Today, I spent the day with my grandmother. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't spent any time with her, quality time, for about a year. Used to be, we were together at some point almost everyday. What can I say...life gets in the way of what's truly important (geez...what an oxymoronic, typically modern, meaningless statement). sorry, onward...
Grandma had a mastectomy two years ago and I took her for the yearly mammogram today. I realized how much I have missed her. Some stories need to be told...this is one of them.
Grandma is in a wheelchair. It isn't that she can't walk completely. She is fairly large, out of shape, bad ankles, bad knees, hip problems...you name it, she's got it. She is a product of the fifties. Fitness wasn't the trend. She woke up everyday, cooked a huge breakfast, complete with a pound of bacon, biscuits and lard gravy and whatever other saturated fatty foods she could cook. She worked at JCPenneys in the alterations department of the men's suit department for twenty some odd years. Her husband, Grandpa Elsie, died from heart failure at the age of 42 and left her with seven children.
What is true about Grandma....she truly doesn't care about what other people think.
Today, she dropped hints about how she hasn't bought a nice blouse in years. She's also a product of the depression and holds onto money like they've stopped making it. After her mammogram, where she proudly revealed she wasn't wearing a bra, I decided to take her shopping. Not completely altruistic on my part, I'm afraid. I was thinking I could make up for a year of neglect with a shopping trip and a nice lunch of fried chicken, her favorite.
She had a gift card from a very nice department store. Unfortunately, it was only for twenty-five dollars. This was unfortunate because in order for her buy anything, period, she would have to add a few dollars to complete the purchase. I was doomed. It could take her all day to part with a few dollars.
This is the part of the story where I need to mention that she is mostly blind. This is fairly recent, a couple of years at best, so she mentions this at least every five minutes. Things like, "I'd have hugged your neck, but I didn't know it was you because...I can't see," or "I don't know if my clothes match or not because...I can't see." Before you get all sentimental on me, let me mention the words selective eyesight. This is the same woman who notices I've gained weight...or "gotten big", as she so delicately calls it, or that I'm wearing jeans with a hole in the knee, or that I've colored my hair...an ever- so- subtle lighter shade of blonde. When you come near her, she feels your face like a desperate Helen Keller. I can't criticize her, though, because when I'm eighty-four, I'll probably milk it for all that it's worth.
Anywho, we're in the fancy department store and she's grabbing and touching everything in her path as I wheel her down the cluttered aisles.
"What's this?" she asks.
"A silver platter," I reply.
"A digital alarm clock that plays soothing sounds like the ocean or a thunderstorm and displays the time digitally on the wall with a laser," I answer.
"Thunderstorms aren't soothing," she says.
"Some people think so."
"What about this?" she asks, pulling a petite, pink, rhinestoned sweater from the hanger as we roll by. The hanger spins around the bar a few times before it thumps to the floor.
"Nothing, grandma, nothing," I say.
Finally, we arrive at the plus sizes. Polyester is in the air. Grandma wants to know the price of everything and is that the price after 40% off? She asks about the fabric blend and the washing instructions. "Too silky," she says, "Too bright," she huffs, "Too much trouble to wash," she says. I'm exhausted. Finally, I spot a blouse that has her name written all over it. Ninety-seven percent polyester, three percent spandex, red and black floral design, three quarter sleeve, button up the front, built in pseudo-tank top...a perfection of a blouse!
She agrees...yes, yes, she shouts! This is perfect! She even decides that she might buy two in different colors. "Amen! Live a little, Grandma! Want to try one on?" I ask. Instead, she grabs the arms of her wheelchair and heaves herself up to stand. Good idea, I'm thinking, I'll just hold the blouse up to her shoulders to see it if fits when I realize that she's unbuttoning her blouse.
"Grandma? What are you doing?"
"Just watch...you'll see."
"No, don't! Stop that! Not another button, I mean it! It's illegal! Grandma, for the love of God, please stop!" I throw down my purse, her purse, and various items of clothing I'm carrying in my arms but by the time I turn back around (maybe five seconds...who knew the woman could move that fast?), the blouse is unbuttoned and she lifts her hands up to her shoulders and says, "You better hurry and drop that blouse over my head, I'm about to be naked."
She drops the blouse down over her shoulders.
I can't see the front of her, but I know there is one low-hanging breast exposed on her right side and on the left, nothing but a scar. She looks so vulnerable that I want to cry but at the same time, I want to choke her for stripping in the middle of the department store. I drop the blouse over head and pull it down over her arms delicately, dressing her like a child.
"How does it look?" she asks.
"Beautiful," I answer.