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My best friend Stefanie has the perfect grandmother. Her name is Mary. I saw her on a couple of occasions, at different birthdays and Thanksgiving dinners. She is the life of any party, always so happy; most of the times with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
I spoke with Stefanie on the phone last week and asked her if I could meet and interview her grandmother for a short period of time for the purpose of this essay.
An elderly woman, with a big smile on her face opened the front door. As I got close to her to shake her hand she gave me a hug. Her soft hair touched my face. As I hugged her back I could feel her small frame and the flowery perfume that she was using.
“Hello girls” she said, with a loud voice. “Come on in, make yourselves comfortable”. “Nice to see you again, I stopped today to ask you couple of questions, it won’t take too long”, I said. Mary is an independent and strong elderly woman; as she makes her own food and has no help around the house. When we showed up, she made for us some baked goods. She never accepted any help from any others despite her old age.
“How about some coffee and sweets?” she asked. My friend and I both nodded. The room had a certain smell. For a second, I could not tell what it was, then I saw a half cigarette lying in the ashtray; I had an idea where the smell was coming from, but I still could not recognize it. Then I saw a scented pumpkin candle burning on the table, the mix of the fragrance and the cigarette odor were filling the living room air. All her mail was piled up on one of the side tables; magazines and newspapers were on the floor with no specific order.
While we were waiting for her, I was looking around the living room; the wall was filled with pictures and oversize paintings. In one of the pictures was a young WWII soldier. I removed the picture frame from the wall and wiped the dust off it. He had a navy uniform on and was leaning on a tank next to the American flag.
Meanwhile, she came back with a platter filled with fresh cookies and baked cupcakes, two cups of coffee and a big mug of tea for her. “That is my husband, Mark who passed away last year. He was staff sergeant in the U.S Navy, a very brave man. He was the love of my life; he loved his kids and family. I miss him every day” Mary said, and she sat down next to me. After that, she proceeds to tell me that she was born in Tampa, Florida, that she met Mark in high school. Right away she said, “We fell in love and got married in 1947. I was 20 years old and he was 22; he was still in the army. I was so happy to see him coming home every day after he retired from the navy and found a job as a mechanic.”
“After we retired the years passed fast. We were spending most of our time with friends and family. We stayed up late to watch our favorite movies and going out to have lunches or dinners with friends.”
“But when my friend and my husband passed away and there is no longer that special invitation to their family reunion or that fun night out with the nightcap after a filling dinner; I realized I was alone”. Her big brown eyes were tearing up.
“My children are all grown with families of their own. Now, they have their own lives; I am not the main focus of someone’s love and affection. The grandchildren are almost never around to know that Grandma would like to sit and talk to them for a while.” For example, my oldest son just sold my husband’s car, the car that Mark had always dreamed about buying when we retired; and only got to drive it for a few months before he passed away. He just thought that I could not drive it anymore and nobody was using it. I did not have any say on it.” “Mary, I like your house”, I interrupted her, just to calm her down because I felt she was getting overwhelmed. “This is the last month here in my house, I am going to a senior citizen housing. It’s hard to make my kids understand how I feel about moving out of my comfort zone, I have lived here over 40 years. This home represents all my memories, not just bricks laid on top of each other. I do not have anyone to help me and I do not want to be a burden to my family.
And the most important question is what if I don’t like it there? Will my son keeps his promise to bring me back home?” Tears came down her face, and she started breathing heavily. I did not know what to say or do; it was obvious that she got upset. Stefanie stood up and helped her get up from the couch. “Grandma, I think it is enough for today. Please do not forget to take yourmedicine and go and lay down so you can get some rest.” I thanked her and give her a hug, feeling bad that I got her upset.
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