Today’s the Fall Equinox. Autumn is upon us!
Chilly breeze, falling leaves, weeping trees.
In honor of fall, John Soos’ words:
To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death and
the miracle of birth.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about change. Change in season, career, relationship status, living and familial situations. All of it’s happening right now.
Perhaps you, too?
They say the only constant is change. For years, however, one thing never changed: where Grandma and Grandpa lived.
I was raised one house away from my paternal grandparents. My entire life Grandma and Grandpa lived right next door. They weren’t babysitters occasionally seen, Grandma and Grandpa were second parents.
But at the end of August Grandma and Grandpa moved. Granted, it’s only six blocks up the road, but it feels like oceans.
Ironically, I felt closer to them during the three years I spent teaching in China. Then, at least, the return address on their letters was one I recognized.
Now Grandma and Grandpa have an apartment in an independent living facility attached to a nursing home. This is the same nursing home in the same small town Grandpa’s dad, Carl, checked in and where three months later he lost the will to live.
Or so I’m told. The timeline’s fuzzy because I was three.
But no, Grandma and Grandpa didn’t want to move. For years Grandpa’s said emphatically, “I wanna die in my own house in my own bed and that’s that!”
Grandma and Grandpa have lived in the same small town, on the same street in the same house since April 1957.
Here they raised three children. Here they tended gardens of flowers and food. Here they won Christmas lighting contests and hosted slumber parties. Here they fought. Here they loved. Here they lived for 59 years.
The home has never been updated. The propane stove in the kitchen is from 1950, a wedding gift from Grandma’s parents. The home is heated with oil. The electrical box is a mishmash of faded fuses and the occasional penny. Storm windows on in the winter, screens in the summer.
If it weren’t for my parents checking in, bringing food, running errands and tackling tasks Grandma and Grandpa may have left years ago. But again, that’s not what they wanted. They wanted to die in home they lived.
They came close a few times too. I won’t bore you with horror stories, just our recent reality.
The phone rang at 7AM. It was early June and on the other line Grandpa was asking Dad, “Can you come over? I need a hand.” Dad walked across the neighbor’s yard into his childhood home and found his mom, Grandma, laying on the floor next to her bed.
Grandma fell the night before somewhere between the living room and bathroom, but Grandpa couldn’t get all 98-pounds of her upright. And being good Lutherans they didn’t want to bother anyone past 8PM. So Grandma army crawled to the bedroom. Grandpa offered her a pillow, blanket and they said goodnight the say way they’ve been doing for 66 years: with a prayer.
Naturally, Grandma said she was fine, “Don’t make a fuss.”
But it’s difficult not to fuss over the ones you love. Which is why the family has been pushing so hard for Grandma and Grandpa to move.
Bad knees, hips, hearing, and hearts have more or less kept them confined to 312 Angel Avenue. The stairs leading to the outside world became too much to traverse alone. So they moved to an apartment on level ground where wheelchairs and walkers can roam free.
They’re children of the Great Depression, World War II, and had saving instilled at an early age. Never throw anything away, you might need it. Everything can be used for something…
Over the past few weeks my parents, aunts, cousins, brother, and I have been slowly packing up the house. Auctioneers and estate sales folks have toured the home and all said the same thing: “They’ve got stuff, but none of it’s worth anything.”
It’s difficult to put a price on personal history.
Under a couch in the basement I discovered spiral notebooks filled with Grandma’s perfect penmanship. Inside are World War II Savings Bond tunes sung — as Grandma inscribed — to “Happy Birthday.” I read Grandma’s sixth grade book reports; equally entertaining and educational. There were folders of tax returns filed by Grandma’s father, also named Carl, dating back to 1941. Also included was a letter from the IRS the year Great-Grandpa Carl was audited.
Up in the attic I found a small bible gifted and inscribed by Grandpa’s pastor on the day of his confirmation. It was April 1943.
In another dusty box sat Grandpa’s high school year book. Not only did Grandpa play basketball, he also appeared in a handful of plays! I can’t imagine Grandpa bounding down the court or speaking in front of people, but he did.
Just as I did.
Accompanying Grandpa’s name in the yearbook was his senior quote:
“A man after his own heart but he’d rather have a girl after his.”
Now I know where I get it!
The estate sales experts were right about a few things…
A full box Lux laundry detergent from the 1950s? Not a high resale value. Anyone need two dozen styrofoam coffee cups circa 1980 from Super 8 Motels? How about 52 individual quarts of varnish, shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane produced between 1953 – 1961? Two hundred empty jewelry boxes? Candles too pretty to burn?
But there are some trinkets and touchstones too valuable to toss. Things that will always remind me of Grandma, Grandpa, and the home that felt like mine.
Pristine reams of the gold patterned velvet wallpaper displayed on Grandma and Grandpa’s dining room wall since the ’50s. Art deco furniture and fixtures. Vintage shirts (that are back in style). Shag rugs. Records of organ music. Their books and papers and pictures…
We’ll continue to sort, stack, sell and donate. Working through and dealing with this change as best we can, while being mindful of how difficult this must be for Grandpa and Grandma.
And along the way I’ll learn just how much I never knew about people I’ve known all my life.
And while there’s time I’ll listen to Grandma and Grandpa tell stories in their new apartment, hopefully, long before the next change comes.