It’s a funny thing when an object so insignificant becomes of great importance.
Every time my parents and I would go to the grocery store I would beg them for a quarter, and sometimes fifty cents to put into the gum-ball machines at Consumers our local grocery store. On one such occasion, out popped a rainbow-colored necklace made of jelly rings. Someone who was born a generation after myself may not know what I mean when I say, “Jelly rings”. Basically anything jelly was a cheap fad made of plastic in the 80’s, accessible to just about everyone, quickly fading away in the early 90’s.
Somehow overtime, this jelly necklace came apart, probably within the first few days of my getting it because I wanted to see how it was made. One of these rings somehow followed me from Ozark, Missouri, to St. Charles and back to St. Louis where it was tossed around my apartment with art supplies and shoved aside with bills. My official last week in St. Louis, I was sorting through art supplies and found this jelly ring. Something made me decide to put it on.
Little did I know, this whim would have a lasting impact. This week I would be visiting my Grandpa on my day off, the same week I found the ring.
My final week I had a hard time saying good-bye to co-workers and didn’t even have a chance to tell family. You see, those last eight to nine months I was battling depression. This isn’t a type of depression that can be cured with a pill, but only with time. However, through this depression, I feel and have felt it has harmed some of my friendships and relationships, and was worried it may have harmed anything I had with my Grandpa. I had turned into a recluse, and had gone from a vivacious fun-loving woman into a semi-hermit lifestyle except when at work when I had to turn on the charm for customers. Most of my co-workers knew what was going on, and some of the causes for this and therefore understood why I chose to lead my life this way.
Many nights I stayed up crying. Many nights I spent wondering where I went. Why wasn’t I the same person? As one best friend said in a brief moment of anger from me not having spent time with her, “You have everything going for you.” She didn’t understand my reclusiveness until l a long explanation followed her outburst.
In the final week of my time in St. Louis, anxiety started to build up in the days leading to seeing my Grandpa. Maybe it was because I knew it might be the last time I would see him? Maybe it was because I was afraid of being a huge disappointment as a Grandchild and didn’t want to let him down? Maybe because I felt like my behavior this last year, the depression, the withdrawing from socialization from the family and from friends would have made him ashamed.
Even I was puzzled by my anxiety. These last months I had anxiety trying to socialize with anyone. As a kid I welcomed company. In fact, I didn’t just welcome it, I celebrated it. Especially when my Grandparents or anyone from the family, or friends of my parents came down who are family to us.
When my Grandparents came, I knew a fun time was going to be had. One time, as soon as they came through the garage door I led them down the hallway to my bedroom to show it off to them, to show how I decorated, or rather plastered it with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and New Kids on the Block posters. When they turned around toward the door where I was, I asked them to pose for a picture where I snapped a Polaroid of them. It is still one of my favorite pictures of them today.
I anticipated the nights we would play Balderdash, the smell of coffee being brewed in the morning, and the sight of seeing both Grandpa and Grandma at the rickety dining room table playing a game they made up a long time ago.
Usually when they would visit, I would wake up to Grandpa making a funnel with his hand, walking down the hall yelling, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!” Much like a bugle call. I would wake up, usually wearing a night-gown featuring the cover of an Archie comic or Sylvester the cat. Waking up groggy I would make my way down the hall and into the dining room where I would see my Grandparents pouring over a list of words on a notebook. This was their morning tradition. They would pick up a dictionary, find a word at random, always more than five letters long, and then they would see how many words they could come up with out of that one word. Usually they would let me play, and they would make exceptions for me allowing me to use three-letter words, instead of their rule they used with each other of four or more letters.
Usually after these mornings, Grandpa would work on a project with my Dad or we would all do something together. However, the thing I looked forward to the most were the nights we would play Balderdash.
This usually consisted of us gathering around that rickety 70’s style laminated table. The chairs were comfortable but usually accentuated my short stature, but in some ways it was perfect because I could easily rest my arms without leaning down on the table because it was the same height as my armpits. There I would sit across from my Grandparents, with my Parents; one sitting at each end of the table.
Grandpa would often tell me in reminiscing about these nights how he would remember me squealing with laughter. Strangely I don’t remember the squealing, but maybe it sounded like squealing to him because my voice was at a higher register then when I laughed?
The game Balderdash usually begins with one person who reads off a word on the lead card from a box of multiple cards like it. Then everyone writes this word on their piece of paper. After the word has been read out, everyone is to make up a definition; no matter how ludicrous it sounds. We would each hand in our card to the lead reader. After playing a few rounds, we could figure out usually whose definition was whose. The point of the game was either to guess the correct definition; earning you two points or bluffing guessing your own and getting everyone to guess your own; sometimes resulting in more than two points. Grandpa however, was so good at making up definitions, it was hard to distinguish his from the actual definition. Actually, now with age and wisdom, I know it was due to his love of words and language and the daily word game he would play with Grandma that he actually knew what most of these words meant.
We would get close to the end of the rounds when both my Mom and Grandma would get frustrated and soon write anything down on that tiny piece of paper erasing it numerous times. It was usually when they gave up that hilarity would ensue. When it was Dad’s turn to read the lead cards, he would usually pre-read my Grandma’s definition and immediately start laughing welling up tears in his eyes. He would then read the definitions, often cracking up more and more with every one read with anticipation of Grandma’s definition thus blowing any cover she had for concealing that her’s was the true definition. This would in turn cause the rest of us to laugh, including Grandpa.
Grandpa would rarely do a belly laugh, but one thing is for certain, usually the one thing that could cause him to laugh heartily was something funny Grandma did or said. It was this laughter that made me sad to say goodbye to them on every visit but welcome them with anticipation, hugs and kisses every time they came to visit.
One time they came to visit over Christmas break when I was 10 years old. It was the worst Christmas break and the most embarrassing break of all time. Dad and Mom had originally set out with the intent to see family over Christmas vacation in St. Louis. It was these trips I looked forward to the most. Seeing extended family was something I always looked forward to. This particular year we were out running errands before the trip, and I started to feel very ill and quite possibly was running a fever. However, I wasn’t about to show it. I wanted to see my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins desperately. My Parents and I were in the middle of JC Penney when suddenly I had an accident, forcing my parents to buy me new underwear there in the store. It was embarrassing but I was too ill to care.
Upon hearing of my illness my Grandparents decided to come visit. When they did, my Grandpa only thought I was mildly sick. Upon their arrival, both Grandma and Grandpa saw the severity of the situation. I was retching up everything that I sipped or swallowed and was severely dehydrated. If it wasn’t the night of their arrival it was the night after they came with my parents and I to the hospital. I had the unfortunate experience of being admitted to the emergency room, where my Dad sat with me in the room while I dry heaved into the white plastic bowl we usually reserved for coffee grounds and eggshells to compost later. Because the room only had a curtain, it couldn’t muffle the sounds of my heaving. Apparently the heaving sounded odd because the Doctors and Nurses were trying to stifle their laughter outside the curtain, as well as my Dad. It was so bad my Mom and Grandparents heard it out in the lobby.
After this visit to the hospital and a first round of antibiotics, my Grandpa took my Mom to the store, and loaded the cart with as many juices as he could find while Grandma and Dad stayed home with me. He would ask, “Would she like this? What about this one? What do you think?” He was obviously alarmed at what had happened. When they came back the refrigerator was filled with fruit juice and Gatorade to the max. It was due to his generosity, and the patience and care of both my Grandparents and my Parents that I was able to get back to health. Within a few days I was back to myself wearing a Tiara made out of a gold pipe cleaner, bouncing on an old brown ratty ottoman from the 1970’s. Even Grandpa took note saying, “Looks like she’s feeling better!”
One of the next visits with Grandma and Grandpa, Grandpa taught me how to shoot a BB gun with my cousin, and then spent some quality time with me showing me how to throw pottery.
You see, my Grandpa was a bit of a genius. He was never tested, it was never confirmed, but he knew how to take parts from other machines and put them together to make a new contraption. This is how he made toys for my Aunts and Mom, and how he put together this potter’s wheel.
I think it was due to his childhood growing up at the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home and having to make due with what you had that he learned how to make new things out of old things.
One time he took apart one of those old exercise machines that people used to use in the 40’s and 50’s; you know the kind, the kind that have the wide belt that go around your rear and then it jiggles every ounce of skin or fat on your body off. At least that was the machine’s intent. He took it apart, used the motor from the machine, and made a conveyor belt from that wide strip people would place around their rears, and hooked it up to a sewing machine pedal. He created a toy for my youngest Aunt that was like the conveyor belts you see at the grocery store.
Like the conveyor belt toy, this is how he put together the potter’s wheel that he and I used that summer. Even though by nature I am very artistic, I didn’t know how to throw a pot to save my life. He taught me, and later taught my cousins how to, and it was one of the most fun experiences I had. He had built a kiln in the basement to support this hobby. He would throw the pottery and Grandma would glaze it. Together they had come up with some amazing pieces of artwork.
This is how they operated, this is how they did things; why buy something when you can make it yourself?
My Grandparents loved to interact with all of us cousins, and even some of our friends. When they would come to visit, not only would I anticipate their visits, but so would one of my best friends who lived around the corner from me. One day I remember she came over and we had been playing in my Parents’ basement. In the next part over is my Dad’s workshop where he makes beautiful benches, furniture and anything under the sun from scratch. It was one of those days Dad and Grandpa had been working on a project while my friend and I had been playing with a doll-house in the basement. My friend and I would hide in the far back room on a musty old bunk bed that used to be my Dad’s when he was our age. We would quietly stand up, make some sort of noise toward the workshop, giggle and hide on that bunk bed, knowing my Grandpa would retaliate with some sort of noise. To our surprise, he made his hand into a funnel, and made a duck noise. We squealed. This is when I personally remember squealing. No matter how hard we would try, my friend and I just couldn’t make our hands into that same funnel shape, and quack back. Instead it came out more like weak flatulence.
This is something I remember about my Grandpa, his humor. This is something where I think we were kindred spirits in a way.
Even when I was a toddler, he nicknamed me the nut, and then I would call back, “Grandpa is a nut!”. One time for his birthday when I was very young, I tried to draw a bunch of peanuts in varied colors of crayons on a piece of black construction paper with scraggly arms and legs. This was probably just after he taught me how to blow the wrapper off a straw in a restaurant; something I got in trouble for with my parents by doing this act solo at Hardees after he and Grandma went back home to St. Louis. On that note, he taught me other things that were innocent trouble-making things to do. Mostly noisy things, like how to pop fallen rose petals using your hands, something I’ve taught to others in my life. When you pop the petal perfectly it lives a small hole in the middle and results in a satisfying bottle rocket noise.
We shared a lot of things. We both shared stubbornness, tenacity, a thirst for knowledge and the curiosity for how things worked and trying to put them together, which reminds me of the jelly necklace I took apart all those years ago.
The day before visiting Grandpa in the nursing home, I prepared for the visit by purchasing the version of Doritos the grocery store that I worked for manufactured and some lemon bars which had been some of Grandpa’s favorite foods. Due to his ailments he was on a very limited diet and was only allowed a few indulgences once in a while. Even when allowed to indulge, he only did so when he felt like it. I was hoping he might indulge with me to prevent me from eating all the lemon bars. Like my cousin said in her blog, he didn’t like people doing anything for him, and loved doing things for others. Anytime any of us did anything for him we had to make it look like the very thing we intended to do for him was something we were doing anyway and any benefit he received of our doing said act-of-kindness was an accident or bi-product so he didn’t feel as if we were doing things for him.
My day off had arrived and I dressed to see my Grandpa. I wanted to look nice, so I wore a blue and green striped wool sweater I received from my Parents at Christmas and some ill-fitting brown dress pants that were too large for me, and some shoddy brown loafer flats. It was all I had at the moment.
I left on the blue jelly ring and wore my bracelets. One bracelet is an orange friendship bracelet from the Art Show I was a part of in October that my boyfriend and I each put on the other’s wrist. The other bracelet is one I picked up with one of my St. Louis besties before my depression set in, made of a green stone called Labradorite. I chose to leave the watch off I typically wear. I wanted to have all the time in the world for Grandpa.
I was nervous. I knew he knew most of what had been going on because Mom would call me with reports of how he had been doing and in turn when she would talk to him she would tell him how I had been doing. He knew I had a new job in Ozark and it came as a surprise to him, which made him claim that I was slick and wile.
Upon my arrival at the nursing home, I walked to his room to not find him there. I quietly walked to the nearest nurses’ station to ask the nurses if they knew where he was. I told the nurse I was his Grand-daughter. That is when the nurse exclaimed, “You’re the second one to see him today!” This made me glad. It made me glad that despite being a horrible Grand-daughter with depression that someone in my absence was visiting and keeping an eye on him.
The nurse said he was visiting a friend down the hall. I quickly said I didn’t want to interrupt if he was busy. He said it was alright and a fellow nurse went to grab him. She wheeled him down the hallway backwards and then swirled him around in a semi-circle to surprise him. He was genuinely surprised to see me. I asked him if he would like for me to wheel him to his room and he replied, “No, it’s O.K. I got it.” Now I know where I get my inability to accept help from. He used his legs to peddle himself down the hallway and we made our way into his room.
As we sat there, he asked how I had been doing and what was new. I burst into tears. I honestly don’t remember everything I said in that moment, but I wanted him to know how bad I felt, and how I knew I was a horrible Grandchild for not having the guts to shake this stupid depression and come see him. He peddled a few steps with his feet towards his bed where I was sitting and gently picked up my hand and held it; the one with the formerly insignificant blue jelly ring. I remember looking at his hazel eyes with my own tears welling and dripping from my eyes. He reassured me saying everything was O.K. It was then that I saw he wasn’t upset, he wasn’t mad or ashamed. What I saw, was that he understood. He knew I had to do what I had to do in the plight of self-preservation. He softly spoke, “Don’t cry, these aren’t sad tears, they are happy tears.” He then said I was going home and, “You’ll be with your best buddies, your Mom and Dad.” I kept trying to shove the tears off my face. I hate being weak, and hate crying in front of people, even those who love and know me.
It was then he told me what he had told Mom. He said, “Wow, you fooled us all!” He told me that me finding the job seemed to come out of nowhere. He exclaimed in his own way how proud he was of me and then while sitting there with his big hazel eyes he said something I will never forget, “You’re a rolling stone! You don’t let moss grow under YOUR feet!” Strangely every time I hear Mick Jagger I think of Grandpa now, even though he didn’t mean it in that sort of way.
My tears quickly dried and we began talking about the new job, what it meant and what I would be doing. He still couldn’t believe how I inquired on a whim the day after Christmas at the law firm in Ozark and how fast I got the job as a Legal Secretary.
While we sat and chatted he claimed he could only have a few of the faux Doritos I brought and wound up eating more. He refused the Lemon Bars so I ate two and refused to eat the rest. Pretty soon it was getting dark and we said our good byes. I told him I loved him and that I wanted to bring in my boyfriend to meet him in a couple of weekends when I would be back up to move. Due to a cold, that never happened. Then the following weekend he passed away while my parents and I were en route to see him upon the news of his failing health.
Like my cousin who wrote a blog herself about Grandpa, I am having a hard time writing this because it is causing me to tear and well up.
I hope that wherever he and Grandma are, they are looking and seeing how well we are all doing and that we are making them proud. This is for Grandpa, the instigator of fun trouble, the gardener, the giver, the engineer, the nut…the rolling stone himself. I love you.