“I’m afraid my mom will lose her mind,” I confided to Father D, one day at high school catechism.
“Why in the world would you worry about such a thing?” he replied. “She’s got a more active mind than anyone I know.”
“Still, that can change.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
To tell the truth, I never was much of a worry wort. Still Grandma Crandell lost her marbles, and Grandma Zyber was always saying crazy things, so it could happen to my mom. It could. I never shared my concerns with mom, but I kept a close eye on her. When I wasn’t studying, cheerleading, or writing my boyfriend notes that ended with “Secret,” which was code word for “I love you,” ’cause Mom said I was too young to be in love, so me and Boyfriend kept it a secret.
Grandma Crandell lived most of the time with Uncle Merle; in his basement. She might have lost her marbles because she missed Grandpa so bad. Her heart got a crack in it when he died from a heart attack. Mom and Dad and my sister, Deanna lived in Grandma’s Little House way back then. That was before Dad and Uncle Merle started a farm together and before I was born. I never knew Grandpa Crandell.
No ambulances came out on the dirt road where they all lived. Grandpa had his heart attack in the middle of a thunderstorm. Dad and Uncle Merle and Grandma got Grandpa in the car, but the car bogged down in big muddy ruts and got stuck. Mom said that Grandpa probably died before they got the car out of the mud; right there in Grandma’s arms.
That’s when Grandma’s heart cracked.
The crack in Grandma’s heart got bigger and bigger until she hardly had energy to do anything. After lots of years went by, Grandma had a hard time even remembering things. She had trouble following her diabetic diet, and sometimes she wet her pants because she forgot she needed to go.
Dad and Uncle Merle stopped farming together because both families got too big for one house and Uncle Merle wanted to save, save save, and Dad wanted to buy, buy, buy. Anyways, that’s what my cousin, Linda, told me, which is hard to believe, ’cause everything I learned about pinching a penny and how 10 pennies make a dime and 10 dimes make a dollar, came straight out of my own Dad’s mouth. I sorta feel sorry for Linda if Uncle Merle was more of a penny pincher than Dad.
Most the time Grandma Crandell lived with Uncle Merle and his family.
When she forgot who everybody was, Grandma lived in a nursing home and I visited her there. I guess the nursing home was a good, safe place, but I hated the way it smelled: like old birds’ nest and diaper pails, covered over with Glade air-freshener and rubbing alcohol.
“Now, who are you?” Grandma said when I visited.
“It’s me, Deli,” I said. “And Boyfriend.” He and I went everywhere together, because, of Secret.
“You can’t be Deli. She’s a little girl,” Grandma said. “I remember you, Boyfriend.”
That made me a sorta mad at Grandma because she remembered Boyfriend and not me. I guessed I stuck in her memory as a little girl, back before the crack in her heart got so big, and she never knew Boyfriend when he was a little boy, so she only had a big version of him in her head.
Grandma Zyber was a different kind of crazy. She was the crackpot kind, not the lose your marbles kind. Grandma Zyber said what she was thinking and said bad words like hell, and damn.
“I bet it did,” she said, with a nasty laugh when the Little Girl Mom told her, “Joseph knew he was going to marry Mary because God said ‘his staff would rise when first he saw her’.”
Mom got mad at Grandma, even though she was just a little girl, when Grandma said that. Mom didn’t really know why she was laughing, but she knew it wasn’t good. Mom got mad at Grandma all over again every time she thought of St. Joseph and his staff.
Grandma Zyber pushed her teeth out of her mouth to clean out raspberry seeds, which was funny as all get out. She told me she hated celery and that’s all the Doctor let her eat when she was expecting Aunt Annie and she almost had Aunt Annie on the toilet, she thought Aunt Annie was just a big turd, and that turned out to be part right. Turd was another bad word Grandma Zyber said. Sometimes she said that other word that starts with Sh**. That’s a bad word to even write down.
Grandma told me she was super-teensy-tiny when she first got married, and Grandpa gave her airplane rides on top his feet, same as my dad did me. Once Grandpa flew Grandma right out the open window and she landed in the bushes. That story made me split a gut, ’cause no matter ow hard I tried I never could see Grandma as a super-teensy-tiny newlywed.
Grandma had a drawer full of pretty cotton nighties, still in the crinkly cellophane wrapper, just in case she got a long sickness before she keeled over dead. She wanted to look pretty when people came to visit her when she was dying.
Grandma Zyber ended up in a nursing home, just like Grandma Crandell did, except Grandma Zyber could only smile and squeeze my hand. That’s when Grandpa told me what a sickly, skinny woman Grandma was when she he first met her.
“The first time I danced with her, and she felt so tiny,” he said, ‘I told her, ‘You feel like you could just die right here in my arms.” Grandpa looked at me.
“You know what she said to me? She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I want you to know, I intend to die in your arms.’ I just had to love a woman with that much spunk.”
Grandpa’s heart cracked open, even before Grandma died, but he filled it in and plastered it over with a bunch of other things in his life. He never forgot the crack was there, but I think it hurt less than Grandma Crnadell’s crack, which seemed to get bigger all the time.
Mom never lost her marbles and she never became a crackpot either. I guess Father D was right, because Mom still has the most active mind in the world. She has a crack in her heart, because the man that she prayed a years worth of Novinas for because she loved him so much, got called back home before she did. Her heart keeps healing up on its own, even though she’s so sad, she’d like to join Dad.
I told her, “It seems like God has something more for you to do here.”
He might be leaving her here for another reason: there’s a whole lot of hearts that will be left with holes in them when she’s gone.
This week Mom is taking Amtrack to visit me. My Loved-one will pick her up in Chicago and bring her home.
“He doesn’t have to do that. I can take the Metra,” she said to me this morning.
“He wants to.”
“Okay. If that makes him happy.”
“It makes him happy.”
She listens to me talk about my new job, and laughs at my stories. She’s the best listener in the world, plus she has good advice that seeps out while she’s listening. We talk about politics and religion. Mostly we disagree with a lot of love heaped on top, so it’s less disagreeable.
I might end up losing my marbles and I might already be a crackpot. I do say bad words, and I think that story about St. Joseph is pretty damn funny. In the meantime, I intend to hold on to every moment I have left with Mom, and plant all her wisdom deep down in my soul, where I can pull it out when I need it most.