Memories of a Grandchild This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 17, 2010
I can still hear his his feet shuffling loudly, his walker rattling along and scuffing up the floor. He would call me, if no one was around, and it always surprised me how clearly he pronounced, maybe even over-pronounced, the "L" in my name. When I close my eyes, he materializes in front of me: an old man, balding, smelling slightly decayed and looking moth-eaten, stooped with age and sadness, half-closed to the world and quietly living amongst us.Who could know that such a quiet man would have such a big impact on our lives, would have such a great presence? My grandfather, my Zadie, was recently widowed and living in our home. In my mind's eye I can still see him, still almost relive each and every day he spent in our lives...

Flash to pill time, one of six during the day, always marked by that hateful timer that would announce, screechingly and without fail--six times every single day--that it was time for Zadie to take his pills. Unless one of my parents was there (and they were often outside, or at work, or running errands, or just plain not in the kitchen), it would be me, me who had to fill the glass of water and pull out a napkin and arrange each and every pill on the table in front of him.

"Celina?" The call, too, came almost without fail in the afternoons, accompanied by the shuffling, by the rattling.

"One minute, Zadie, I'm getting your water." I would fill the glass, chilly and damp against my skin, and set it down in front of him. I would walk over to his walker, pull out the plastic bag containing everything he needed in order to successfully take his medication each day, turn off the timer, pull out the pill box and the sheet containing a list of all of the pills he needed throughout the day. There were so many of them, too, red and blue and yellow and tan and combinations of the colors, small and round and smooth. I would lay each one down, forming patterns with them if I was in a good mood, set them out quickly if I was not.

"Here you go, Zadie."

The thank you, quiet and mumbled, would come sometimes, be forgotten others. It didn't matter; he would undoubtedly ask me to do more for him if I lingered, and so I would run off to occupy myself in some other part of the house.

Flash to Tuesday evening, any Tuesday evening, as my parents are leaving the house. The tall, plump French woman comes in, an aide for Zadie and help to my parents so that they have at least a night off from babysitting duty every week. We eat silently together, my sister and myself and Zadie and this woman, and then my sister and I hurry back to our homework. We know what will come next.

And nearly every Tuesday we are right; at least once each week the shouting matches commence. It is one of the few times we hear Zadie raise his voice, when he is shouting at this woman. She's not afraid to shout back, either, in her thick French accent; she's often, if I remember correctly, the one who starts it. He drives us crazy, but she drives him crazy--and for that, we grow to dread her visits each week, dread the shouting matches that nearly always take place in the next room. Finally, my parents agree that they aren't a good match, and she leaves. We are, I believe, all relieved.

Flash to Zadie's other aide, the more pleasant one. Grace was a quiet woman, tall, African-American, with a deep, calming voice that was a comfort to hear in the next room. She is one of the better memories I have of living with Zadie--coming home to find another grounded presence in the house, helping my grandfather through the day while the rest of us could not. She would call him "Phillie," in that calming voice of hers... She was always so quiet while he was there, yet so devastated after he had gone...

Flash to another good memory, or a string of them; if anyone had a sweet tooth, it was my grandfather. Our freezer was never devoid of ice cream, our cookie jar never empty. I had a dream about him once, just after he had gone, and it was like I had stepped back into a memory; as I had many times before, I offered him ice cream, and, as he had many times before, he accepted. Always with whipped cream, and with toppings if he could get them... And when he ate it, we all ate it. It's so easy to remember him now, when I taste it and think back to how content he seemed when a bowl was set in front of him... One of the few times he looked truly happy was when he was eating that ice cream.

The other was when he read poetry; he had a few large books of it in his room, on his shelf. He would enter the room (shuffle, shuffle), a book resting in his walker basket, and would sit at the table and read. Sometimes he'd have us read it to him; I remember particularly well the time I read him Poe's The Raven. But I think Frost was his favorite, maybe because his poetry was quiet, like my grandfather. I believe he was truly happy when he read poetry.

And then...well, let's just say he fell. That's what they think happened. I don't think I was there for it, though I don't remember particularly well. But he fell down, and seemed fine, but they think it may have started something, may have triggered the bleeding. And when it really began to cloud his brain, those last couple of days, I was home sick with him. These last memories I remember particularly well. The last day I saw him, I had strep throat, and spent most of my day lying around. I guess Zadie had been mumbling nonsense, but I barely noticed; instead, I absorbed myself in the movie Mum had set up in front of me. Finally, she called an ambulance... I barely noticed when they loaded him onto the stretcher, only remember wishing that they would go away and be quiet so I could watch my movie in peace. They loaded him up, and then they were gone... That was the last time I saw my grandfather alive, and I didn't even say goodbye.

I don't remember when I found out that he was dying. The shock was great, as he had been reasonably healthy, but (though I still feel somewhat guilty saying it) the relief was great, too. He had been such a huge part of our lives, such an inconvenience at times... But I still cried hard after he had gone, still didn't fully absorb his passing for a long time after, still expected to hear the rattling on the floorboards, the shuffling of his shoes as he wandered from room to room. There is so much I can still see when I try, so much I can still hear and feel and relive. My grandfather, my Zadie, was a quiet presence, a quiet old man who brought, when he moved in, lots of difficulties. He was an old man who would go on to leave me a good few regrets, a good few unpleasant memories... And a good few happy ones to balance it out.

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