Dog days

Grandmother with great-granddaughter

I called my grandmother today. She said she’d been waiting for me to call her back for the last two weeks. She said she’d left a message on the answering machine at the beach, a message I’d assumed was already old when I heard it because I’d talked to her the day before. The date stamp on the answering machine was no help. Sunday 2pm, the tinny robot man informed me on Wednesday. I pictured her sitting by her phone unmoving while the sun rose and set in the sky, again and again.

My grandmother launches right into politics and world war III. She says “I know you won’t believe me” which makes my ears perk up like when I hear my name mentioned in another room.  She uses some word that isn’t really a word – castrophy? astrosy? It’s familiar enough that it rolls around on the tip of my tongue, waiting for the correct combination to fall out.

She asks after me and the kids and Joe and moves onto childhood friends I still keep in touch with. I tell her about one friend who had surgery and another who suddenly became gravely ill and she says “You know what that means?”

“I’m next?” I ask.

“It means you’re the HEALTHIEST one,” she says, her voice strong and proud.

She asks if I still smoke and I say no too quickly and then remember the time in high school she walked right up and reached into my pocket and pulled out a pack of smokes I’d thought were hidden. I think I was smoking Benson and Hedges then because, you know, sophistication. She let me smoke at her house once and we lit our cigarettes on the stove and stood in the kitchen chatting like old friends. I cherished that moment until she ratted out the smoking to my parents. Some wounds are hard to forgive.

My grandmother tells me about an AARP luncheon she went to that cost $3.37. She has no idea why that oddball number but says they couldn’t provide change so she wound up giving them a sixty-three cent tip. She points out the lunch included unlimited coffee and declares it a “good deal” even for $4.  The speaker during lunch joked how old the crowd was and said no one could hear him but they were all nodding at where they thought he might be because they couldn’t see him either. My grandmother says they almost fell out of their chairs they were laughing so hard. I picture overturned walkers and canes askew, broken hips and $3.37 plates everywhere.

When my grandmother learns Joe is out of town, she tells me she wishes I would come down to visit even though she knows I can’t.  She says it just like my kids do when they point out a wonderful toy they know I won’t buy them. I launch into a lengthy excuse involving our cat’s new medication regime for asthma. My grandmother suggests maybe we adopted a defective cat and spends five minutes detailing how she came to the decision to put each of her long-gone cats to sleep.

Her cats all had funny sounding names because they were Lithuanian, like my grandmother. One of my friends used to ask me to tell her the cats’ names because she could never remember but thought they were hilarious. We used to prank call people and I would ask confused old ladies if my grandmother’s cats were there.

“Yes, may I please speak with Snujuki Ryunuki?” I would ask in some terrible accent while my friend trembled with laughter. Kids these days don’t appreciate how caller ID ruined everything, really.

My grandmother and I talk about how hot it’s been and how much worse our storms are than anybody else’s storms anywhere, ever. She tells me she can’t go outside in the afternoon because it’s too humid and there’s nothing to look forward to. For a moment, I can’t remember if I’m old like her. It feels like we are the same person, even.

I say these are the dog days of summer. They’re supposed to be lazy and easy, but mostly they feel deflated and bleached out. We bide our time sprawled across the cool tile, waiting for some sweet breeze we don’t even believe is coming.

My grandmother tells me she’s going to make sauerkraut though she doesn’t know why because no one is coming to eat it. She sounds happy before we hang up, bright with anticipation of cooking for an army of none. When it’s time to say goodbye, she makes a kissing sound through the phone. I do the same and the asthmatic cat looks up expectantly. My grandmother and I say our goodbyes and I pad off into the kitchen like a lazy, aimless dog.

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25 thoughts on “Dog days

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  1. What a beautiful story, Kristen. You painted a scene that a few of us with different-accented Grandma’s might have (mine was German). I loved how you wove through your conversations.
    And the part “For a moment, I can’t remember if I’m old like her. It feels like we are the same person, even.” This line made me miss my Grandmas and the conversations about coming to see them and always finding a reason why I couldn’t. It’s trite to say that I wish I had those days back OR to be more of an adult in the child years that I spent with them. Had I been a little more mature, I would have recognized the life lessons they were teaching me at the time, instead of discovering them (and cherishing them) after they were gone and it’s too late to tell them.
    Oh my! This makes me sound melancholy and rambly doesn’t it? Perhaps, I’ll just pad off to the kitchen, too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. just gorgeous….
    seriously beautiful writing.
    I had a different kind of gramma, hard, mean, i lived to get one over on her and ignored her in the long, demented end.
    Yours sounds beautiful.

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  3. Oh man, I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that AARP lunch! This made me miss my Mamo who died years ago. When I’d call her and ask how she was, she was 100% honest and didn’t waste time with words like “fine” and “hanging in there”. She’d go into TMI detail about all of her ailments and tell me that I was a negligent daughter because I didn’t call my own mom enough. I miss her and you took me back in time. 🙂

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  4. you see? You SEE??? THIS is why I think you rock. Your writing kicks ass. You hit all the marks on this one and it was a simple phone call, but you paint a whole picture. That doesn’t come by accident, my friend. That’s frickin’ talent. You’re a wordsmith. Love it. I’ve got some learning to do – and you’re one of my teachers.

    Beautiful piece.
    Paul

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love older people as they have a simplicity that I so envy.
    My mum is 94 and she has all of the qualities of your grandma. That ‘matter- of-fact’ attitude that suggests they have seen it before and it isn’t quite that bad.
    Kristen you really can capture emotion and it delights me. Many of us think and talk beautiful things but to actually convey a sense of emotion so vividly in a piece of writing, is rare and a true gift. It is like painting a wall yellow and having a guest comment on how friendly the room seems, there is a depth that is not easily achieved.
    For a moment, I didn’t know whether I was reading of a person I love and perhaps, yes, ‘If I’m old like her’.
    Beautifully written BB – you are a star! B

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  6. Oh, my. What everyone else has already said about this piece. Beautiful. Evocative. And yes, it makes me miss my grandmother, too. She’s been gone, I think 13 years now.

    Thanks for sharing this. You are a treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. this was so lovely and a sweet read~ i miss my grand mom. so happy you have her in your life. so enjoyed your post! Hmmm, I could go for some sauerkraut~ i bet she has a yummy recipe!

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  8. This was such a kindred story, Kristen. I found your blog over at Paul’s Message in a Bottle since he nominated us for the “Blogging From the Heart Tour.” And I can see why! After reading this, I am now reminded I should go and call my grandmother. I try to keep in touch with her at least once a week but is this really enough? I mean, if it were up to her, I know she would probably like to talk to me a lot more than that.
    We are Lithuanian so I appreciated your cat naming jokes=)
    My grandmother also goes to a luncheon several times a week where they only charge seniors 2 bucks!
    I look forward to learning more about you and your writing.

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  9. This is why I love reading your words. You just have this niche for pulling it all together in the right order with the right ingredients — you know how to tug at hearts. Always a pleasure to read and ponder. Good, good stuff. xox Lisa

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