Grandpa says he will be relieved for her when she passes, because she'll be with Jesus while all she does here is suffer. But the plants she placed throughout the house over the years are still there and healthy, because he still loves her. Everyone says she loved gardening, digging her weathered hands in the black dirt, stains on her knees, planting and growing and preserving green life, changing through seasons but always staying strong under her care. She always enjoyed being outside, as long as she was on her feet and dealing with her garden. In the house, plants grow in corners on the floor, hanging from the ceiling, flourishing in every room, a green light against white walls and wood décor.
I’m little - a few weeks old - soft skin and warm blankets enwrapping my body, yellow lights and cooing voices caressing my mind like a soft breeze. I hear my Mother’s voice, gentle and surprised, but happy beside her husband with me in her arms. She didn’t know she wanted children, but now she has me. I watch with blue eyes as another Lady comes to me, amongst the many faces staring down at me, though this face has many wrinkles. I am distracted for a moment as I stare at the fan on the ceiling, spinning round and round, never seeming to tire. Then I hear the lady’s voice and my body shifts, mom is handing me to the lady, and the Lady takes me, a smile on her face and experience in her arms. She’s done this before, she knows how to hold me, how to make me smile. I squeal and reach for her face, I want her nose.
Other memories lay scattered throughout the house too, pictures on the walls, on the shelves, in every room. Porcelain dolls not chipped nor faded, hair brushed neat and golden, resting on little tables and coffee tables. They still remain under Grandpa’s care too, separate remains of the woman she used to be, the Lady he asked to spend the rest of his life with. Pictures of their youth, bright eyes wide smiles of new lives together hang on the wall, one is even drawn out by one of their Nieces. She still has dark hair and dancing eyes. The drawing is accurate and framed; the photograph next to it, both a show of who the past knew.
My Aunt runs her finger through my hair as I sit in Grandpa’s house, though where Grandpa is I don’t know. His wife stands in front of me and watches as her daughter – my Aunt – cuts my hair, humming a tune. Feminine voices bounce back and forth as they chat away the time, the way the always do when my Aunt cuts my hair. Mom doesn’t like doing it, but Aunty does, so when she visits Grandma she always volunteers to do my hair. I like the way she does it, and I love listening to her and Grandma talking, usually about things I don’t understand yet. I am still a child after all.
A mechanical wheelchair sits abandoned outside, no longer needed, but not thrown away, in case she visits Grandpa. That doesn’t happen very often anymore. She doesn’t use it much anyways, she still says she’s fine, just like she always has, she’s strong, if you ignore the shaking hands and uncertain footsteps. But he has it anyways, along with a regular wheelchair, because he doesn’t want to give up hope that someday she will ask to visit. She doesn’t leave her new home much anymore, even though when we brought her there all she wanted to do was get out, come home, play with her plants and dust off her dolls.
We’re side by side, though I’m still too short to reach up and help her cook, so I sit on the stool next to her, handing her the ingredients she asks for. We’re making perhees, sacks of raspberry filling and crushed red, juicy and sweet, wrapped in dough dusted with sugar. Some are rhubarb, some are strawberry, there are even some blueberry ones, but my favorites are always the raspberry delicacies. They taste like heaven. The oven chimes and she hurries to put the pastry in, knowing I can’t wait until I get to eat them, warm and fresh. Her hands are shaking more, she burned her hand again.
She really needs to use her wheelchair, but she is so stubborn, she still says she’s fine. She tried to drive to our house the other day, but accidentally backed the van into her house. They took her license away from her after that. So she did start using her mechanized wheelchair more – so she could drive along our road to our house, we don’t live too far away from her. That helps when we need to go help her. She drove into the ditch, her chair couldn’t get out, Grandpa found her and brought her home, but she insisted on reaching our house, so he drove her here. She complained the whole way, saying she should still be allowed to drive. Grandpa tries to reason with her, because he doesn’t want to see her feeling wronged or upset, he loves her, all he’s trying to do is what is safest for her.
I’ve been watching Grandma, she doesn’t walk much anymore; she knows she shouldn’t – most of the time. I’m always reminding her to use her chair, don’t risk hurting herself. She has bruises all along her side, she fell again. She was trying to cook, but she forgot a cloth in the oven, she had used it so she wouldn’t burn her hand. It lit on fire while she was baking. She called us to help her put it out, then decided to do it herself. She got the cloth out of the oven and put it out, then tried to walk downstairs and put it outside; she fell down the stairs, just before we got to her. I walk in the front door and see her lying there, I wonder if anything was broken. She tries to explain herself, I can’t understand. I’m glad the others do.
He visits her every day where she lives, it’s part of his routine. He always walks back out a little sadder, seeing her as she is now. She tells him that she feels bad, sometimes she even says that she wants to die, those are his bad days. He huffs a lot and gets angry when she says that, but we all know it’s because he knows he can’t do anything to help. She’s not the woman she used to be, her garden isn’t so green anymore, her dolls are dusty, and her hands are pale white not brown, no dirt on them anymore. She doesn’t care about plants or porcelain or pictures anymore, she just builds her puzzle and stares at the TV, not seeming to care what is on. He still visits her though, I don’t know what they talk about, but I know they talk, because he misses the woman she was, so he visits her every day, and makes sure the plants in the house at least are still watered.
Me and my Brother are at her house again, cleaning for her. She doesn’t walk much anymore, today she is just lying in bed. We decided to visit her though, keep her company. She asks if we could clean the house for a little, there are a few things bugging her. I wash her windows and mop the floor, as my Brother vacuums the carpet and reorganizes things. When we’re done we go to the kitchen and do the dishes for her, he washes and I dry. I hear her voice calling to me, so I make my way to her bedroom, she has her shirt off and she’s lying face down. She asks me to tell my Brother to put the dishes away himself, so I can massage her back. I tell him and grab a lotion she always insists I use, she says it feels better for her back, and rub some onto my hands. Her skin is warm but frail, so deteriorated from the skin of the lady who held me all those years ago when she met me for the first time, when my eyes were still blue. They’re brown now; the blue belongs to the veins standing out on her back.
He wheels her chair out of the house and across his yard, she doesn’t protest to the bumps of the gravel beneath the wheels, she doesn’t protest to being away from her new home, and when he sets her chair next to the fire we have burning outside for our family party, she doesn’t complain that it’s too hot. Nor does she say it’s too cold. She doesn’t speak now, and he’s not even sure she knows where she is, he’s not sure if she hears him speaking to her, he’s not sure of anything. Except that the woman he married is gone. Yet he still tries to help her and include her in everything, because he loves her, and hopes that something will bring back her smile. He says she used to smile all the time, but we never see it anymore. I only saw a few of them compared to him, she was already beginning to lose herself when I was born, but she still planted and she still loved children back then. That’s why he agreed to have so many of his own with her when they were a young couple. If he hadn’t loved her so much, they wouldn’t have had so many kids, and my Mom wouldn’t have been born.
I grab another string of beads, this one red, hundreds of round surfaces sparkling. As I wrap them around the tree I smile, I’ve always loved spending time before Christmas coming here and decorating the tree for Grandma. She used to help us, ask us to put certain ornaments in certain places, we all had favorites that we wanted to be visible, not hidden on the back of the tree behind green plastic needles. They are so unique, some hand made by Grandma herself, some old classics that she’s had for so many years. I’ve never seen a tree with decorations like hers, they cry out Christmas, reflecting light and merry spirits as we all gather around it on Christmas Eve. It’s tradition to spend that day at her house every other year, as many family members coming as possible, and that used to make her happy. She’d smile, laugh, talk, serve wonderful food to us. I look to the table where she is sitting. I don’t think she even knows we’re here as we decorate the tree this year; her eyes are blank and blind. She didn’t even reply when I said hello.
Grandpa says he will be relieved for her when she passes, because she'll be with Jesus while all she does here is suffer. But he kept the pictures of their past on his walls, he still keeps her porcelain figures, he waters her plants throughout the house, and he’s made sure at least the raspberries in her garden have survived. No one uses them in perhees anymore though. He’s kept so many little things that connected together and represented the woman she used to be. The senior center has none of her trinkets, yet she doesn’t care to come home anymore, even when she remembers home. She’s having a few strokes, she couldn’t swallow for days, her disease is reaching its end. We don't know how long she has, but we all know it will not be long. No walking, no talking, no joy, Grandpa knows her end will be here soon, and he tries to tell us, and himself, that he will be happy for her when she is released from this pain and brought home to Jesus, but he’s kept all of the little things that show how much he still hangs onto her.