Sad Michael Channing

I visited my grandma at the nursing home this Christmas. I recognized her mostly because everyone else there called her Grandma and Mamma. But this wasn't the woman I remembered.

Grandma would play peek-a-boo with me to make me go to sleep. It was five in the morning, my mom had just dropped me off on her way to work, and I was still half asleep. Grandma would stand at the end of the spare bed and cover her eyes with her hands. Then she'd reveal her face and say, "I see you." Eventually I nodded off, and she assumed she had put me to sleep with the game. I got so I couldn't go back to bed without hearing her say, "I see you," at least once.

I had a few books featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends, and my mom read at least one of them to me nearly every day. I heard them so much I memorized them. Sitting on Grandma's lap, I held a book and recited it word for word, turning the pages at the proper time, and told Grandma the story of Mickey and the Giant Cabbage. I was three years old. Grandma was astonished. She was convinced I was a genius. Pretty soon, she had me convinced, too.

We used to walk to the post office in the afternoons. It was about a mile-long trek. Grandma's spine was curved even then, the hump on her back quite prominent. I was wound tight and jumpier than a Super Ball. And I had to run or Grandma would leave me behind.

One day my cousins and I were playing the big yard between Grandma's trailer and my aunt's (her daughter's) house. In the grass beneath the picnic table, I spotted a green, rubber snake and picked it up and put it on the table. It opened its mouth and hissed at me. We screamed, running for whichever house was closer. I wound up at Grandma's and breathlessly told her about the monster outside. She marched out, grabbed the yard rake that leaned against the trailer, and hunted the snake down. It tried to blend in with the grass, but she spotted it from across the lawn. It slithered away fast as it could, but Grandma was faster. She lifted the rake with a fury I'd only seen on National Geographic, and beat the snake till it was limp as a shoelace. She told me I couldn't just go picking up snakes. I was supposed to be afraid of them. I was. And I was a little afraid of her, too.

Grandma came to visit us in Tennessee, along with my aunt and cousin. Grandma loved to talk, would go on for long stretches of time, her voice fading in and out hearing range, shifting from one subject to another. Drove my cousin nuts. She hatched a brilliant scheme. In the basement, which was also my room, were the washer and dryer. My cousin told Grandma that if you didn't hold the water hose that hooked into the back of the washer while a load was running, the hose would come loose and spray water everywhere. Grandma didn't want that, so she "volunteered" to hold the pipe in place as the washer ran. That's where I found her when I came home from school. I was sixteen then, and I wanted to be alone in my room. So I explained to Grandma that the hose was perfectly fine as it was, though it did seem to be held in place by a twisted length of coat hanger wire, and she didn't have to spend all day holding it. She said she didn't mind, and no one wanted to have water all over the floor, so she would be happy to keep holding it, doing her part to help out, it would be terrible, after all, if the hose came loose, not a problem really. I thanked her and said she could go back upstairs. She did, and I was alone at last. My cousin was oh so happy to have Grandma back with her. As for me, my mind kept returning to that hose, and I checked it again that night before I went to bed.

In high school, I wrote a little story based on my grandma. It was about an old lady who talked all the time, non-stop, leaping from topic to topic then circling back to where she started. In the middle of that rigmarole, she spoke the meaning of life out loud, but no one was paying attention to the old thing. I should have had that happen while she held a washing machine water hose in place.

This past Christmas, when I went to see her at the nursing home, she didn't talk much at all. She sat in her wheelchair the whole time. When the family get together was over, early because she was tired, my mom had to help her into bed. Before she went to bed, though, I asked her how she was feeling, and she told me, "Everyday I'm still around I guess is a good day." She said this slowly, quietly, and I had to lean in to hear. I clenched my eyes to keep from crying, because she was weaker, slower.

I said goodnight and went out into the cold, diminished world.

These Memories Can't Wait

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing