The air is that delicious shade of amber when night hovers just beyond daylight's reach. The cool of the eve is wondrous after the scorch and scrape of August sun. Somewhere between a siren's call and the battle anthem of summer, the cicadas song echoes through the trees, reverberating in my mind as memories of previous summers flit and dart like a movie reel spliced. That sound accompanied my first kiss. My first heartbreak. There was the smell of funnel cakes and carnival lights and breathless anticipation... Tonight I sat on the front porch with my grandmother. She's visiting for a few weeks, enjoying the great grandsons while the weather is warm. Ninety-six years she has walked the earth...yet so small. Almost some strange humor as my six foot frame curls into the twin of the chair she seems childlike in, not even five feet tall. She's wearing long johns beneath her clothes; a bizarre and slightly odd commentary on the fragile straps of the gauzy sundress that barely makes me presentable in this humid heat. How age changes things. Oh, how it does. The light in her eyes is fierce, strong as her mind repeats the loops it has grown accustomed to. I believe the passionate moments--be them lovely or terrible--carve the deepest grooves in the records that play as we age. I wonder, as she tells me again of meeting my grandfather, my eyes tracing the lines that web her cheeks, the curve of her ear....I wonder who I will be, what records I'll play. For her, a widow with three young sons before she was even twenty, one of the records she plays was being desired despite the hungry mouths she brought along by my grandfather, "that wild Cates boy." His fast car swept her away, and his monthly check when he was gone in the service kept her afloat along with family. So much tragedy, so much hunger. Starvation for food, love, security....a time in history we, so blessed, will never truly understand. And now, so small, so weak...she tells me how the men still want her. I smile. I even smile with a wink and a chuckle...and she smiles back. She shifts in her chair, pulls at the sleeve of her long underwear, and shakes her head softly. She reaches out to stroke Hazel's back and asks when my husband, whose name she often forgets, will be home. Sometimes her persistence that "someone is out there" or that "he was looking at me" can be frustrating, life is demanding enough without adding in constant reassurances and appeasements. But I've begun to think that she clings to this idea because to fully admit that no one really "wants" her anymore, would be to somehow lose meaning...purpose. She wrestles with being a burden--yet in the same scrappy moment, I think she thoroughly enjoys the 'hand and foot treatment' she receives. She knows it not, but in a world of fragmented families, to be tucked in with a kiss, and have breakfast laid out each morning....I can only pray I am loved and cared for one day, as she. It's difficult at times, being stuck in the timewarp she resides within. My parents are stunning in the years of care--years of bacon and eggs, duplicate loads of laundry, 'please-don't-touch-that' and cleaning up the spills; the privacy they've sacrificed is beyond calculation--I fear at times my mum hedges on the edge of sainthood. This level of care isn't easy, but I enjoy the opportunities I have to give my parents respite as well as challenge my own family to the joy and discovery that it is to live with an elder. Lessons in patience, movement on shuffle, hours of quiet.
The crickets have struck up their serenade and the streetlights are glowing softly. She's begun to repeat herself, in that record-skip way she does, as I lead her inside for the night.