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Making Lemonade at Age 87

Submitted by GingerBlackstone on March 4, 2010 – 3:21 pmComments

In order to fund my creative endeavors these days, I have taken up the care and companionship of my husband’s grandmother, who is 87 and suffers from the early signs of alzheimers.  That, and a vicious temper.

Grandma, as I lovingly call her, vacillates between calm and rageful.  I have been told that at my age she was a real spitfire, a passionate, decisive woman who went dancing at Roseland and devoted herself to the care of her sisters and mother, and later, her two sons.  I have seen in pictures that she was a snappy dresser, never a hair out of place, and a voracious eater who always maintained a lean figure.

Now, as she sits in a chair by the kitchen window, a storm of anger and sadness at her arthritic knee, her son who has to work and leave her at home with a “babysitter,” and the piles of crotcheting that she refuses to touch out of spite, imagining her younger incarnation is difficult.  Yet I admire her continued fire, her frustration at what she knows is not real living anymore, not the way she defined it.  And boy, did she define it. The fight in her, though it lays stress and sadness on her family, is what keeps her largely healthy, and more sane than others would like to think.  She resists my suggestions for card-playing, paper crafts, and things of childhood that come back to soothe the elderly.  She will not be soothed, and I cannot blame her.

What she does not realize, this Grandmother, is that, even in the phase of her life that feels the most shadowed, she has taught me the power of persistence, of not giving up on my core even if no one else sees it, even if everyone around me tries to blame and categorize.  Grandma is totally herself, and as I listen to tales of her life, of the Irish man she loved but couldn’t marry because he was not Catholic, of the Italian man she did marry but hated at first because he whistled at her in the street, I see not just a whole woman but a whole generation of people who made decisions from their guts, who did not have the leisure to vacillate about career or relationships.  Voices like her’s breathe fresh air into our boggled generation. Anyone who can call a childhood during the Great Depression “hard but good” deserves at least a quick listen, and all my respect.

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