“I gotta pee.” Grandma’s voice was shaky but no one would ever call it weak. My newly teenaged daughter, Naomi, rolled her eyes and walked over to me, shoulders hunched, hands stuffed in her back pockets. “Smells like she already peed, Mom.”
“That’s mean, Hun. She can’t help it. Age makes you lose control of things like that.”
“Yeah. Whatever… you’ve told me before.” She twisted her lips and wrinkled her nose. “How long is this going to take? It stinks in here.”
I inhaled the scent of fresh apples and cinnamon. The yearly applesauce-making-day was one of my favorite days.
“Just grab a knife and an apple and start peeling.” My Aunt June cackled at Nay. “You’re old enough to help.” She glared my way as if she expected me to send Nay out to play.
Naomi heaved a sigh and slid into an empty chair at the table. Mom winked at me and turned her attention to her eldest grandchild. “This is what you need to watch out for, Nay.” She lifted a perfect apple out of the pile in front of her and cut through the middle with her paring knife. Naomi gave me a bored look but I nodded for her to pay attention. We watched as the apple split open and one half rolled in front of Nay. Her nose wrinkled and she shuddered as she leaned as far away from the table as the antique chair would let her. “A worm! You cut a worm in half, Gram!”
“Well looky there... I sure did. I knew he was in there somewhere!” Her gray eyes sparkled with humor. She picked up another apple, this one with a brown spot seeping smelly rot. She sliced the brown off and showed the inside to her granddaughter. ”This one looks bad, but it’s just a bruise… get past the bruise and the rest of the apple is beautiful. Makes the best sauce, in fact.”
Naomi took the apple and studied it for a moment. Her eyes sought mine, questioning. My mom always had a point behind her lessons but Naomi wasn’t getting it. Mom put the apple down and just smiled at Nay.
Several hours later Naomi was getting much better at wielding her knife and separating most of the apple from the peel. Mom must’ve decided Nay deserved a break. “Naomi. Your great-grandma’s awake. Come help me get her.” I was torn between sympathy and chuckling when Nay’s panicky eyes flew to me. I winked at her and grinned.
As they disappeared into Gran’s bedroom I followed them to the door. It was open a crack and I felt no shame in observing.
The stench of urine, heat rub, and mothballs drifted out. Together they helped her out of her bed, changed her “diaper” and dressed her. Mom lifted Gran into her chair and brushed her silver hair. Gran’s voice was loud and bits drifted out to me…
“… good girl, Nay... your momma taught you well...”
“… respectful and quiet, even a hardworker…”
“… hand me my snotrag…”
“…so tired all the time…”
“…miss my Charley. I’ll see him soon, I guess...”
“…never give your heart to a boy till you know he loves God more than you…”
“… what verses you learned lately, Child?”
I returned to the table in time to see my daughter push the wheelchair into the kitchen. She washed and sat down beside me. My mom sat on the other side of her. Nay picked up a bruised apple, sniffed it, and wrinkled her nose. Then she cut a slice off the good side and took a bite. “It’s extra sweet, Grandma… you’re right.” I saw her eyes shift to her Great-Grandma peeling apples… smiling and humming a hymn. I knew she got Mom’s message. I was so proud of my daughter.
“These are the wormiest apples I ever saw.” Aunt Gwen was complaining, as usual. My grandma adjusted her thick glasses and squinted at my sister… “I ain’t seen a worm all day, Gwennie.”
All the knives stilled and voices ceased. I looked at the pot of simmering applesauce and wondered how many worms she had missed.
Naomi frowned at us all… “Great-Gran was picking the ones that weren’t wormy, that’s all. Sheesh.” She rolled her eyes and turned to give her great-grandma a reassuring smile. Mom and I exchanged winks. Yup… she got the message alright. I just hoped she was right about the wormy apples.
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