clark, the hospice chaplain, came upstairs after his visit with a puzzled look on his face, I braced myself. For literally anything.

“I learned something new about Margaret today,” he said, closing the door behind him.

“Uh-oh,” I said, every crazy story I’ve heard over the last eight years racing through my head.

“No it wasn’t bad,” Clark said. “I asked Margaret what was the greatest gift she’d given in her life. She told me when she was young her mother sometimes took in boarders. When she did, Margaret had to give up her room and sleep on the floor on a spot near the stove. At first her answer didn’t make sense. But when she explained that giving up her room was her gift to her mother, I understood how her answer fit my question.”

“Wow. I thought I knew everything about Grandma. But I’ve never heard that story,” I said, both surprised and relieved. Grandma’s filters disappeared a long time ago, so I was grateful she didn’t decide to share anything about her favorite topic, which is basically anything to do with her bowels. Rationally I know I’m not responsible for what comes out of her mouth, but if you’ve ever had a child blurt out something inappropriate in front of family, friends or even complete strangers, you understand the cringe of vicarious embarrassment.

Clark went on his way, but their conversation prompted me to think how I would’ve answered that question for her. From cars to tuition assistance to houses to live in, Grandma has given four generations of her family the support they needed when it mattered most. When I was young she and Grandpa bought a house for her widowed mother, my Mother and me to live in. When my Mother needed a bigger house for her growing family, they helped her out on housing again.

When I moved back from England after my plans to live there fell through, they bought me a car to get back and forth to work. When I found myself with a new baby and a year left of college, she and Grandpa bought my husband and I a house so I could focus on school rather than paying the rent. And when a nasty divorce left me reeling financially, she came through again, providing the down payment for the house that allowed me to finish raising my daughters in a neighborhood rather than an apartment complex.

My Grandpa provided the sweat equity that helped make those modest houses homes, but it was Grandma who provided the capital. From her humble beginnings on an Eskridge, Kansas farm, she went on to a successful career at Southwestern Bell. Between their two salaries and spendthrift ways, Grandma and Grandpa managed to provide for their own retirement and still help their family again and again. I help my own children whenever I can, but the modest gifts I’m able to give them pale in comparison to the ones Grandma gave me.

Of course not all Grandma’s gifts have been tangible. She’s taught me dozens of life lessons my Mother was unable or unwilling to teach. She married the man who became the best grandfather a girl could ever hope for. And she played the role of grandmother to every one of my girls, none of whom remember my Mother. The girls had other grandparents, but some of them were far away in England. They might not realize it now, but someday they’ll look back fondly on the years they lived with their great-grandmother. Despite the chaos and craziness, her presence in our household will give them a lifetime of memories and hopefully some insight into what being a family truly means.

Photo credit: igorklimov / 123RF Stock Photo