She sat on the red vinyl covered chair in the corner of the kitchen. She might have been talking with my mom, but as I recall she hardly ever said anything. It would probably be more accurate to say that whatever she said didn’t interest me. After all, I was very young, and she was very old. What I do remember was how she would comment on how tall I had grown. She referred to me as a “long, tall drink of water.” I still don’t know what that means.
I guess most of the time I was passing through the room, not stopping unless interrupted by the adults. Generally, I’d be on my way out the back door. As I ran by I would catch glimpses of her gray hair, her eyeglasses, the wrinkled skin, the inevitable flowered dress. And both her hands resting in her lap, shaking.
I was young but not so young that I didn’t know that she had Parkinson’s disease. That was why her hands shook. There was a time that my mom gave her knitting needles and yarn thinking that knitting would calm the tremors. Perhaps by then, the disease had progressed so that it took too much effort to work the needles. Or maybe it was lack of motivation on her part. Or maybe she was simply too tired.
Grandma had after all raised 8 children. She had to be tired. And by then there were sixteen grandchildren. No wonder she didn’t really say very much to us. She had probably had enough of kids running past her. It seemed to us that we were light years away from the place in life that she was in. We were full of energy and eager to try every new thing; she sat quietly in her chair.
We never imagined that we would be like Grandma. She was an old person with no where to go and nothing to do. There would sometimes be hushed conversations in the other room about who would take her, whose home she could go to next. I remember the emotion in the air around those talks – a kind of reluctance and resentment. Grandpa had been dead for some time, and no one really wanted to take care of her.
I wonder now what it must have been like, to feel burdensome to your sons and daughters. I wonder now what thoughts and feelings my grandma must have had. I wonder now if she knew some secret that she kept to herself about being old. And, if she did, I wonder now why she didn’t tell us so we could understand.