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grandpa joe

Grandpa Joe


(from mighty geek: take a picture and tell a story about it)

This is Grandpa Joe. He is my only living grandparent. His wife, my mother's mother, died when I was a baby. My father's father died in 1991, his mother in 1998.

Grandpa Joe lives in a place called The Townhouse. It's an assisted living facility and a nice one at that. It's clean and bright and they have a sunroon with a piano and arts and crafts and ice cream parties and picnics.

But I never go see Grandpa Joe. The Townhouse is ten minutes from here at most. I would only have to stay a few minutes. He wouldn't even remember if I was there or not. But I don't go. I don't like the feel of the place and the smell of the place. Old people smell like death approaching. Most of them have blank stares and vacant minds and are just waiting. Waiting to die. No matter how many posters of kittens and vases full of flowers you decorate the facility with, it will still feel like a purgatory between life and death. A way station for the weary.

Grandpa lived in Brooklyn. He worked in some kind of barrel factory, making barrels for pickles, I think. I remember hearing stories about pickles.

Every Saturday, for as long as I can remember, Grandpa would come over with bagels. 10am he would be there, the bagels still hot and all of us at the table just waiting to slab the butter on. Grandpa would watch us slice the bagels and tell us we were holding the knife wrong. We were going to slice a finger off, he said. Grandpa has only half of one thumb. I think it was a pickle barrel accident.

He would say the same thing every Saturday to each of us. "When are you getting married?" He said this when we were ten and when we were 18 and when we were married.

One day not too many years ago, Grandpa had a car accident on his way to bring bagels. He never drove again. He went from the hospital to a senior citizen apartment complex back to the hospital and then to The Townhouse.

In the beginning it was ok. We brought Natalie and DJ to see him and he would ask them when they were getting married. We brought him bagels. He always thought he was coming home. He asked for his car. He asked about his apartment, which was no longer his. He wanted to know when someone was picking him up to take him home.

Things got fuzzy in his head soon after. He started calling people by the wrong names. He talked about visits from relatives long dead. He told stories about the nurses coming into his room at night and stealing his stuff. He said he had been to Brooklyn during the night. He had been to Yankee Stadium. His dead brother had been to see him.

Last month, he told my mother he went to John Gotti's funeral. They had specifically asked that he come. In his mind, he did go. In his mind, he is not living in a facility, he is not held captive by his wheelchair, he is not alone at night. He cannot remember from day to day if I am still married, if his daughter is still married, or if he ever moved out of Brooklyn. But he always knows if the Yankees won or not.

I stopped going to see him. I went on his birthday last Novemeber and then again on Christmas Eve, when I took this picture. That was the last time I was there. He used to come to family functions and holiday gatherings. My father would go pick him up and bring him to us, but it got to burdensome. He never wanted to stay, anyhow. An hour after being with us and he would plead for someone to take him back home.

I don't know what stops me from going to see him. I should get past my own fears about death and illness and losing my sanity and make the effort to at least go say hello to Grandpa. Some day he won't be here and I won't have any grandparents left alive. Why is it I can go see my father's parents in the cemetary, pleasantly sitting at their gravesides and talking to them, but I can't go see a grandparent who is still alive?

I'm going to make the effort to go today. I'll bring him ice cream and talk about the Yankees and tell him I'm getting married when he asks the inevitable question. Then I'll go home and have a bagel and remember him the way he used to be.


I hope you feel better once you go see him. I lost my grandfather this past January and I wish both he and my grandmother were around today.

One of the guys at work signed a sympathy card "So sorry. Grandfathers are special people." Amen to that.

Homes are hard places to go. My grandmother was in one and I couldn't stand it. It smelled, they stared, the screamed (one lady anyway). I hope you feel better after seeing him. It will do both of you good even if he doesnt remember you, they just are so happy that someone came to see them.

They are indeed hard places to go to. But if he gets any enjoyment out of seeing you at all - even if he's befuddled about when and where he is - I hope you do go. Maybe you can get him to tell you some good stories about his past, or maybe you can just bring him a little cheer. Hey, this time when asks when you're getting married you'll have a good answer for him!


When you're done here, read Chris's grandpa story today.

i remember visiting my grandma in the convalescent home/hospital. 23, 24 years ago it was, and i still remember the smell of the place. urine and decay. spotless and shiny clean on the surface, but that smell.

it's worth braving the smell and the sadness, to do the visiting though.

It's probably the same reason I couldn't go to North Dakota this summer to see my last living grandparent - my Grandmother who has Alzheimers. The woman that I see there in that wheelchair may be her in body, but it is not her spirit. She has no idea who I am. She doesn't really talk at all now. And I don't want to see her that way ... because that's not how I want to remember her. I remember her alive. In her garden. In her house. Not in a wheelchair with a vacant stare.

We get selfish when it comes to death.

My father had another stroke, right after mom died, and I had to put him in a home. For a while I went every day. Then a couple times a week. Sometimes he would cuss me out. Sometimes he would tell me about dead people who visited him, just like your Grandpa. I went to a shrink for the first time in my life. She said, leave when he yells, and don't feel guilty. She said get him to tell you stories, even if they don't make sense. And don't tell him they don't make sense. But you're right, it's just damn hard, sad. Try to remember to be angry at dementia, not at him. Your visits will bring him a kind of happiness all his own. Peace to you--

A kind of happiness all his own...that's something to dwell on. My Grandmother died of Alzheimers. I don't know if she knew who I was. I wheeled her out on the porch and told her stories of my motorcycle trips - just in case. My mom (only 56) had a stroke last year, and it changed everything. I realize how fragile and incomplete our notions of life and consciousness are. She's doing great, but there's no way I can understand how much she really understands.

Thus, as life changes and takes a form we aren't accustomed to, I think we can only make an effort to stay connected and interact with the entities we once knew, even though they are changing, as we too will change one day. Perhaps as a gesture of faith and compassion that we can contribute to a kind of happiness, or a chance for happiness, for those who gave us so much when we depended on them.

Grandpa worked in a pickle barrel factory??? I know he worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a long time. Was he shipping pickles to the men on the front during the Big One?

Two thing about him that I will never forget: 1. He calls me Asil - always has. 2. When I was around 10 or 11 he told me he lost his thumb by using Brillo. He said it got stuck under his nail so they chopped of his finger. Hence, my fear of doing dishes.

I swear he used to say he worked in a pickle barrel factory.

Fear of doing dishes, eh? Is that a euphemism for lazy ass?

One more thing. His greatest philosophy on life --Whether the question was "where's the cream cheese?" or "how 'bout that global warming?" his answer was the same: "In 100 years, no one will know the difference."

I found out this week that my grandfather was dying. The last time I saw him was when I was about eleven, nine years ago. Family problems keep me from seeing him now. I know my mother would disown me. He was my favorite person. I don't want to see him dying. I could say I know what you're going through, but I don't. If I could see my grandfather again, alive and happy, I would take it in a second.