(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.