My sister called last night. She was on her way home from visiting our Grandma in the hospital. Grandma & Grandpa live in a small town, where the hospital isn’t equipped to perform any kind of surgery. So Grandma went to the big city to have something removed, and my sister (the GOOD granddaughter) went to see her. (They wanted to watch American Idol together, but the nurses kicked my sister out at 9. It’s probably just as well. I’m pretty sure Grandma was pulling for Archuleta,
and my sister would have felt compelled to mock her mercilessly.)
“How is she?”
“Good, good. But something weird happened.”
(Oh my god, old person, hospital, surgery, do I really want to hear this?) “What happened?”
“I saw Grandma’s legs.”
“She was in a hospital gown. And I saw her legs.”
“How is that weird???”
“When have you ever seen her bare legs?”
Grandma’s only outfit is a white blouse (long or short sleeved, as the season dictates) and a pair of polyester pants (“Slacks, Ginny. A lady calls them slacks.”) I haven’t seen her legs in 20 years.
When I was a kid, if it got really freaking hot, she’d cut the sleeves off a blouse, the legs off a pair of those polyester pants, hem them neatly, and go about her gardening. Grandma is short (5’3” then, shorter now) and was always overweight. And she came from a generation that most definitely didn’t put its collective moneymaker on display. But when you’re a big boned gal and it’s 110 degrees out, you make some exceptions.
Every now and again, she’d call me over to help with something in her yard. I’d hold the string to mark the rows she was planting, or I’d help her weed her vegetables. She gardened from a kitchen chair (whose back had fallen off), and I’d be down in the dirt. It didn’t happen often, this kind of afternoon. We lived on the same farm, in 2 different houses. Grandma was pretty clear that my brother and sisters and I were to stay in our own yard. The “border” she’d decided on was a line of lilac bushes between the 2 houses. (It was never determined whether playing in the bushes themselves constituted a violation. I think it was considered an ersatz DMZ, and tactfully ignored.) But every now and again she’d get a surge of grandmotherly feelings (or maybe she couldn’t nag Grandpa into holding the string for her) and call me over.
One day, when I was 5 or 6, the grandmotherly instincts must have been pretty strong. The gardening was followed by an invitation to stay for supper. The rest of my family joined us. We were sitting in Grandma’s breakfast nook, having dessert. I was nearly sitting on Grandma’s lap, and I looked up at her arm. In that moment, her flabby arm reminded me of a big ol’ piece of bread dough, so I started kneading it. When my mom asked me what the hell I thought I was doing, I sang “Baking bread, baking bread, baking bread…” She yelled at me to stop, and Grandma said “No, no. It’s funny.” But she wasn’t laughing. Apparently, I was hell bent on making my mother wish the floor would open up and swallow her, because I went on to ask what those blue and purple things were on Grandma’s legs. My mom tried again to shut me up; Grandma matter-of-factly told me they were varicose veins. Which my kid ears heard as “very close veins” (made sense – if they could be seen, they must be very close to the surface of the skin). Another day, when it was just Grandma and I, I asked her why my arms didn’t flap, and why my legs were smooth.
“You’re just a little girl. You’re perfect.”
My cheeks were hot. Compliments, any kind words, from my Grandma were rare.
“But you won’t always be.” She smiled, then.