Monday, February 16, 2009

Grandfather's Wisdom Not Lost On This Girl!


I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into when I moved Grandfather into my tiny two bedroom, one bath cracker-box house. Mom had made plans to put him in a home but I wouldn’t hear of it. Had she forgotten that Armand Weese was a brilliant man? I firmly believed that my grandfather wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture. Mom did her best to talk me out of my half-baked plan, in vain. She explained, in that irritating levelheaded manner of hers, Alzheimer’s had taken hold and it was just a matter of time before Grandfather would prove to be too hard to handle. His wife of twenty-five years, my Mom’s stepmother Sheila, had the audacity to leave him in his darkest hour. Despite all the years of financial and emotional support Armand had bestowed upon the self-centered wench. Not only did he provide an incredible lifestyle for Sheila, but also for her insufferable offspring, three sons with bad manners and a propensity towards alcoholism that they’d inherited from their errant absentee father. Grandfather’s deteriorating mental condition sent Sheila packing. Miss, I have a short memory, forgot that she was only a temp earning barely enough to get by when Grandfather rescued her from mediocrity. My grandmother had been in her grave barely a year. A desperate divorcee with big breasts, a spotty intellect, and three snotty nosed brats in grade school, Sheila was fifteen years Armand’s junior. Our entire family collectively gasped in disbelief when he married that woman in Vegas only six months after she’d shown up at his firm to answer the phones and do light paperwork.

Sheila and her three goons, (my pet name for her spawn), emptied the contents of the house while Grandfather stood in the driveway watching in disbelief and distress. The poor old guy never even made a move to stop the plundering. They drove off and left him standing in the driveway. Grandfather found himself lost and all alone in the big house without Sheila. They only left him a twin bed in the guest room, a TV tray, and a portable refrigerator. Luckily, after several attempts, Armand somehow managed to punch the speed dial and reach Mom. (I know--how kind of Sheila to leave a phone!) We got on a plane and flew up to Oregon that same afternoon.

We had no idea how Grandfather’s short-term memory had deteriorated. He no longer drove a car, apparently hadn’t since Sheila saw fit to hide the keys from him a few months earlier after he got lost and drove into a ditch while running an errand. Then, because he kept asking for the keys back, she sold his beloved Lincoln behind his back. Why hadn’t Sheila shared this news? We figured she wanted to empty out the bank accounts and abscond with as much cold hard cash as she could without setting any alarms off.

Although he had retired years before, Grandfather had plenty of connections in the legal field. Sheila didn’t get away with as much as she would have liked to. Mom saw to that. But the big house on the lake had to be sold, and that’s when I stepped in and took it upon myself to take Grandfather home instead of letting Mom place him in a memory care facility near where she lived in Orange County. How hard could it be to take care of one seventy-eight year old man?

Ha! Hard—extremely hard! I learned that in short order.

I settled him into the smallish back bedroom with a narrow daybed, chest of drawers, flat-screen TV, and comfy leather recliner. His door was conveniently located right off the kitchen. If he needed a snack or a drink, he could just help himself without disturbing me. That was the plan anyway. My dining room is my office and I work out of my home. All day long I’d tolerate one interruption after another. Conversely, if I didn’t hear a peep out of him for too long a period of time, I’d go on a hunt. Investigate what kind of shenanigans he’d gotten himself into. A few days into his stay he found my newly-purchased-giant-telescoping-super-sharp-tree-trimmer and butchered my Ponderosa lemon tree and a row of poor unsuspecting hibiscus bushes over on the east side of my postage stamp yard all to hell. I perceived their psychic screams and produced a few of my own.

Grandfather had lost forty pounds on the Atkins diet three years prior, and obsessively held on to the notion that he must eat eggs for breakfast. He went through a long drawn out process of preparing an egg white omelet every single morning, without fail. One morning I watched as he filled his creation with diced peaches, a cut-up leftover enchilada, and gobs of minced garlic. I said nothing. He ate it with grand relish and washed the God-awful mess down with cup after cup of coffee. When the pot was empty he tried to make another but managed to flood the counter top. I cleaned up the mess, there were coffee grounds everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I purchased a giant pump thermos, and from that day forward would drag my ass out of bed to fill it at the crack of dawn so Grandfather had plenty to drink and wouldn’t attempt to brew coffee on his own.

One day I brought home a bright red ceramic pitcher shaped like a milk cow. I set it on the top shelf of my old-fashioned O'Keefe & Merritt range to hold my wooden spoons. Grandfather had a fit when he spied the smiling red cow the next morning as he was cooking his customary omelet. He claimed the creature had a devil face and made me put it out on the back porch. He had never been religious. I knew something was amiss. Mom drove up to L.A. and took him in to see a doctor.

The disease was progressing. They prescribed medication. After returning, Mom tried to talk me into letting her take Grandfather away. She’d already lined up the facility. She’d met with the director. Mom really did believe that Grandfather would be better off there. But I’m a stubborn person. I whispered so he wouldn't hear, “Not yet, not yet.”

Grandfather was still strong physically, so we went for a nice long walk just about every single day, weather permitting. We strolled over to the La Brea Tar Pits one weekday, he complained of a headache, so I brought him over to a bench and sat him down. He was saying how strange it was to think that the ancient tar pits were in the middle of the city of Los Angeles one minute, and then he suddenly slumped over. I started screaming my head off when he didn’t respond to me. Soon we were riding in an ambulance down Wilshire Boulevard, sirens ringing in my ears as the cute paramedic tended to Grandfather.

An aneurysm had burst in his head. When he was released from the hospital Grandfather went into rehab. A few weeks later, he went to live down the street from Mom, in a place called, Meadowood. No meadow, no wood. But, I have to admit it was a nice home, well decorated, clean, and the staff was caring and attentive. Grandfather had learned how to get around again with the use of a walker. His demeanor had changed radically. He didn’t know Mom’s face or mine. We were treated the same as the girl that fed him lunch, the guy that administered his meds.

I’m not proud to admit this, but I could hardly bear to go see him. I stayed busy, made excuses, lived my life.

In the course of a year I only visited eight or nine times.

When Armand died Mom was beyond relieved. By then he had something wrong with his lower right leg, his circulation, his veins or something like that were failing, and he had open wounds that had to be dressed daily. He kept trying to walk on his own and had taken a few bad spills. He stammered nonsense. When he made sense, he only complained profusely. Grandfather wasn’t happy at all. His quality of life had diminished down to nil.

I couldn’t believe it when Mom told me that Sheila and the goons asked if they might attend the funeral. Unbelievable. Mom said no way Jose. She threatened to hire security guards to keep them out. But they never showed their greedy indecent faces at the mortuary or the grave yard. Good thing, our intentions were to give Grandfather a proper send-off, free of that brand of drama.

I had a terrible struggle attempting to digest the finality of death. I sold my house because I couldn’t bear to live there without Grandfather in that back bedroom. I moved close to the beach. One day I was sitting on a towel watching the surf and I decided to change my focus from losing him to remembering how much I loved him while he was here. I thought about what I’d learned from him. 

Chronologically, these are just a few pointers that Armand Weese imparted to me during our twenty-eight years together: Thin out the seedlings to ensure strong healthy plants. Plant marigolds and garlic in the garden to discourage pests. Cut oranges in eight pieces, and proceed to eat everything but the pith, peel, and seeds, or else a tree will sprout in your tummy and eventually branches will grow out of your two ears. Homemade pickles are best. Keep your car washed and waxed to make a good impression. Shake hands with gusto, a firm handshake indicates character. Singing out loud is food for the soul. Pistachio ice cream is under-rated. Take good care of your face and hands. Laugh when you’re down. Dress well. Never borrow money from friends, and avoid borrowing money from banks, unless it's to buy a house, because you can’t go wrong with real estate if you use your head. Read Dickens to understand mankind, Twain to do the same, but also to enable you to laugh about the human condition. Pets are a heavy-duty responsibility not to be taken lightly--especially dogs. Go to the movie theatre alone so you have no distractions. Never overcook bacon. Travel by automobile from the west to the east coast at least once in your lifetime, and do your best to visit every state in the U.S., and every single continent, if possible. Respect your elders but don’t let them abuse you. Marry for love and for no other reason, but make sure that what you feel is truly love and not merely infatuation. Make sure that you haven’t been blinded by lust. Not bad advice huh? I intend to take heed.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

1 comment:

ohgeezitsalexis said...

hmm... these stories sound slightly familiar ;D