Visiting a relative in the hospital never ranks very high on the Fun Meter, but this trip was especially difficult.
It was to see my grandmother, who for so long had done so well, struggled with her health in the last few years of her life, staying in a nursing home for a brief time, with a couple of visits to the hospital.
One of my visits stand out. She had been struggling with her memory as well, but on this day she knew exactly what was happening. And she knew she was in the hospital. And she wasn’t happy about it.
“I don’t want to be here,” she told. No big surprise. But it wasn’t just because she didn’t want to be there. But she felt like she didn’t matter.
“I’m just a ghost in here. No one sees me. People come and go – the doctor, the nurses. But no one really sees me,” said Allie Mae. Then she let out an eerie, “Whhhoooo-hooooo-hooo,” which sounded creepy in a way that she probably didn’t expect.
It was hard to see my grandmother in that condition. And feeling the way that she did.
She seemed so small and frail beneath the covers of the sterile hospital bed. It was hard to believe that this was the same person I had shared so much with.
And she had an incredibly fun way with words. My favorite saying of hers involved food. She lived in a small house my grandfather built near where I went to college. And she would often cook up something for me. Sometimes it might just be some leftovers she had on hand. But every time, after apologizing for not having more, she would say about her meal, “It beats nothing all to pieces.”
Sometimes she would want me to pick up a pizza for lunch. Always a supreme. She always thought that was a great treat. And any time we were going to eat something like that, she would say, “Oh boy. Now my stomach is going to have some fun!”
I once took her to the horse races at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. We bought seats in one of the upper sections. By sheer luck, I won the Daily Double – almost $200. Needless to say, she made me buy lunch. (The funniest part was that was the only time I had ever won any money at races. But everyone around me the rest of the day wanted to know which horse I was betting one. Not that it did them any good – I didn’t pick another winner the rest of the day.)
One of our wildest adventures was learning to drive. She didn’t have a license, and had always depended on my grandfather. But after he passed away, she wanted to be able to get around on her own. Things were fine for a couple of lessons. But after a near fatal collision with a log truck (I still don’t think I’ve ever matched the volume of my scream that day), neither of us felt like continuing the lessons.
Probably the thing I remember most was a simple letter she sent me. Having grown up during the Great Depression, my grandmother always thought before spending money. During one of my first jobs after college, I was living on my own in Little Rock. One day, I received an envelope in the mail. In it was six $1 bills and a one-page letter written on a white legal notepad. The letter instructed me to buy a watermelon, bacon, and tomatoes (for bacon-tomato sandwiches) Farmers Market so that my “stomach could have some fun.”
It was great that we could share so many wonderful times together. I’m glad that I got to know her. I’m glad my daughter also knew her for a short time. I wish my son could have known her, too.
My grandmother may have felt like a ghost on that day, but not to me. I always saw her as a part of my life. And I’m glad her memory can live on through me.