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My favorite time of year is fall. I love it because leaves turn colors, wool sweaters are pulled from the closet, and people make pumpkin pies. It's the perfect time to sit inside on a chilly evening and sip warm apple cider in front of the fire and chat with a loved one. My grandmother was the perfect person to be with during those times. She loved fall as much as I did.
Growing up, my parents would drop me off at Gram's house at least once a week so we could spend time together. Next to my parents, Gram was my favorite person in the world. She was a really fun lady. Gram bought me pretty dresses and we'd go get creemees. She even sent me and my sister to private school for six years.
I loved spending time with Gram. In the spring, we went on long walks and collected the fallen acorns left from the fall. Then we would plant flowers and all kinds of veggies. I loved the dirt between my toes, and the warm sun on my face. Once, we even had a water fight with the hose. We were both soaking wet by the time we stopped.
In the summer, her backyard was the best place. Gram would push me on the swing set that my dad put together for my sister and me. Then my sister and I would play house with neighborhood kids in the woods until she called us in so we could eat her homemade dessert.
In the winter, we baked cookies, pies and brownies. She always let me eat all the raw dough I wanted, even though my mom said I couldn't. She taught me how to bake and even tried teaching me to knit. I never got the hang of it, so she ended up knitting my socks and mittens while I talked to her. Sewing, however, was a favorite pastime of ours. We would sit in her sewing room and make all kinds of treasures; it was where I made my first apron. I was so proud of myself, and I could tell she was, too. She made a big deal about it when I showed my mom. I gave that apron to my mother. I think she still has it.
But the best times I remember happened in the fall. Gram and I would make apple or pumpkin pies, and sometimes, when the days turned chilly, she would teach me to play cards or we'd watch her soap operas and eat M&M's. Gram always had candy stashed away that she took out when my mom was out of sight. Sometimes, we would drink apple cider and look out the window at the turning leaves. The first time that we lit a fire and put on her old records was my favorite time of the year. We talked about everything, but sometimes we just sat in silence, enjoying each other's company. On Halloween, my family and I went up to Gram's house to hand out candy. At Thanksgiving, our whole family would go there to eat her famous turnips and the always-perfect turkey dinner. Sometimes, Christmas was there, too.
These days, however, the house on the top of the hill sits empty. Now Gram lives in an assisted-living facility. She has Alzheimer's.
I don't think there's any way to get used to Alzheimer's. Gram started forgetting little things, and not being able to drive too well. Eventually, the problems became worse and she became less able to live on her own. When she accidentally started a fire and couldn't cook any more, we knew she needed to live somewhere safe.
It's a long complicated story, but in the fall days before she moved out, it was very difficult to visit her. We still did some of the same things, like hand out candy at Halloween and watch soap operas, but our roles had reversed. We didn't bake, garden or sew, and Gram wasn't the same person. She still loved me dearly, but our conversations became simple.
It was very difficult to be around her. Even though I wanted to spend time with her, it was very painful to see her decline. She'd ask me the same questions over and over, and when we played cards, I had to teach her every time. I remember driving around and around her block in tears after a visit, trying to compose myself before going home.
When she moved into the nursing home, she hated it. At Christmas, my family visited and she was very angry and bitter. I said "I love you" when we were leaving, and I felt like a knife went through my heart when she said if I really loved her, I wouldn't make her stay in that place. That was the worst Christmas.
These days, however, Gram has adjusted and has friends there. She's a lot more cheerful, and she is well taken care of. It's still hard to visit, because she's just a shadow of the woman she once was. I know that we will never bake cookies and hand out Halloween treats together, but I will treasure those memories, even if she can't. And we'll always eat M&M's together. My gram will always be a special lady to me, and I will never look at the changing fall leaves without thinking of the lady who profoundly touches my life.