Forever Young While Constantly Aging

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My grandmother lives in the basement of my family’s house. This in itself is a paradox. In the basement she has a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. She lives as though my family is not upstairs. She avoids our glances when we walk downstairs to do laundry. My grandmother lives as though she is completely self-sufficient and independent: as though she is able to care for herself without anybody’s help. Upstairs, my family knows that this is not entirely true. She needs our help, every once in a while. You see, my grandmother is a paradox. My grandmother is old. My grandmother is young.

Fixing myself a snack--extra-crunchy peanut butter spread as smoothly as possible across plain rice cakes--after school on a dreary fall day, I hear music rushing up the basement stairs and exploding from the floor boards below my feet. A smile weaves its way across my face. Grandma doesn’t know I’m home, I think to myself--my grandmother does not usually turn music on when my family is home, upstairs. It is country music--full of twang, banjos, and frequent “yee-hah’s.” I do not like twang, banjos, or “yee-hah’s,” but still, I settle myself on the top step with my delicious snack. I eat two rice cakes before the show begins. Crumbs have fallen all over my lap. I start the third. Then I hear it: my grandmother’s voice. She sings along with what I have discerned is Dolly Parton. She hits all of the notes--high and low--with clarity. The voice I hear is pure. It is joyful. It is sweet like freshly squeezed lemonade on a sweltering July afternoon. My grandmother is singing loudly. My grandmother is young.

It is Friday afternoon, September 19, 2008. I have just arrived home from college. I sprint inside. I find it difficult to be away from my family. I crave their familiar faces. I run down the stairs, quickly round the corner, and search the living room for my grandmother. I spot her sleeping on the couch, her hair pulled back by a shiny black clip, her feet protected by her blue plush slippers. I observe her steady breaths--in, out, in, out. Then I quietly tip-toe up the stairs where the rest of my family waits.

My grandmother comes upstairs two hours later as my mother and I talk in the kitchen. She is overflowing with smiles and laughter. My grandmother extends her arms for a hug and I willingly return the gesture. She reiterates--over and over again--how great it is that I am home. I realize then that my love for her is enormous. She goes back downstairs. An hour later I trot back down to my grandmother’s domain with the intent of asking if she wants to join us for dessert--cranberry-orange muffins and fudge brownies. As I round the corner and begin to speak, I find my grandmother as she was earlier in the day--asleep in sitting-position on the couch. I cover her with a bright-green fleece blanket and then I go upstairs and enjoy dessert with the rest of my family. My grandmother is tired. My grandmother is old.

Taking a desperately needed nap on my family’s oversized coffee-colored couch in the midst of AP Exam Week in May of my senior year of high school, I am awakened by a rap on the front door. My family’s black, spastic small dog begins to jump off and on the couch repeatedly, while successfully barking in my face. Nearing my boiling point, I get up to see who has interrupted my peaceful slumber and more importantly, why. I open the heavy front door and find myself staring at an all too familiar face in a brown uniform, with gold letters on his shirt pocket: on my doorstep stands The UPS Man. He has earned this title among my family members because we see him so frequently--at least twice a week. My grandmother has a monstrous obsession with ordering items off the Home Shopping Network--mainly QVC. She orders a great deal of jewelry: rings, bracelets, and necklaces--gold and silver alike. My grandmother pulls me aside at family functions to ask me for my opinion of her newest jewelry. She giggles happily when I tell her that the new blue necklace matches her eyes to a tee. My grandmother is always proudly adorned with pieces of her collection. My grandmother is young.

My dad leads the rest of my family--mom, sister, brother, and myself--down the white sterile hallway to room 112. The door is open ajar. Aside from one bedside lamp, the room is dark. My dad knocks and then enters the room. We follow his lead. There, on the aged and sagging hospital cot, lies my grandmother. There are tubes taped to her arms and neck, and placed gently up her nose. My dad holds my grandmother’s hand in his and gently squeezes. Her eyes flutter open slowly. She smiles, looking around at all of our faces. My grandmother tries to speak but then stops when sound will not come out. She pulls her hospital gown down ever so gently and shows us the raw wound that spans her upper chest. My grandmother has just had heart surgery. My grandmother is fragile. My grandmother is old.

My grandmother lives in the basement of my family’s house. This in itself is a paradox. In the basement she has a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. She lives as though she is a central member of my family upstairs. When we walk downstairs to do laundry she plagues us with questions and chatter. My grandmother lives as though she is completely dependent on us upstairs: as though she is unable to care for herself without the help of others. Upstairs, my family knows that this is not entirely true. She does not always need our help--not every time she indicates that she does, anyway. You see, my grandmother is a paradox. My grandmother is old. My grandmother is young.





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