I am in San Antonio, visiting my 90-year old grandmother and doing my first book signing tomorrow. Today, my mother and I took her for a drive in the Texas Hill Country, and it reminded me so much of the process of being with my children.
First, I knew that she wanted to- she really did. But she was terrified. She has been in and out of a hospital, and literally, has not gone outside for anything other than a medical transfer in about two years. She sits in her chair, does her physical therapy, and watches the feral cats and the birds through her window. Going for a ride was a frightening idea for her.
She resisted at first. “Oh my goodness, no. I can’t go. It’s too much.” But her nurse said “Of course you can go. It’ll be good for you.”. I took her hand in mine, and said, “You’re going,” in my best, this-is-what-is-going-to-happen-and-everything-will-be-all-right tone.
And then we prepared her. “We’re going to go for a drive and see bluebonnets and the mountain laurel. We’re going to drive up Nacogdoches Road into the hill country. We will be gone about 30 minutes. We won’t drive fast”.”
And then the preparations. Moving the chest out of the way of the door closest to the door that opened out to the car park. Going to the bathroom “one last time”. The patience of Tammy, the nurse, who gave clear directions about how to put her feet down. The wheelchair, the walker. Clinging for dear life onto the bar for the steps down to the carport. The anxiety, the thrill, and the loveliness of the day. Perfect Texas spring- clear blue skies, 68 degrees, little humidity. Redbuds in bloom.
And of course, the stray dog who came up to us, laughing in his young dog exuberance. He had clearly chewed through his leash and had no tags. On any other day, I would put him in my car and take him down to the Humane Society. I tend to rescue stray dogs, ever since mine broke out of our yard and froze to death one very sad day two years ago. I do not ever want a dog to starve to death or to be hit by a car and die in slow agony. And so, I take them to safety where someone who is looking for them can find them.
But not today. Today, I shooed him away. And tried to hide him from my grandmother who would have collapsed just at the thought of a large dog knocking her over. Who could not handle an unexpected factor in today’s excitement. My job was to make sure that the unexpected did not happen.
We buckled her in, and I turned off the air conditioning because she does not like it blowing on her face. And we backed out of her driveway, slowly- oh so slowly. She observed first her neighbor’s houses- houses she has lived near for 50 years and remarked on what was new and different to her. She winced at every pothole of the street and steadily kept her eyes away from the cars in front of us who were going fast- oh so fast to her jangled sense of speed. For someone who has crept around her house for two years, 45 miles an hour is speeding beyond belief. But she kept her eyes on the side and discussed what she saw and how much had changed. She was coping.
And we drove into the Hill Country. We stopped at a little road off of the main byway, and opened the car door for her to smell the fresh Spring air- finally, oh finally. Mother picked a sprig of mountain laurel for her to smell. Grammy noticed how it matched the purple of her track suit. The scent filled the car. I picked a bluebonnet- something Grammy noted was against the law in Texas. Oops. My mother noted that it was on private land. Not ours, but still someone’s, not the state’s. But the sight of her holding the two blue flowers against her face in the picture that I took is a sight that will long stay with me. Bluebonnets hold a special place in a Texan’s heart. She admired the little white dots at the tops of each “bonnet”.
She did not cry, but started to sniff. “I still have my allergies, apparently,” she stated. No one believed her, but we all experienced allergy symptoms for a moment- tears pricking and noses running. And I turned the car around, and we rolled over the hills, feeling like a small ship in the country where she was born.
On the way back, she was quiet, and did not respond to comments or questions. She is quite deaf, but wants to interact, so you shout to talk to her and she will have a pithy, witty statement right back at you. She is sharp in her criticisms and her love. But not at this moment. At this moment, she was silent, closing her eyes and appearing to drowse for a moment or two. Retreating into her thoughts and her comfort place. She idly stroked the bells of the flowers. She did not look at me, at Mother, or at the passing buildings or lands. She closed her eyes and moved only with the rhythm of the land as the car flowed up and down the hills.
There is history with my grandmother. Hurts and petty fights that have lasted decades. Decisions that have impacted many people. Odd, twisted relationships. But for a brief moment of golden time, there were three generations in the car truly in the moment, connected by the senses of the land, the light, and the love. We did not communicate nor share this with each other- we were each experiencing it individually, but there was communion.
We returned and reversed the process of getting in the car- the walker, the clinging onto the bar, the wheelchair. Tammy showing her where to put her feet. Going to the bathroom, and settling back into the chair. No dog, luckily, this time.
She had recovered her voice and thanked us for taking her out. We kissed her goodbye and left.
All total, it took a hour. The drive itself- 30 minutes.
I realized the contrasts between my grandmother and my children- how my children are movement itself; how they run through their days, how they are at the beginning of their lives and she at the end of hers. And the similarities of the very young and the very old. The need for reassurance. The need for guidance, steadiness, and firmness. The desire for adventure and the fear of it. The terror of the unexpected. The heightened sensory experiences when the mind is clear of language. Living in the moment. And the moments of grief of what could have been/might have been combined with the appreciation of what is and what was.
It was quite a day, going out for a drive.