Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Inner Person (09/09/10)
TITLE: Role Model
By Rachel Phelps
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I threw the car in park and gathered the fast-food sacks that had collected on the passenger side, grinding my teeth to keep from using words I would regret. Spending my Saturday in a nursing home was not my ideal weekend pastime, but it had been at least six weeks since I’d made the trip, and I was the good grandchild, after all. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.
The trash went in the barrel and I moved on to the stack of junk mail in the back seat. The jacket and notebooks landed in the trunk, which I slammed most satisfactorily. It was a fitting analogy for my life. Rather than attempt to clean things out, I’d just shove it in the dark and hope it disappeared. Better than trying to make important decisions like career and relationships and what to do with my life. Waking up 20 minutes after I was supposed to leave had not improved my outlook on the day, or my life.
I got back in the car and slammed the door, just for good measure. My parents were asking about grad school. My bosses were asking if I was committed to the company or looking elsewhere. I wanted to throw my hands up at the lot of them. I wanted to go to grad school. I liked my job. What bothered me was the underlying theme of the questions – Where am I headed? What are my goals? Who am I?
I had my identities neatly in place. The good kid. The academic. The service-minded one. Good worker. Mother hen. The only problem was that none of them were truly me. I knew that much, but what I didn’t know was what was. I wanted to be a sensible, practical adult. I also wanted, just for once, to do something crazy – like babies of the family are supposed to do.
When I parked at the house, I had my good kid identity firmly in place. Grandma always brings it out in me. The woman is a bastion of strength. Farmer’s wife to the core, right down to the truck-driving skills and phenomenal cooking. Able to keep a spotless house with white carpet despite living on a farm, and, in recent months, dealing with chemotherapy on top of taking care of Grandpa. Until that day, though, I never truly appreciated her strength. The day Grandpa died.
We were with him at the nursing home when it happened. We cried together, then Grandma dried her eyes and set to work boxing Grandpa’s things to take home. She insisted on cooking lunch, and making phone calls to a few family friends before I talked her into a rocking chair.
It was surreal, yet somehow peaceful. We sat together, she told me stories of Grandpa, even managed to laugh a few times. I cleaned while she napped, after convincing her she needed rest more than she needed to dust. We went into town for the prescription she’d forgotten to pick up, and then to Wal-Mart to get new underwear and socks for Grandpa. As we swung down the sock aisle, she headed toward the purses and accessories.
“I need a black hat.”
Her hair had fallen out with the chemo, but Grandma, being Grandma, had refused a wig. I followed her to the hat rack, and watched as she sorted through the various options. In that moment, all the emotions of the day crashed on my heart. The irritation of the morning seemed so far removed from my life. Grad school, job options, they were of as little true importance as the junk I’d stuffed in the trunk. My identity did not depend on them. From the confusion and grief, one truth came clear in my heart.
Grandma turned to me, hat in place. “What do you think?”
I eyed the Miley Cyrus tag hanging from the back and couldn’t help but nod. “It’s perfect, Grandma. You look beautiful.”
She gave me a sudden hug, and I held on tight, more sure than before. At my very core, I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be just like Grandma.
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