Amazing Grace

She was two weeks away from her 103rd birthday.  She hadn't been doing well.  Still, the call came as a shock.  I guess it always does. 

She traveled the world, but I remember her mostly in Wisconsin, at the cabin.  Sometimes in Wheaton, at our house, where she and Grandpapa would stop on their snowbird's migration.  And a little bit down in Fort Lauderdale.  She was magical.  Everyone elses' front yards faced the street, but both of hers faced the water.  She sent postcards and gifts from remote places and her letters were sealed with wax.  Her hair wasn't gray, it was soft and white.  I can't smell Dove soap without thinking of her.  She had blue sequined eyeglasses and shiny gold and silver shoes and fabulous square wicker box purses that always had candy in them.  Usually Nips.  Pink lipstick, of course.  Twinkly blue eyes.  She had a shameless sweet tooth and she didn't apologize for it.  She didn't apologize for anything.

She introduced me to Fluffernutters, and she made fudge on rainy days, and walnut sticks, corn fritters, date nut bread, and the best devil's food cake anyone's ever tasted.  Even when other people privy to the secret recipe attempt the cake, it's not as good as hers.  Lard figured into many of her recipes.  And she lived well over 102 years, making it hard for her grandchildren to worry too much about their own cholesterol.

Not one for deep cleaning, but always up for a party.  The cabin always had little bowls of mixed nuts lying around, ready for the party to start or left over from one that ended.  She played cards like a fiend, and watched her soaps, and read trashy romance novels that shocked my socks off when I'd sneak them in grade school.  Her married initials spelled GEM, and the orange pontoon boat with the flecked orange and black AstroTurf carpeting was named in her honor.  Her ample dining table had a lazy Susan.  The picture window faced the water and was framed by hummingbirds who flocked to the red sugar water in the feeders that hung from the eves.  Grandpapa's chair had arms.  It was sacrosanct.  She spoiled all her boys, especially her husband.  Grandpapa died when I was in high school.  He always had her heart, but she still glowed at male attention into her 100s. 

I would have loved to know more details about her childhood.  She lost her mother, young--perhaps due to breast cancer, although we're not sure.  She had scarlet fever, and lost most of her hearing young, too.   Her father was very successful.  He used to blow pipe smoke into her bad ear to soothe the hurt.  She attended Principia, a boarding school run by the Christian Scientists.  Maybe because of that, she never put too much stock in medicine.  She met my grandfather who was working as a parking attendant at his father's garage downtown Chicago.  I have a fuzzy wedding picture that shows a very elegant girl dripping with flowers.  I saw home movies of a Mexican honeymoon.

Her car was a fire-engine red VW Beetle, and she had a lead foot.  She'd floor it over the roller coaster roads of Northern Wisconsin, and we'd bounce around the bench seat in the back.  I have one memory of sitting in the front seat next to her.  I was around seven years old.  I'd heard grown ups say "up North" and "down South" and "out West", but I didn't understand that the preposition actually described a location; I just thought you could pick which one to use as the mood struck.  So, feeling very adult, I took a deep breath asked her something about "up in Florida".  She didn't suffer fools, not even seven-year-old ones.  Disregarding oncoming traffic or the deer that often leaped into the road, she turned her head to look at me incredulously then burst into laughter and set me straight.  It always seemed appropriate that Gammie taught me the location of true North.

Her advice was sound; I refer to it often.  In college, faced with furnishing my first apartment, I was agonizing that the shower curtain I liked cost more than several others in the catalogue.  She said, "Oh for pity's sake, you have to look at it every single day.  Get the one that you like."  Even as a little girl, I tended to hoard the special treasures that came my way (Halloween candy, fancy soap).  She noted one of my little stockpiles and said, "It's not doing you any good in that closet.  Use it up."  That was her attitude about everything from fancy soap to life itself.  She used it up. 

We romanticize her--those of us who didn't live close and take care of her as she aged.  Of all the granddaughters, I know the least.  Even in her prime, though, I am sure she wasn't easy to live with.  Somehow it seems that the traits that made her difficult are also the ones we celebrate.  She was stubborn. She shamelessly played favorites, and that hurt feelings. She once told my mother, her daughter-in-law, "Well, I've always had everything I ever wanted in life, and I see no reason for that to change." So her children had to figure out what to do when the money ran out late in her life.  But underlying everything was a refreshing honesty: there was no B.S. about her.  She loved life and she lived it well, and she squeezed every bit out that she could. 

She hadn't been able to lift herself for the past week, but the night before she died, she sat straight up in bed and held out her arms.  I love that.  I love that she was fearless and open armed all the way to the end.   


The Hip Guy

"Let me know if this hurts," said the doctor as he approached my foot. 

"OUCH!" I yelped, and jerked away before he could touch it. 

I was at the orthopaedic practice recommended by the E.R.   I had opted for convenience instead of the fancy doctor recommended by my athletic friend Kirsten.  Her doctor practiced downtown DC and repaired injured hockey players; my doctor was five minutes from my house and seemed to repair little old ladies, judging from the waiting room. 

"Hmmmm," said the doctor.  "This looks like it could be a Lisfranc fracture." 

A what

"Blah, blah, eight weeks in a cast and on crutches, no weight on it, blah, blah---um, are you okay?" 

At his mention of eight weeks on crutches, I started bawling.  Just fell right apart on the crispy-paper-lined table.  It took both of us by surprise.  He called down the hall for Kleenex--apparently, orthopaedic doctors' offices aren't equipped for mental breakdowns (although by this point, I probably should have started toting my own box). 

I tried to explain: "I have a toddler.  It's Christmas.  I cannot be on crutches for eight weeks."  He said not to worry until we got the MRI results back.  Easy for him to say. 

A few days later, I got good news.  "It's not Lisfranc," said the doctor, as he scanned the paperwork from the MRI center.  "You fractured your calcaneus [heel] bone, sprained your ankle and have a lot of bone bruising throughout the foot." 

He glanced at me, then at the box of Kleenex that now sat on his desk.  "Now, I'm not going to cast you, but you need to wear this boot and start PT.  Come back in four weeks."

Four weeks later, still on crutches, still swollen, still purple, I returned.  "That's strange," said the doctor, who obviously failed his doctor-patient communications class in medical school.  "It's not looking any better.  Maybe I should cast you.  Hmmm."  He started paging through my chart.  "I know I read that MRI report, and they didn't see Lisfranc, but the report's gone missing.  I know I read it, though." 

"Yep, you read it," I confirmed.  "You looked at the actual MRI itself, too, though--right?" I half-jokingly questioned.

He looked up.  "Um, no.  I didn't.  I'm not really comfortable reading foot MRIs.  I'm actually more of a hip guy."

Excuse me?  You've been treating my foot for five weeks but you don't feel comfortable reading the MRI of the appendage in question?  My long-dormant lawyer-kill-mode kicked in. "No disrespect intended, but would there be anyone here who IS comfortable reading the MRI of my foot?" 

"Yeah, you know, you should probably see my colleague Dr. Blah, Blah, Blah."  He scribbled another doctor's name down for me.  "Okay, well, good bye."  And he left the room. 

I gathered my crutches and got angrier--both at the doctor and myself.  Instead of making an appointment with his colleague, I requested a copy of my file and films.  Lesson learned: I shouldn't have compromised my health care for convenience.  A hockey player who can't skate has nothing on a mommy on crutches. 

How to Talk so Children Will Listen (hint: it involves cookies)

There are lots of things that don't mix well with toddlers. Lipgloss and pageants come immediately to mind, along with clean houses, uninterrupted thoughts, and permanent markers.  After the last two months I can add "a parent on crutches" to the list.  It's just, well, impossible. 

We returned from the ER with "sprain" as the official diagnosis, and I hobbled to the couch to watch Greg and our sitter, Clara, handle dinner, bedtime and clean up.  Hmmm, this might not be so bad after all.  Then Greg gently reminded me that he had an overnight business trip scheduled the next day.  We extracted promises from Clara for all of her spare time for the next week.  I crawled up the stairs and went to bed.  Or, tried to.  Just as it's impossible to find a comfortable sleeping position when one's stomach is swollen with child, it's also impossible when one's foot has taken on Elephant Man-like proportions.  

The next day passed somehow.  The fun began when we had to return to preschool, 48 hours after The Fall.  Greg was still enjoying his 400 thread count business trip as I tried to get breakfast, empty the dishwasher and make lunches without the use of my hands. 

Then came the moment of truth.  I tried to impress upon my offspring the gravity of the situation.  First, to the four year old: "Buzzy, you are my helper.  You have to wait for me.  You have to listen to me.  You have to do EXACTLY WHAT I SAY."

She fidgeted, "Mommy, did you pack a straw in my lunchbox?"

Next, to the two year old--who, let's face it, was the weak link in this operation, present company excluded: "Rosie, you are a good girl.  You must listen to mommy.  You're going to wait for mommy.  Right?  Right?"

Rosie beamed at me.  "Ess, Mama."

I opened the door, and Buzzy actually waited for me.  Rosie tumbled out the door and promptly fell down the deck stairs onto the concrete driveway.  She lay there for a minute, as I crawled to her.  As I approached, she jumped up and made a beeline for the street.  "Buzzy, RUN."  I yelled to the four year old whom I'd just implored to wait.  "You have to stop Rosie.  GRAB HER, GRAB HER!" 

Buzzy paused, confused by my directions to tackle her baby sister.  Then she enthusiastically went for it.  "TAKE HER DOWN!" I screamed, as I crutched to the foot of the driveway as fast as I could.  "TAKE HER DOWN!"  Both the kids gaped, but at least it successfully distracted Rosie from pursuing her dreams of playing in traffic.  

I wiped the spittle off my face, and we got to school without further incident.  By the return trip, I had figured out that carrying a cookie in my pocket was a more effective, if somewhat less exciting way to get Rosie to the car.  By the end of the day, I learned that getting a toddler to behave by talking to her rather than by swooping in to pick her up is sometimes possible but very time consuming.  (And that bribery worked the best.)  Being "on" with Rosie, and even with Buzzy, was and is the most exhausting part of the injury. 

That evening, my mother, who had read one too many Facebook statuses about her granddaughters in peril, offered to come to stay with us 'till I got back on my feet.  We gratefully took her up on her offer.  She will probably be more careful with her phrasing in the future.