Friday, December 17, 2010

My Grandmother

Growing up, my grandmother was not a major part of my life. She lives an hour away and I was painfully shy. The combination of these factors typically made for awkward "hello's" and my brother and I hiding out with our three older cousins for the duration of the visit. And if she came to visit us, we greeted her eagerly, knowing that some gift was stored in a bag somewhere (though as we got older, these gifts eventually manifested as McDonald's Happy Meal toys. I didn't even play with them when I was five; why would I suddenly be interested in them when I was twelve?). I guess sometimes I wished for the kind of grandma whose house smelled like cinnamon rolls. Or the kind who taught you how to knit when she visited on rainy afternoons. Or even the kind who had words of elderly wisdom when you broke up with your first boyfriend.

My grandma probably couldn't even tell me the name of my last boyfriend. And not only is the extent of her crafting ability coloring (her entire home is plastered with those coloring sheets with the black velvet filling in the negative space), but two weeks ago she landed herself in the hospital after unsuccessfully frying an egg and contracting salmonella poisoning. This most recent event is what compels me to write this piece.

My mother checked Grandma (her mother) into the emergency room on the morning of December 3rd, her 80th birthday. All party plans were put on hold and she spent a week in the hospital. For those who don't know, salmonella essentially causes the loss of fluid in the body by every means imaginable. Whether eighty or eighteen, Grandma is lucky to be alive. Salmonella kills people daily, regardless of age. This is a fact that I'm glad I learned today and that I didn't know at the beginning of this nightmare, else I would have been emotionally useless for the past two weeks. After getting her illness under control, Grandma was moved to a rehabilitation facility last Saturday, the 11th.

My mother and I visited her today because we had a meeting with her case worker to determine when she would be released from the facility and allowed to go back home to New Hampshire. After signing in at the front desk, the elevator took us to the second floor where a resounding "Hello!' cranked our necks around to our left. There was Grandma, all five feet of her, sitting in a chair at the end of the hallway with her perky, brown-haired physical therapist sitting in the chair next to her. I had never known my grandma to use a walker, but there was one positioned right in front of her, severed tennis balls on the back legs and everything. She was proud of her hair-do, as it had been washed and curled that morning, probably for the first time since she got sick.

Throughout our meeting with the case worker, I couldn't help but feel proud that there were three generations of Barton women represented in that room. I was a part of something so much greater than myself. My history was sitting there, next to me and across from me, at the very same table.

Not only did the meeting reveal that my grandma would be discharged the very next day (Saturday the 18th), but that and the rest of the visit also taught me a lot about who she is. She hates tea, but she loves iced tea and use to brew loose tea leaves in a pitcher of water on a sunny windowsill. She loved wearing her pajamas, even though my grandfather hated it, and on days when he had to work, she would stay in her pajamas all day. As an elderly woman, she is nothing short of amazing. When her case worker asked her if she used any elderly services (someone who grocery shops, cleans for her, drives her places, etc.), my mom proudly informed her that my grandparents were the ones who did this for other elderly people. My grandmother works out almost everyday, something that I rarely manage. She manages all of her own medication and when she isn't recovering from salmonella, she has no need for a walker. These are all things that may seem trivial, but to a woman of eighty, these little pieces of independence are something to be valued dearly.

But my favorite thing about my grandmother is her sense of humor. Just when you think she isn't listening, or when she's being teased by her son or grandchildren and seems like she'll just take it, she comes back with a wittier response than most professional comedians could invent on the spot. Today, she was talking about her son, my Uncle Ed, and how when he makes a notable comment, he likes to say, "Yeah, I got it from you, Ma".

She responds with, "That's great, but you can keep it".

I guess you had to be there. But this is the kind of humor that I respect. Something thoughtful, but still quick. She always catches me off-guard. And now that I'm older and no longer shy, my favorite memories with her are those I spend joking and going back and forth with her.

As time flies by, I see my mother adopting some of the characteristics of my grandmother. If I say, "Let's go, Mom", she'll often respond "I's a' comin'", just like Grandma has always said. Or she'll sneak a "y'all" into casual conversation, something that my grandma has held on to after living in Texas many years ago. And as I write this from my mother's favorite chair, dozing in front of the TV with a glass of wine on the table next to me, like she does almost every night after a long day at work, I realize that I'm adopting her characteristics as well.

It's a running joke these days that most women loathe the idea of becoming their mothers. Though it may be scary to look into the face of the future and see yourself, I'd consider myself lucky to become like my mother and grandmother. It means I'll be continuing a legacy of quirky, strong women who love and laugh like life is a gift and they're just beginning to unwrap it. Did I mention that when my grandmother was in the hospital, my mother drove almost an hour each way to visit her just about every day? Yeah, that's the kind of woman I want to be.

I'm most thankful for today because I learned so much about the mysterious grandmother that I was so nervous around as a child. And I'm also thankful that her physical therapist said I was the spitting image of my mother. Though neither of us understands how the rest of the world thinks we look exactly alike, it still always brings a smile to my face to know that I look just like someone that I admire so much.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One of those Friends

I'm definitely having a hard time keeping up with this thing, but luckily I've entered the hell known as "finals week" and hope to regain my life after this coming Thursday. Here's a flash fiction piece that I included in my creative writing portfolio. It's called "Yoga isn't for Everyone".

She sat on a Bosu ball, feet an inch or so off the ground, and I waited for her to topple over. But it never came to that. The instructor’s balance and poise were on the mark and as she moved the ball to the side and unrolled her mat, signaling for the class to stretch out in the downward-facing-dog pose, it reminded me of why I signed up for this yoga class in the first place. I walked like a rhinoceros in an antique show room and at five feet, three inches tall, and 175 pounds, I couldn’t even walk with confidence.

One of my girlfriends, Ana, told me that yoga would make me more graceful and also help me lose that “unattractive belly pooch”. I had struggled with my weight since middle school. I was never fat, but there always seemed to be a little more of me throughout my abdomen than I would like to see.

Ana, on the other hand, did yoga every other morning before work. She also ate a high protein, low carb diet. She was also dating the cliché tall, dark, and handsome man who brought her flowers each time he showed up on her doorstep to take her out to a fancy, expensive restaurant. Ana lived the life that every woman supposedly dreamed of.

“Kate.” She would say my name like a statement, and continue talking without waiting for me to answer. “Kate, you should really come to yoga with me. I really think it would do a lot for your self confidence”. Sometimes I wondered if ditching our friendship would do a lot for my self-confidence. Ana was in the row of yoga mats in front of me, her perfect butt pointed straight up in the air in the downward-facing-dog position. She might’ve looked even more perfect than the instructor. When I was in this position, I felt my rolls push against each other.

I watched Ana move to child’s pose, knees and elbows together on the mat with her head resting on her forearms. Her straight blonde hair tumbled over her head and onto the floor, like threads of yellow silk flowing from the loom. I struggled to move seamlessly into this pose like her, but fell to my knees instead. I laughed to myself, thinking of how my last relationship failed because I refused to do that. No, it wasn’t just that. He was an alcoholic and I gained ten pounds over the five months that we dated. It hadn’t exactly been a recipe for success. I’m twenty-five, I thought. It’s time to stop screwing around with these losers. I smiled again at my mental pun on “screwing”.

“Okay ladies, stand up, breathe in and then stretch your arms up to the ceiling as you draw in a big breath. As you breathe out, slowly bring your arms back to your sides. Again.” The instructor’s soothing voice broke through my mental image of a parade of losers marching through my life. Ana’s lean arms moved up and down, slowly and gracefully, almost mirroring those of the instructor, and I was sure her lungs were expanding and contracting in perfect rhythm. I caught myself taking short breaths, in and out, while my chubby arms flapped up and down. I can’t even breathe when someone tells me to, I thought.

“That’s your problem, Kate. Always doing what other people tell you.” My mind wandered, remembering how Ana said that to me at least once a week, especially in regards to my job at the accounting firm. My boss was constantly asking me to take on extra tasks and help him on bigger projects. I took it to mean he felt like he could rely on me; Ana believed I was a push over. We had argued about it just the day before.

“Just because I try to be agreeable with my boss and get my work done does not mean I’m a doormat, okay? I have limits you know.” I tried for a counter-argument.

“Limits?” Her eyes would grow wide. “That’s not what your last boyfriend told me…”

She always made me out to be the slut, and half the time whatever was said wasn’t even true. One thing I’ve learned from dating jerks is that jerks like to brag.

“On your mats, please!” I came out of my reverie, just in time to notice that the rest of the class was sitting on their mat while I was still standing, arms over my head. I felt warmth radiate from my cheeks and knew that my pale skin must be scarlet. I sat on my mat quickly.

“Very good ladies, think of this as a makeover for both your body and your mind!” the instructor smiled at her encouragement.

I could do that. I had always liked makeover shows on TV. I guess they were a guilty pleasure of mine. It didn’t matter how plain a girl was; She always looked like a movie star by the end. Even the big girls that they had on the show came out looking like they had lost ten to thirty pounds, just by wearing the right clothes. Sometimes I wished that I could go on one of those shows. Then maybe I’d find myself a guy who didn’t hibernate in bars from Thursday to Sunday morning; or maybe even one who knew how to make a girl feel special.

“KATE, will you please just pay attention?”

Ana’s shriek pulled the e-brake on my daydream and jolted me into the realization that all the other women had somehow dislocated their hips and had their feet behind their heads. “Kate, you need to keep up. Don’t make me regret inviting you.”

“Ana,” I stood up as I said her name, like a statement, “I love you, but I’m out.” I left my yoga mat behind, walked to the back of the room where my coat hung on a peg, and left. As I got into my car, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I felt like I just needed a pair of cute jeans.