My grandfather is 92. He moved last week into an acute care facility, from his apartment in an assisted living home. He was getting disoriented, falling down, and landing himself in the hospital time and again.
My grandfather's name is Bernie. Bernard Stanton Crone. He's a funny man, and spent most of his years as a traveling salesman. My father has stacks of postcards from my Grandfather's travels. Grandpa Bernie had the most meticulous garage I've ever seen. I remember visiting him, sitting in the garage with him, looking at every tool, every nail, every nut, tucked into a jar or hanging on a peg board. I remember exactly how the garage smelled--like a mixture of oil and wood and pine needles. Grandpa Bernie had a martini every single day, at 5 o'clock. He used to keep his gin, vermouth, and olives in a little gray carrying case with a black handle. He calls us sweethearts, and has the most distinct voice: low and soft and gravelly.
My grandmother, named Margaret but known to my sisters and me as Muma, passed away about 10 years ago. When I think of my Muma, I think of her softness. Everything physical about my Muma was soft: her graying red hair, her hands, her smile and eyes. But she was strong-willed, had strong opinions, a spirited giggle, and a fierce love for chocolate. She wore a lot of amethyst, and had several diamond rings that she would point to and tell me would someday belong to me and my sisters. Muma did a lot of needlepoint, and had a love of birds. Especially Cardinals. She had Cardinals on her sweatshirts, on her window thermometer, on her needlepoint. She gave amazing hugs.
My grandparents met, around 1935 or so, when Muma got a job at a department store. She began to walk to her bus stop every morning, which was on a corner with a gas station. My Grandpa Bernie worked at this gas station. And she caught his eye, getting on and off the bus each day. He finally asked her on a date, and they eventually married and had two sons.
I'm not sure Grandpa Bernie remembers any of this right now. I know he does in his heart. But I'm not sure what is in his head.
I went to visit him yesterday. He asked me, often, what time it was. I would tell him and he would seem surprised, but would nod. I joked that I would try to sneak him a martini at 5 o'clock. And he smiled and laughed.
He said, several times, "So much has happened...".
And it has. But I don't think he knows exactly what.
I held his hand, and he would sometimes turn to look at me. Sometimes he was surprised and confused as to who I was. But twice, twice, he looked at me and squeezed my hand. He said, "thank you, sweetheart." Or "love you, dear." And he would squeeze my hand. And I would squeeze back. That's pretty much all I can do right now. That, and not letting him see me cry.
This morning was gray, and cold, and I made tea and toast and sat at the table, looking out the window into the backyard. Seconds after I sat down, a brilliant red cardinal landed in a bush, directly in my eyeline. It was stunning. It sat there, looking at me, looking away, and back at me.
I know that was my Muma. I know it was.
And because of that, I know Grandpa is going to be OK. Whatever happens, it will be OK. She will hold his hand, and he will call her sweetheart. And they will fly off, together.