My grandfather was still driving a car until he was 96. His children finally took his keys away when he tried to start the engine by sticking his seatbelt into the ignition. It didn’t help his case that the car was already running.
Without a car, my grandparents have had no way of getting around, so my mother makes the 25-minute journey to and from their condominium several times a week to take them food shopping and to doctors appointments, of which there are many. Sometimes, my grandfather, who is now close to 98, will invite her to lunch.
“He’ll say, ‘C’mon. It’s on me. I’ll take you to my favorite restaurant: Bur. Ger. King,’ ” my mother said. “They love the dollar menu.”
My 95-year old grandmother enjoys my mother’s visits because she has no other way of getting to the local grocery store. While my mother likes spending time with her mother, she complains that my grandmother hangs on to the grocery cart like it’s a walker and pays no attention to where she’s going. She runs into people because she walks down the aisles looking for the items she wants, oblivious to oncoming traffic. She’ll park her cart sideways, not realizing no one else can get by. And she’ll back up her cart without looking behind her if she’s passed an item she wanted.
“I have to hang on to the front of her cart to steer it so she doesn’t run anyone over,” my mother said. “And every time we get to the grocery store, she stops in the doorway and starts looking for things in her pocketbook. I have to keep saying, “Ma. You can’t stop in the doorway.'”
Because I was in Florida to see my grandfather, I accompanied my mother when she went to take him to the doctor. As we pulled into the parking lot of the medical complex, my mother started to make a left hand turn toward the first set of buildings and said, “This way, right? And then he’s around the bend?”
“No! No, Sandy!” my grandmother barks from the back seat.
My mother quickly turned the wheel to the right so that she could continue driving straight, deeper into the medical complex.
“You passed it,” my grandfather said, referring to the left hand turn my mother had started to make.
My mother made a U-turn and headed back to the first set of buildings. She pulled into a parking spot, and the four of us got out. Both my grandmother and grandfather are using canes now, and they hobbled toward the ochre-colored stucco building.
“I don’t see your doctor’s name on that sign,” I said, quickening my pace so they wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the building in vain. “It’s Kaufman? He’s not on there,” I said.
I walked down the parking lot to the next set of doors in the building.
“I don’t see a Kaufman here, either,” I said.
I continued walking along the building until I reached the end. I turned the corner and found another set of doors. The sign above that door said Kaufman. I ran back around the corner.
“He’s here!” I shouted.
“I told you,” I heard my mother say. “Right around the bend.” I knew she couldn’t resist.
I watched my grandparents waddle down the parking lot like Charlie Chaplin. They’ve had a good run. For a long time, they seemed like they were going to last forever. They aged, but slowly, and not enough to make a real dent. But now, my grandmother keeps falling, and when she does, she gets black-and-blue marks and scabs on her bony little arms that make her look like badly-bruised fruit. And with the careless vanity of the elderly, she uses band-aids that aren’t large enough to cover them.
As for him, his eyes are always glassy, like foggy windows, and his eyelids are swollen because he has eczema in the corners, and he’s constantly rubbing them. And that’s when he’s awake. These days, he sleeps most of the time, waking only for meals, which he barely eats. He’s lost about 25 pounds this year. He now has to drink cans of Ensure to keep his weight up. He’s trying to make it to his 75th wedding anniversary, which is next May. Sometimes, he sifts through his address book looking for guests to invite, and all my grandmother hears is a litany of, “This one’s gone.” “That one’s gone.”
The doctor visit is short, and soon we’re all back in the car. My grandfather, who is sitting in the front seat, begins to opine on why he doesn’t trust doctors.
“When she had bleeding ulcers,” he says, referring to my grandmother, “the doctor gave her Plavix.”
“Bob, he did not give me Plavix,” my grandmother says. “He gave me Plavix when I had a stroke.” She turns to me and says, “He always says this. The doctor gave me Plavix for the stroke, not the ulcers.”
My grandfather is undeterred by fact. “You don’t give someone Plavix for a bleeding ulcer. It’s the last thing you do,” he says.
We drop my grandfather off at his house, and my mother and I then take my grandmother food shopping. I grab my grandmother a cart, but she wants to push it herself. She drops her purse in the seat of the cart and begins to move forward, leaning heavily on the cart for balance. Just inside the grocery store, she stops and begins rummaging through her bag, looking for coupons. A woman with a cart enters the store behind us and tries to get by.
I look back at my mother and smile, knowing she’ll recount all of this with a sweet nostalgia when they’re gone. Until then, my grandparents will probably continue to click through the years, albeit at a slower pace, amassing more great grandchildren and possibly a great great grandchild or two.
When we got back to their house, my grandfather went into his room and emerged wearing a baseball hat with a number written on it in magic marker. It was a tally of how many great grandchildren he had. With my pregnancy, he had reached #24.