Saturday, March 26, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #5

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY GRANDMOTHER AND I

Written: December 31, 2004

My rugby team had won its competition, something like The Leinster Schools Junior Seconds League, with me being a substitute for the final match at Donnybrook. The captain of the team, N#### W#####, planned to have a party at his house one evening to celebrate, and issued invites to all of the members of the squad. From his point of view, it was a simple process, just asking everyone to be at his house at a certain time; it was not to be a wild night for the group of 14-15 year olds, just a supervised gathering to watch a couple of movies and munch on a few burgers and chips.

To my family however, and to my grandmother in particular, the whole event was to become an ordeal of seemingly epic proportions. With absolutely no experience of contact with other Irish parents to draw on, I think she determined the word “party” to mean something akin to a Woodstock concert, with drugs and sex and all sorts going on. When I mentioned the get-together, the first thing on which she insisted was to be given an address and contact number for the W##### house. As we were only given a couple of day’s notice of the party, I agreed to phone home with the required information when we all met up at the school as arranged.

I would have been in [freshman] Year at the time, and close to sitting my Intermediate Certificate Exam. I had just about emerged from my “uber-geek” phase, when I would never ever leave the house and spend entire summers in my own little fantasy world. My hair would be cut by my grandmother using the “bowl” method; heaven only knows what my classmates made of me in those days. At the time of the party, I had evolved socially enough to be able to visit a proper barber, but was still unsure of all the proper etiquette involved, and did not think it unusual to request addresses so I could ring home despite my fifteen years.

With that I found a payphone in Blackrock College while my team-mates waited, and rang home. To my surprise it was engaged, so I asked them all to wait while I tried again a few minutes later. Three subsequent attempts saw me fail to get through, and it was then that I realised I had held my peers up for long enough, so I left it at that and went on to the party, assuming that if my grandmother had really thought the information to be that important she would have left the phone line free.

Meanwhile, back in the Lee house at 49 T########## Gardens, my grandparents were unaware that on that night of all nights our phone line was down. Apparently my grandmother, assuming the worst not having heard from me, had something akin to a nervous breakdown, and set off on foot on a pointless escapade to go looking for me. By the time I arrived home later that night, she was sitting up in her bed babbling to herself, and in the end she had to be hospitalized for about a week.

She was still in her stupor when the hospital allowed her home. As far as I can recall she kept talking as though she were living around 20 years prior to then. One day as I sat with her while she rambled, I turned to her and said something like: “Grandma, we really need you to snap out of this soon.” With that, less than 24 hours later, she was back with us again.

I will never know if the whole thing was a façade, or did she come around sooner and choose to milk it a little while longer. Either way the incident best describes my relationship with my grandmother over the years. When I am with her, her pathetic attempts to draw attention to herself make me even angrier every time; when I am not with her, I can’t help but feel sorry for her, and this has pretty much been the cycle for the past thirty odd years with the two of us.

These days, my grandmother is at the grand old age of 95, and is in excellent mental condition. Just over a year ago, I decided to move in with her to be her “carer”. I was resigned to the fact that I must forego my “bachelor pad” for financial reasons, and assumed that any relationships with the opposite sex could only accrue from my dabbling in cyberspace. I was also fully aware of the conflict between her desire not to be on her own most of the time, and her determination not to be “packed away into a home”.

Little did I know when I moved in my stuff that within a few weeks I would have Sandra throwing me a lifeline by suggesting we get back together. It has become clear to me in the past few months that I will have to choose between a short term future taking day to day charge of my grandmother, and a long term one with Sandra. Put in that light, the choice is really a no brainer.

Still, putting her into some sort of facility is not something I am looking forward to by any means. It will be an ironic culmination to the way her life has gone to date. Her father was in the US Coast Guard, and thus she was forced to move all over the country based on where he was stationed. Then she married Joe and had to endure the ordeal of learning of his transgressions while in the army, before being led from New England to California then clean across to Ireland following his flights of fancy. Now it is down to me to determine where has to be her final resting place, when all this time, her daughter lays on her bed in San Francisco talking to her cats.
© JL Pagano 2004
NEXT, #6: 1000 WORDS ON...THE REST OF THE CLAN

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