To [Great] Grandmother’s House We Go

by Bryan Friedman in All In The Family, Daddy's Corner

This past week we went to visit my grandma in Sun City. She hadn’t met Madelyn yet because she said she’s too afraid to leave the friendly confines of Sun City Gardens Senior Independent Living. So we went to her. Of course there’s a whole backstory on how at first she told us to come a different day because she had to go shopping for shoes that day…but then ultimately called us back and said we could come that day because her “friend” Sheila knocked some sense into her and told her she had to meet Madelyn. Of course, my grandma also claims she won’t be coming to my sister’s wedding, so it’s all par for the course with her. I don’t think she’s being purposely careless, it’s just part of what I think is a bit of institutionalization that has occurred since she moved into this Senior Living place.

Anyway, we took my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law along with us in our new Honda CR-V for the two-hour trek. We arrived there and spent a long two hours with her. Evidently my Grandma takes living in Sun City literally — I imagine being in her apartment feels similar to what it might feel like if you were actually sitting in the sun. It was hooooooottttt. Madelyn got sweaty and cranky in a hurry, and we pretty much stripped her clothes off before resorting to figuring out how to use the AC (against my grandma’s wishes).

At any rate, I was in full dad/husband/brother/grandson mode, leading the troops through a less-than-fun day for the sake of my grandma and to attempt to create a good memory for her, even if it will only last one day. I kept things going as best I could by either breaking out the albums of the “good old days” (which I actually enjoy seeing) or trying to entertain everybody with Madelyn’s undeniable cuteness. I asked my grandma questions I already knew the answer to, even if she didn’t know the answer or even hear the question. I just tried to maintain some sense of sociality in an otherwise anti-social environment. Of course, thanks to some clever maneuvering by my wife, I also took advantage of an opportunity to get a picture of Madelyn with her only great-grandparent on her dad’s side to still be alive. At least I can share it with her when she’s older and tell her the whole story about the visit and just how much of an old kook her Great Grandma Jeannie was.

The thing is, despite my General Friedman routine, it was a tough day for me. I was watching myself all day, harkening back to the days when my dad would drag his troops (my mom, my sister, and me) to his mother’s house and try to keep everyone entertained for a couple of hours, telling stories, reciting jokes, and just keeping things going. And while my Grandma Jeannie isn’t as sick as my Grandma Ruth was, her age is definitely catching up with her and it’s just pretty tough to be around her. She’s always been a stubborn lady, but with time and the loss of her husband, she’s just about near impossible to deal with. I don’t envy my mom or my aunt.

It was hard enough in the moment to keep things afloat — trying to please a stubborn old woman, a hot cranky baby, a supportive but less-than-patient wife, a slightly bitter sister/granddaughter and her fiance — all the while just hanging in there and trying to keep my emotions more or less in check. But it wasn’t until we were leaving that it all just kind of hit me hard (even though I knew I still had to push it away temporarily so I could face the rest of the day’s events). Ever since my grandpa died, though not often, there are times that I get this overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. I remember feeling it at times during my engagement, briefly during my wedding, and quite a few times during Alison’s pregnancy. But it hasn’t really hit me as hard as it did after visiting my grandma this last time. I just left there thinking “Man I wish my grandpa were here…” …to keep my grandma in check. …to make a joke about the Dodgers ownership. …to meet Madelyn.

My grandpa died on December 10, 2005. So it was only a few weeks ago that marked the sixth anniversary of his passing. I’m sure this had a pretty profound effect on my grandma, even after all this time. My family has very little patience with her, and I can’t blame them one bit. Like I said before, she’s practically impossible to deal with. And even though I get just as frustrated dealing with her those few times that I have to, it saddens me when I think about the fact that she is one of the only remaining roots of my family tree and the only living link to a time that both fascinates and bewilders me.

Even though those days are pretty much only accessible for me and my generation via old photographs and remnants of anecdotes heard throughout the years, I really do enjoy looking at those pictures with my grandma and hearing her stumble through what and who she thinks is in them. It’s important to me to share that era with Madelyn and pass on the legend of her great-grandparents. I never met my parents’ grandparents, but I’ve heard plenty of goofy stories about them and I want to carry on that tradition — whatever it is. Even though we are often impatient and frustrated with the generation of 80 and 90 year-olds who make up our grandparents, we owe virtually everything to them and their parents who began a legacy that we are now in control of. I know that might sound kind of corny and perhaps it is a bit overstated, but I think there’s something to it.

Anyway, I miss my grandpa a lot and I know he’d have gotten such a kick out of seeing Madelyn reach for everything and shove it in her mouth. He would have asked for a high-five from her and then pretended like her slap really hurt his hand, no matter how hard she went at him (and the fact that she wouldn’t have even understood the joke at four-months old). And regardless of what my grandma says and no matter how she acts, I know she got a kick out of seeing Madelyn too. And I’m glad we went to visit her.

  1. welles
    12/31/2011 10:10 AM

    Damn…gettin’ old really sucks. Facing it right now with our parents, not even wanting to think about life without Jim. Enjoy each day, every day you have together. For one day we too will be sitting alone, difficult to deal with. Keep visiting her. I know she loves it. It’s just too hard for her to face her reality. Her life without her husband. No thanks. I wouldn’t want to face it either.

  2. cousin Gary
    12/31/2011 10:02 AM

    This was a truly a heartfelt and honest piece. I knew Jeannie in the “old days” and, as your mother will coraborate, she was as kantacarous(spelling?)and full of piss and vinegar as she remains today. Time does definitely have a way of both softening and reconstituting what memories we have. The important thing–as you so correctly put–is that each of us appreciate where we came from and are always greatful for the efforts and energies our parents and grandparents put forth in the past and lovingly continue to do so.
    P.S.—-I think you are a great writer–
    never stop

    Cuz Gary

  3. Cathy Reeves
    12/30/2011 9:29 PM


  4. Grandma Ellen
    12/30/2011 3:07 PM

    Me too, Bry. I love you. (And where did you get these pics….from Grandma?)

  5. Aunt Wendy
    12/30/2011 12:43 PM

    What can I say? You made me cry for sure…..