Grandma's Gift | Teen Ink

Grandma's Gift

January 12, 2013
By FrenchHornGirl GOLD, Shreveport, Louisiana
FrenchHornGirl GOLD, Shreveport, Louisiana
19 articles 77 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"I may not be perfect, but Jesus thinks I'm to die for."

It’s a cool, wintry evening. Snow blows in drifts outside and falls in huge, sticky white flakes. We’re driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the afternoon. It’s been a long drive, and I feel cramped and antsy. I can’t wait to stretch my legs. My little sister, Anna, pipes up for the twentieth time in the past five minutes. “Are we there yet? I want to see Grandma and Grandpa!” She’s bouncing in her seat, pigtails flopping up and down.

Although I don’t show it as much as I used to, trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s house – especially near Christmastime – are something I still love. Winter is such a special time. The world seems to be holding its breath until it’s time for spring to come, but it’s a very busy time for us. Finals at school, making or buying and wrapping gifts, baking cookies, putting up decorations – I love it all. Well, maybe not the finals.

Finally, to Anna’s delight, we pull into Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. “Here we are,” says my dad. “Everyone out!” Doors open and then slam. I climb out of the car and my boots leave soft prints in the freshly fallen snow. The light shining out from behind the curtains in Grandma’s kitchen window is warm and inviting.

Grandpa comes to the front door, opens it, and as is his custom, says, “Well, I don’t know who in the world this could be. Carole, you’d better come see.” He winks at me. Grandma promptly appears beside him, wiping her hands on her apron. “Grandma! Grandpa!” Anna shrieks, and she runs to them as fast as her little legs can carry her. Grandpa picks her up, swings her around, kisses her on the head, and hands her to Grandma.

I can’t help smiling at the familiar ritual as I make my way to the front door along with my parents. A bear hug for Grandma, a kiss for Grandpa, and then Grandma is hustling us all inside. “Come in out of the cold,” she says. “We don’t need anyone getting sick around here. Robert, for goodness sake. Don’t just stand there! Take their coats.”

My boots are already creating puddles on the floor and I slip them off, smile at Grandpa as he takes my coat, and follow Grandma into the kitchen. A big ball of golden fur – that would be Butterfinger, my grandparents’ golden retriever – zips past me and Anna, laughing her head off, is hot on the dog’s heels. Butterfinger barks a few times halfheartedly at my parents, but she’s wagging her tail so hard that she almost knocks Anna over.

“What’s cooking?” I ask Grandma. The wonderful scents of fresh baked bread, soup, and cookies fill my nose and I inhale gratefully. Grandma picks a wooden spoon up off the counter and stirs the soup cooking in a big pot over the stove. “Split pea soup, bread, and snicker doodle cookies!” she proudly announces.

“I could die for snicker doodles,” I tell Grandma, my mouth watering. “They’re amazing.” Grandma turns from the soup, alarmed, and I realize that she probably thinks that I actually want to die for a cookie. “I mean, I really love them. Thanks, Grandma, for all the baking that you do.” I say.

Grandma smiles widely. “They are my specialty.”

“Anything I can help you with here?” I ask as Grandma rinses and wipes her hands on the dishtowel hanging from the handle of the fridge.

“Well now, supper is almost ready, but if you could stir the soup until the bread finishes baking, it would be a great help.”

“Sure thing,” I say. I pick up the spoon and look down into the pot. For a moment, I’m confused. This isn’t split pea soup. It’s chicken noodle. I glance at Grandma, and she’s busy cutting up fruit to put in a fruit salad. Something tugs inside me. Grandma must have forgotten which type of soup she was cooking. It seems, every time we come here, that Grandma seems to be forgetting more and more.

The last time we visited, an angry electricity company showed up at the front door – Grandma had forgotten to pay her bill. The time before that, Grandma had forgotten who Anna was. That had really hurt Anna’s feelings, and for good reason. I’m secretly glad that she hasn’t forgotten who I am yet, although just thinking that makes me feel like a horrible sister.

I know it’s not Grandma’s fault that she forgets things, but it scares me. It seems like each time we visit, we’re one visit closer to Grandma forgetting everything. It’s hard to see Grandma losing her memory. I gaze at her. She looks so normal, and most of the time she acts normal, too. But she does have her forgetful spells… and those are no fun at all.

I shake the thoughts from my head as Grandma announces, “Suppertime!” She heads over to the soup. “I’ll serve. You just grab yourself a bowl and go sit down. We’ll eat in the dining room – everything we’ll need is already on the table.” I grab a bowl from the cupboard and Grandma spoons in some delicious-looking soup, careful not to slosh it.

“Thanks,” I say, and head toward the dining room.

“You’re very welcome, sweetie!” Grandma calls over my shoulder. I sit down at the table, stomach grumbling. One by one, the rest of the family trails in and we link our hands for grace.

“How about the Norwegian prayer?” my dad suggests, and everyone smiles. I’ve known this prayer since I learned how to talk.

“I Jesu navn går vi til bords å spise, drikke på ditt ord. Deg, Gud til ære, oss til gavn, Så får vi mat i Jesu navn. Amen.” We look up and everyone digs in. I only know what the first sentence of the prayer means, but I love it anyway. I butter a piece of fresh, warm bread and bite in. It tastes like heaven.

The conversation flows from weather on the road to busy Christmas schedules to a new recipe that Grandma wants to try and the log bed that grandpa’s building for Anna. In my family, we all have beds made by my grandfather. I love mine. It’s unique, beautiful, and reminds me every day of how much Grandma and Grandpa care about me.

I’m content just to sit back and listen. Anna is so intent on devouring the wonderful chicken-noodle soup that she doesn’t notice that a trail of broth is dripping down her chin and onto the tablecloth. I take a napkin and try to wipe it off. She squirms away. Mom shoots me a grateful look, and I smile.

“This is wonderful soup,” my mom comments, licking her lips. “You truly have a knack for chicken-noodle, Carole.”

My grandma looks at her, confused. “Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I like to think I make good soups, but this is lasagna. Tell me. Do you think it’s good? I put in a bit of extra cheese this time, and I think it turned out well.”

Grandma continues rambling on about her lasagna, and we’re all silent. My mom looks at my dad, who looks at Grandpa, who looks at me. Anna continues eating, oblivious. The rest of us, however, are thinking the same thing: Grandma’s going into a forgetful spell, and there’s nothing we can do but wait it out.

“The lasagna is great, Carole,” my mom says, trying to smile.

“Why thank you!” Grandma says. “Could you pass me some of that juice?” She’s looking out over the table and seems to be looking at the carton of milk.

Grandpa puts his hand on Grandma’s arm. “Sweetheart, there’s no juice on the table, but I will go get you some. What kind of juice would you like now?” Sometimes, by talking reason, my grandpa can pull my grandma out of her forgetful spell before it gets out of control. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. Grandma shakes off Grandpa’s touch.

“Nonsense. The juice is right there on the table. Peter! If no one else will, won’t you pass it to me?!”

“Oh, no,” I think. Peter was my uncle, who died in a car wreck a few years ago. When Grandma becomes forgetful, she doesn’t realize that he’s no longer alive. She’s looking at me. She thinks I’m Peter. “I’ll give it to you, Grandma,” I say, and pick up the milk with a shaky hand. I pour it into her glass and she picks it up, bringing it to her lips. I’m nervous. Grandma can get so unpredictable.

Without warning, Grandma hurls the glass of milk onto the floor, where it shatters. She doesn’t seem to notice that she’s done this and she glares at Grandpa. “I told you that I wanted juice! Now get me some juice, and please, Robert, be quick about it. I’m thirsty!” Anna stops eating and starts crying noisily at the crash. I can’t believe this is happening. Not to Grandma. Not even knowing it, I rise to my feet, and I’m shaking uncontrollably.

“There’s no juice here, Grandma!” I yell. “Why can’t you just accept that? There’s no juice! Grandma! And my name is Christina, not Peter. Peter is dead! He died FIVE YEARS ago! Do you understand that? Why can’t you just be normal? What is wrong with you?”

By now, I’m screaming with my full force and my fists are clenched. Grandma isn’t even looking at me, but she’s suddenly quiet as my words echo around their roomy, old house. The reality of what I have said sinks in and I can’t believe that I’ve actually said what I just have. I must have, though, because all eyes are on me. Even Anna has stopped crying momentarily. Everyone, myself included, is stunned. I uncurl my fists.

“Christina!!” my mom says sharply as Anna’s wails start back up. “Look at me.” Her voice is icy, commanding. I turn toward my mother. Her eyes are tearing up. “What in the world have you done? Go get a hold of yourself. Get away from the dinner table NOW!”

Everything seems to move in slow motion. Grandma looks at me, looks at the floor, and her face crumples. Her shoulders bend over the table and her head barely misses her bowl of soup. She starts to cry. Grandpa walks over behind her and starts rubbing her back. “It’s OK, Carole,” he soothes. “You’re ok. It’s all right. You’re ok.”

“I said get away!” my mom hisses at me. “We need to calm down your grandma and you’re not helping.”

I nod, feeling nauseous, and make my way slowly to the room where I always stay when we spend the night here – it used to be uncle Peter’s when he was my age. Tears start slipping down my cheeks. I can’t believe what I’ve done. How could I have done that? How could I have lost control?

I don’t even completely know why I said what I said, but I do know that I wasn’t truly mad at Grandma – not one bit! – And I didn’t mean any of it. I think I was scared mostly. Sobs escape my chest as I pull my fleece pajama pants out of my overnight bag, put them on, and slip into my bed, feeling dazed. I realize I haven’t brushed my teeth, but I don’t care. Looking at my clock, I see it’s only 8 pm, but again, I don’t care.

Time ticks by and I can’t fall asleep, as hard as I’m trying. My guilty conscience is nagging at me. I know it’s not Grandma’s fault that she’s becoming forgetful. I feel horrible. And embarrassed. How could I have acted that way to my own grandmother? What I said was completely inappropriate to say to anyone, let alone to her.

I lay awake, kicking myself for my angry words, for hurting Grandma, who loves me so much. Then I begin kicking myself for other things, and soon, I’m partaking in a full-blown self-bashing session. I’m a horrible person. I wonder why such a wretched being as me was even born. Tears are soon running silently down my cheeks. Each one stands for a hurtful word escaping my mouth, salty water, stinging Grandma’s skin. I hate myself.

I’ve been in bed, crying, for almost an hour when I hear Grandma’s slippered feet padding by the door to my room on the wood floor. I’m almost out of tears, mostly just sniffling out of self-pity by now. The knob turns. I roll over so she can’t see my face. I feel horrible. Grandma makes her way slowly across the room and then sits down heavily on the edge of my bed.

I take a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Grandma!” I say desperately, for lack of better words, and my voice breaks. Now I can’t help it, I’m sobbing. This makes me hate myself even more. If anyone should be crying, it should be Grandma, not me. Yet, at the same time, it’s a definite relief.

“I didn’t mean…” Grandma starts, but her shoulders shake, and tears start to run down her cheeks. “I didn’t mean…” her voice is shaky, weak, and I close my eyes, trying to get a grip on myself.

Seeing her sitting there, so weak and vulnerable, all because of me, makes me wish that I were anywhere but here. Maybe exiled to another planet, a planet that Grandma could never come to, so that she would never be hurt by me again. “No, Grandma, it’s not you. It was me. But I didn’t mean what I said at all… please believe me, Grandma.” I sniffle. “I’m so, so, sorry.” I take a huge, shuddering breath.

Grandma sits for a while on the edge of my bed, crying silently. I don’t know what to do. After a moment she pulls herself together breaths in deep.

“I know,” Grandma murmurs. “We all make mistakes. I know you didn’t mean what you said.” Her voice is sad, disappointed, and I start to cry again, a whole new wave of tears that I didn’t know I even had in me. She reaches down and heaves me up next to her with incredible force for a 70-year-old.

I lean into her side and breathe in her yummy lavender smell. This calms me a little. She starts to sing softly. Her voice is audibly aging, but it’s still as full and wonderful and full of Grandma as it has always been.

The song is an old hymn that brings back so many memories for me. I recall myself at age four and five - Anna’s age - listening to this beautiful melody sung by my mom and Grandma as I fell asleep. They sang it as a round, and the complimenting melodies swirled me away each night into dream land.

For a while, I just listen to Grandma, letting my breathing grow rhythmic. When I feel ready, I join in quietly, just as my mother used to do for me.

“Dona nobis pacem, pacem. Dona nobis pacem” Grant us peace, peace. Grant us peace.” Our voices entwine in the simple melody and Grandma wraps her arms around me. I wrap my arms around her and listen to the blending of our voices. It is then and there, in the darkness of an old room, with snow blowing outside and dishes being cleared on the floor below, that I know I am forgiven.

I squeeze Grandma tighter and she squeezes me back. Tonight, Grandma has given me a gift – the gift of forgiveness. I realize I must also forgive myself. Soon, I feel my eyelids drooping. Grandma lays me down, tucks a pillow under my head, and covers me with my blankets – tucking me in, just as she did when I was little.

I watch Grandma turn out the light and see her silhouette framed by the door frame for a split second before she closes the door quietly. I almost don’t want her to leave. I start crying again, but just a little, and this time, it’s out of thankfulness.

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