There are so many little things you realize as you get older, so many seemingly insignificant sacrifices that were made just for you.
I remember our annual family trips from McKeesport to Cedarville (a small Baptist town outside of Springfield, itself a small town outside of Cincinnati). The participants of this trip would be myself, my little brother, my mom, and my Grandpap and Grandma. I remember sitting in the back seat, Grandma in the middle, my brother and I on either side. I remember commenting that Grandma's arms were like pillows (by that age, and by that weight, her skin was so soft and pliable - I'm not sure she took it as a compliment, but as a small child, it was definitely meant as such). And I was thinking tonight that she sat in the middle.
Wait. No one wants to sit in the middle. I don't want to sit in the middle. It's too uncomfortable.
And yet, there she was, in her sixties, 200 and something odd pounds of her, sitting in the middle, the *pah-dump pah-dump* of the seams in the concrete surely traveling a very short distance to her tailbone. Sure there was a price to pay for not putting two young siblings next to one another for six hours, but I have to tell you, right now, I would tie the children up and sit on the side.
This is what I'm thinking about. The sacrifices. She didn't sit in the middle to control us, or to be the martyr. She sat in the middle to take care of us.
I miss my Grandma. I miss her pillow arms. I miss her smile.
Another time, when I was little, Grandma was making her traditional morning breakfast of 4 saltine crackers, with a slice of American cheese split between them, and a cup of tea, with honey and milk. As she sat down at the kitchen table, she asked me why I was smiling. I, being a kid, actually didn't know why I was smiling, and told her so. Which made her smile. And we kept sort of smiling back and forth. Me making her smile, her smiling making me smile more. I think we actually started laughing at some point. I don't know why, but now it makes me bawl my eyes out, thinking of it.
I remember, the days before she died, Grandpap took us all (me, my brother, and my two cousins) to the train show at the Expo at the Mall. It was all these booths with miniature train set ups and miniature everything. And Grandpap took us all out there (I could barely watch one kid these days without being a paranoid freak, I don't know how he did it). And when we got back home, Grandma was on the phone with Aunt Barb (my cousins' mom) and I overheard enough to realize that she'd had a heart attack while we were gone and that Aunt Barb was trying to talk her into going to the hospital (Grandpap had dropped us off so he could do a few errands without one relatively behaved girl and three boys will be boys to deal with, I guess). Having long ago established my role as the spoil sport (did I mention one girl, three boys?), I went into the living room and told my brother and cousins to cool it because I thought Grandma had had a heart attack. They did. She had.
She wouldn't go to the hospital. She was afraid they would cut her open (they probably would have) and she was in denial of how bad it was (the calm before the storm - the period where a dying person starts feeling just a bit better). I convinced my mom and Grandpap to move her bed downstairs to the dining room (I was all about moving the furniture in those days - I had done it myself on occasion, much to the consternation of all the adults involved - including a piano, mind you), where she stayed until the next morning, until they convinced themselves that they had to take her to the hospital, despite her denials. It would be the last time I would see her alive.
There was a chance for us (my brother and I) to see her in the hospital later that evening, but I declined it. I guess it was partially denial, but I felt that it was more important for my mom, grandpap and/or uncle to be there (they only let 2 people in at a time in the ICU). And by the next morning she was dead. She had had congestive heart failure. 80% of her heart had been destroyed in the heart attack. She couldn't have survived it, no matter what anyone did. Yet, as much as I know now, I still regret the decision to not see her before she died. Would it have made a difference? No. Not in the outcome. But, somehow, I still wish I had.
But I stray off the topic of sacrifices. It's late, and I guess I'm morose.
Grandma and Grandpap brought up three children, my mom, her twin sister - my aunt, and my uncle. By the time those children were old enough to flee the nest and care for themselves, Grandma and Grandpap were taking care of their parents. By the time their parents had died, they were taking care of me and my brother (my dad left us, and my mom had to move us "in shame" back home with her parents - this was the 70's, mind you, *good people* did not get divorced). So really, my grandparents never got a chance to relax, to not be taking care of somebody.
When we got up in the morning for school, Grandpap would ask us what we wanted to eat. And he would make anything - scrambled eggs, cream of wheat, turkey ham sandwich, cereal, whatever it would be to get us to eat something. He would drive us to school. He would pick us up. After school, after band practice, after volleyball practice. And there would be cooked food waiting at home. And THAT wasn't even dinner. When we were sick, he would constantly put blankets over us, encouraging our bodies to *sweat it out*. He would take the baby aspirins and smash them between two spoons, pour Hi-C in and slip it into our mouths. When it was summertime, he would hit pop-flies to us to catch in our baseball mitts. He would peel apples and pears and quarter them for us to eat. He would go to garage sales and buy us cheap toys that nobody wanted anymore: the baby doll with hair you could make short or long by pulling a tag in the back, the set of putters and golf balls to hit around our cracked sidewalk.
He would cut our corn off the cob when we were losing teeth, and Grandma would roast meat so long it would melt in our mouths. I attribute my good attitude towards greens to Grandma's creamed spinach - I think I was the only kid in town who looked forward to spinach in a meal. And Grandpap's cooking - he would worry a meal for hours, slow cooking, basting every 20 minutes, taking pans out of the oven with his bare hands that had lost the ability to be burned by his long years working in a brewery. The memory of his meatloaf still drives me to fantasy, and even his spaghetti, cooked in gargantuan amounts due to his service as a WWII army cook, was even better the next day, after a brief respite in the fridge, slapped on some Cellone's rolls with butter (yes, you can make a spaghetti sandwich).
I miss my Grandpap. I miss his stories. I miss his full head of white hair that he had even unto the end.
I wonder sometimes if they can see me. I wonder and fear that they can. I wonder what they think, if they can. I wonder if they would be disappointed. I wonder if they would be amazed. I wish that they would be proud.
I wish that they were still here. I wish that I could talk to them, now that I'm finally an adult. I wish that they could tell me their stories, and that I could tell them mine.
They say youth is wasted on the young. I can't help but think, in this way, that it's true.