I’d taken a nap before the piano recital of my three grandchildren, but when we got home, I needed another. I looked longingly at G2’s (grandson, 10) twin mattress, wedged between floor-to-ceiling packed bookshelves, in my son’s library. Twenty shelves in all, books ranging from Hardy Boys to Bobbsey Twins to Dreikurs’ Children the Challenge.
The mattress, topped with a quilt made by my husband’s mother, reminded me of when my son was G2’s age, sleeping under Grandma Roelofs’ home made quilts. Where had the time gone? My son, 37, a tool salesman, now making a living for his family of five.
I closed the door behind me and took off my dressy-black recital ensemble: long dress, trouser socks, and low heels. My powder-blue chenille robe sounded good, only it was in my closet at home in Chicago. I stuffed myself into a cream turtleneck and my new fitted Liz jean capris, a gift from my daughter. “It’s time you throw out your baggy ones, Mom. They’re out of date.”
I counted on her trying to keep me in style. At 35, she attended to trends better than I did at 63.
Right then, however, I could have used baggy. For four weeks prior to this trip, I’d been downsizing forty years of household and career possessions. My husband and I’d made a quick decision to move from a seven-room home in the suburbs to a five-room condo in the Loop.
And for the past four days, since I’d arrived at my son’s home on the west coast, I’d been on the run. I was tired, beyond tired. My body was heavy with fatigue and felt as if it were sizzling on a blazing grill. My fibromyalgia, which I’d managed to keep dormant for about a year by restricting sugar, exercising regularly in a 93-degree pool, and pacing my lifestyle, had rebelled at last, bursting through in flame red, heating and burning my every move.
I wanted to curl up in a ball under my mother-in-law’s quilt and sleep for a week.
Instead, I cracked open the door and listened. From downstairs, I heard my son and his wife speaking in low tones. Something about having tea, investing for retirement, and grading math problems—my daughter-in-law was home schooling my grandchildren.
Across the hall, I heard G1 (granddaughter, 12) and G3 (granddaughter, 7) in their bedroom, opening and closing drawers. From G2’s bedroom, next to theirs, came a woof, woof sound of an air mattress as he bounced it from wall-to-wall. He was clearly not missing his mattress.
Then there was silence.
I better socialize, I thought. I only come to visit once or twice a year and should not spend my time in my designated sleeping room. Old “shoulds” of my childhood stuck to me like Crazy Glue. Loitering awhile, then opening my door, I glanced across the hall and spotted G1 lying on her stomach on the top bunk, reading, and got a saving-my-life idea. Wandering into her room beside her, I said, “G1, let’s read together on the couch in the living room.”
She looked down at me, brightened, and smiled. “Okay, Grandma. I’ll be right down.”
“Bring me the C.S. Lewis book I read last year when I was here. I need to finish it.”
I went down the soft, cream carpeted stairs and walked directly to the living room couch, bypassing the family room where I could now hear G2 and G3 disagreeing over chess moves. They’d begged me to play the day I came. I’d never learned how to play chess and had no interest in learning. But worse yet, as they told me the names of the pieces and then elaborated on the moves each could make—back and forth, diagonal, side to side—I found all their quick chatter skating right over my head. Either my brain was too full to absorb one more set of trivia or the trivia presented was too complicated for my aging brain, housed in a tired and smoldering body, to sort out.
I had tried to concentrate on the moves. Recalling a learning theory class I’d taken nearly thirty years before, an acronym coined by the author, Gagne, came to mind: Many adults are really right going places fast. The first letters of each word, I thought, stood for motivation, acquisition, apprehension, recall, retrieval, generalization, performance, feedback. The initial and key step for learning, according to Gagne’s theory, was motivation. If the learner is not motivated, it will be difficult for him to learn, or the teacher to teach him.
That was my answer to learning chess. I was not motivated. Scratch the idea.
I settled on my back into the poufy cushions on the mauve floral couch, crunched a coordinating velour pillow under my neck, and threw a large hand-crocheted blue afghan down from my chin to my toes. Through the French windows on my left, I saw the green plastic porch furniture, the slatted wooden porch railing, and a brilliant rose rhododendron bush in full bloom,overpowering its neighbors, a pale pink lilac bush and various green shrubs.
I breathed in lilac, closed my eyes, and was almost in a dream state when G1 arrived. I jerked awake.
“You were reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Grandma,” she said as she handed me the small paperback. “The second of the series, I’m reading the third.”
She settled in alongside me—her head on the opposite armrest. I shook out the afghan so it would cover her too. I felt the warmth of her long legs—she was almost my height at five feet four—against my side. Smiling, I said, “G1, this is my very favorite thing to do with you. Read together on the couch.”
And that was true.
She smiled back—purple and teal braces barely visible, brown narrow-framed glasses (with skateboards on the stems that actually moved) that made her look as studious as she was, long ash-blonde hair tied securely with a rubber band at the nape of her neck. Her face disappeared behind her open book.
Paging through my book, I tried to recall where I’d left off the year before when I’d been here caring for the children while my son and daughter-in-law went to St. Lucia to celebrate a President’s Award he’d earned from his sales position. I remembered that children were stranded somewhere in the cold snowy woods of Narnia. The words on the pages didn’t look familiar. I backtracked to a page where the children ran to hide in a wardrobe and found themselves tumbling through the coats into a wet and cold place called Narnia.
Whatever, I thought, I can orient myself from here. I started to read and promptly dropped the book on my lap and fell asleep to the sweet warmth of my almost teen-aged granddaughter, lost also in a Narnia tale, beside me, the gentle pulse of her body beating against mine.
In the distance, I heard a voice say quietly, “I’m going to join a reading trio.” I vaguely felt G2 plop to the floor beside me and heard the feathery sounds of his book pages turning. I pictured him on the floor, long lanky legs sticking out from green khaki shorts, eyes peeking out from under a blond crew cut.
Some time later, maybe thirty seconds, maybe five minutes, G2 said in surprise, “G1, do you know that rhododendrons can grow twenty-five feet tall?”
“Wonderful,” G1 said, with a strongly-not-interested tone in her voice.
I did not—could not—open my cement-lidded eyes, but imagined G1 keeping her attention on her book.
I heard a skipping sound, as if someone were playing hopscotch, move from the kitchen through the hobby room into the living room. Then a firm fingering on a high octave on the piano across from the couch. An E-D-C, mi-re-do.
“Stop it, G3. We’re reading,” G1 commanded in a strong older sister’s voice.
“I’m almost done,” G3 squealed.
“No, you’re not,” added G2 from the floor.
“Am too,” G3 piped back, punctuating her response with a repeat sound of the E-D-C notes.
“Stop it, G3,” G1 said in a louder voice.
“I have to finish,” G3 said, swinging her voice up high.
“No you don’t,” G2 said with authority.
I peeked my eyes open to see G3 standing by the piano, long blond hair parted on the left side secured with a pink plastic barrette, almost outgrown jean capris, slim short-sleeved T-shirt, bare feet—she was always hot—her eyes focused on the white keys as she placed her hands. Then, her right hand pounded a quick E-D-C, mi-re-do, followed by her left pounding an A-B-C, la-ti-do. Her left hand punctuated the final do with a repeat fortissimo do, as if to say, “So there. I am finished,” before she skipped out of the room.
I lifted my book and began to read. The four children in the story were warm and cozy in the beaver’s house. The beaver’s wife was making dinner. I could faintly hear the ABC Sunday evening news from the family room—my son must be watching, I thought. I smelled brownies, the miniature cupcake-sized ones my daughter-in-law had made for treats at the piano recital.
I did not know what was going to happen in the book. I sensed that something ominous was going to take place before the children found the lion and before the witch could be destroyed. But I did know on that Sunday afternoon in May of 2005—snuggled on the couch with my granddaughter, my grandson next to me on the floor, and my second granddaughter playing the piano—surrounded by the aroma of lilacs and freshly baked brownies, this grandma was as warm and cozy as the children in the beaver’s house. And hoping the moment could last forever.
April 2015. I found this story looking through old files. My oh my. Such memories. Now, ten years later, my husband and I will soon attend G1’s college graduation and wedding and G3’s high school graduation. G2 is a college student. Now they are all the best of friends.
And, twelve years after G3 was born, my daughter and husband gave us G4, (granddaughter number three, 5), followed by G5 (grandson number two, 4). In the next few weeks, I will also be flying to attend G4’s preschool graduation.
We are blessed!