Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Grandparent(s) (04/03/08)
TITLE: Getting to Know Grandmother
By Patrick Whalen
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My hand grasped the key and rotated it to the off position. The engine hesitated, then sputtered, as if reading my mind, unwilling to release me to the undesirable task that lay ahead. I exited the car then closed the door. The constant hum of passing cars on the highway nearby beckoned my return. The promise came back once more.
As if my shoes were filled with toxic lead, I proceeded from the parking lot. Heavy footsteps thudded, step-by-step, on the gray concrete path then came to a stop at the thick, wooden fence. From my pocket I removed the yellow post-it note that my mom had scribbled the access code upon. Cold, clammy sweat from my fingers nearly distorted the still-wet ink. I entered the code and the gears within the silver metal box whirred and clicked then went silent. The light turned from red to green, then back to red. I tried to shake the promise from my head, but it refused to break free.
I repeated the code and listened as the lock sang its mechanical tune. The light turned green and I stepped through. Behind me, the sound of the slamming gate was not unlike that of the many cold, steel doors I had traveled through in my years of prison ministry. I continued forward on my mission, eager to be free to return home. I hadn’t seen Grandmother in many years, too many in fact. We had never developed the bond I always yearned for and now I realized it might be too late.
In the lobby, music from a single acoustic guitar filled my ears. The room before me was full of elderly men and women listening intently to tunes unfamiliar to me. I trudged onward down the hall until I found Grandmother’s room, number 118. The door was open so I entered.
She was sitting up in bed sipping at a straw dipped in orange juice within a clear plastic cup. My memory returned to those long ago summer visits. Each morning I would go downstairs to the sight of Grandmother sipping coffee from her white porcelain cup painted with blue flowers.
She looked up from her juice with a smile and said, “Good morning Philip!” That was my brother’s name. We visited a short time but all the while I was very uncomfortable. She didn’t seem to hear my words and responded continually as if I was someone else. With the obligation fulfilled, I started my car, exited the Shady Grove parking lot and rejoined the hum of the busy highway.
A few weeks passed by and my mom informed me that the cancer that invaded Grandmother’s pancreas was much worse. Grandmother too had returned home, but this would likely be the last time. I was invited to come to visit and once more I made a promise.
I arrived to find Grandmother holding that familiar cup of coffee. She placed her newspaper on the bed, “Good morning Patrick, its good to see you!” She remembered me! My mom left us alone and we talked of things I had never thought possible. She told me stories of herself as a child and the adventures my grandfather experienced during World War Two. I made both of us bowls of ice cream and for the first time I remembered her speaking of her own parents and the horrors she remembered seeing during the great depression. Until that day I had never really known my only living grandparent on a personal level. I returned home that day with a better understanding, and a deeper love for her.
She spent the next five days visiting with each of her grandchildren and all of us came away from our final meeting with Grandmother content that, although she had not always been the grandparent of a child’s fantasy, she always loved us and was proud of the adults we had become. A few short days later, I received a call that Grandmother had waved good-bye and fallen asleep in peace.
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