“PURPLE?” Grandma asked me as I stepped into the living room before leaving for the school party.
“What’s wrong with purple?” I answered back. “Kids wear purple to school all the time; purple sweaters, purple pants, purple shirts, even purple shoes. What’s the big deal?”
“My, aren’t we sassy today,” Grandma gave me her best guilt-trip look.
Guilt-trip looks never worked when I was a kid; it didn’t work now.
Right then a voice behind me said, “Hey, kewl, Dad!” It was my son, Grant, resplendent in blue jeans and a purple pullover sweater.
Grandma butted into the male congratulatory fist-bump to say: “The big deal is that you’re the chaperone, Tom.”
“Yeah, so?” we two males chorused as though directed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir leader.
“If Jean were still with us, you wouldn’t be looking like that,” Grandma grumped.
The atmosphere cooled considerably. I couldn’t believe she would bring up my wife’s absence from our home for the last year.
“Way ta go, Grandma,” came a voice from upstairs. My daughter Brenda—with a very pretty orchid colored blouse tucked into deep purple jeans—was coming down to see her brother and me off to our evening activity.
I glanced at Grandma, who looked off into the distance and rocked a little harder in her chair. I knew she missed Jean as much as we did; but to use her absence as a weapon…that was going too far.
Jean was Grandma Chandler’s granddaughter; in moving in with Jean when she could no longer live alone, Grandma got the rest of us in the package deal. Mostly, it worked pretty well.
Brenda broke the silence. “Are we discussing the, uh, purple?” she asked.
Nobody else seemed up to answering, so I said, “Grandma doesn’t approve of the ‘uh, purple,’ especially because I’m the chaperone tonight.”
“So Mom has been gone for a year, and we’re still fighting about her?” Brenda asked her great-grandmother. “Grandma, you know purple is Mom’s favorite color. Dad ‘n’ Grant are just remembering her today, and I think that’s great. It is, after all, her birthday.”
“And on her birthday, do you think she’d approve of…of THAT?” she pointed at me. “She’d be so embarrassed, and I’m embarrassed for you, Tom. You’re a grown-up. You’re supposed to be an example to the kids at the school. Jean wouldn’t have…”
“Wouldn’t have WHAT, Grandma?” I interrupted. “What? Go ahead and say it.”
Even Grandma sensed this verbal tussle was going a bit too far.
“Sorry, Tom,” she looked up at me imploringly, dabbing at the wetness on her cheeks. “I just miss her so much.” Taking an ever-present tissue from her sweater pocket, she blew her nose.
My kids being the wonderful human beings they are, ran to hug Grandma together. Then Brenda ran to Grandma’s room at the back of the house and came back with a bundle in her arms.
“Take off that sweater, Grand,” she said, and held out Grandma’s soft lavender cardigan. “It’s Mom’s birthday; let’s celebrate it together, okay?”
And Grant, resourceful and clever, went to the hall closet and brought out the Polaroid camera.
“You’re going to visit Mom after the party, right Dad? Take her a picture of us.” He quickly set up the tripod with the delay timer, set the camera on it, and aimed it at Grandma’s chair.
That business taken care of, Grant and I headed for the school; Brenda and Grandma settled in to watch some Friday night TV together.
Several hours later I pulled into the parking lot of Talbot Pines Convalescent Hospital (“A Private Mental Health Care Facility”). I patted my shirt pocket where the colorful Polaroid rested, and slow-jogged to the side door. Going through the front lobby, looking the way I did—-with the, er, purple and all-—might attract too much attention.
Jean was sitting in a chair by the window. She really was doing much better, the doctors had told me. And I saw for myself, with each visit, the medications were doing their job, and the therapists were optimistic that continued counseling would help my wife through the recovery from the breakdown she’d had a year before. Personally, I didn’t think she still needed to be in this place; she seemed so much like the Jean I fell in love with.
She turned when she heard me come in. And laughed.
Jean laughed like she’d never laughed before.
Pointing at me, she said, “Tom! Purple HAIR??”
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