Sunday, August 19, 2012

the things that stick

My mom's mom is 94 years old.  She is the daughter of immigrants.  Stout and hardheaded, she is demanding and opinionated.  She is more likely to scorn you than hug you.  And, even when she is proud of you, she'll shame push you to do better the next time.  In short, picking out a mother's day card for her is a real chore; she is the polar opposite of my other grandma.

Grandma told me once, in a conversation I vividly remember, that the most important thing to remember is to always put on a happy face in public.  I was in the fifth grade and had already begun to suffer from a constant nagging of dark emotions.  I was already starting to learn how to hide the sudden urges of tears that would randomly appear behind my eyes.  I was increasingly concerned that once people got to know me that they would find me high-maintnace and annoying.  I had already begun learning in my own world to put on a happy face, and the Grandma confirmed that it was the best thing I could do.

For much of my life, I've gone back to this advice and questioned whether it was the best advice to have given me, or if it were, in fact, true.  Today on the back porch of my aunt's house, I watched my Grandma carefully.  She's here visiting for the weekend.  Although, apparently, she doesn't really know she's here, but that revelation came later in the evening.  At the moment I was most carefully watching her, I was thinking about how we never leave certain things behind.

She was talking to one of my cousins, I could see the lady in my grandma, the one reserved specifically for public appearances, come out.  She has forgotten so many things, like how many grandkids she has, what she ate for breakfast, that the lens fell out of her glasses...  She probably wasn't even completely sure with whom she was talking, but she smiled and nodded and asked clarifying questions and that was enough for a pleasant conversation to have taken place.

It was this unfailing appearance that I was thinking about while I studied her.  She is a woman with whom I have had many disagreements.  She will argue about almost everything and does not back down.  ever.  She often asks questions that she doesn't care to hear anyone's answer to, especially when she is trying to feed a guest.  She loves in her own way and she sets the bar high, probably too high.  She isn't able to follow conversations like she used to and it's more likely than not to look over at her and find a blank empty look in her eyes; but as she sat there, on the back porch, attempting to be engaged in conversation, she still smiled.

Currently, my grandma exists as a tragic shell of the person she once was.  Her memory is fading, she can barely hear, and she seems to be able to do little else than fight back against the people who care for her the most.  But, after all of that she still remembers to smile and nod, goes to church, and takes care not to look a mess in public.

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