The house was silent, the way she liked it these days. She really didn’t mind the sound of conversing among live people, but she held a grudge against that television, the one that stood silently, now, in the living room. It had taken her family away from her when it was invented, with its ability to laugh-on-command and numb the brain.
The dishes were stacked in the rack, dripping their way to dryness. Soon, she’d put them away in the cabinets. A silent army ready to host food again for her husband, maybe her daughter and her daughter’s kids. It’d be nice to have supper at the dinner table, some conversation and clinking of silverware to bring the kitchen to life.
The woman sighed and mindlessly continued moving her fingernail over the grout on the counter top. She did a lot of things the slow way these days. Hand washing dishes, cleaning grout with her fingernails. Gave her time to think. There was a time when she would have given anything to have time to just think. She supposed she could spray some of that bleach cleaner on and wipe it off and that would clean the grout in two seconds. Grout she hadn’t wanted. She hadn’t wanted this house at all so far from her family, with its close proximity to the dirt road out front. Seemed as if she was forever dusting everything and it never stayed clean. If one car drove by five minutes after she was done dusting, which it always did, the dirt would fly up and permeate through the cracks and there it was again. Dusty, dusty house.
Marriage was like that, though. She’d done things just because her husband had wanted to. He was a smart man, a good man. She just wished he’d ask her opinion and listen when she gave it. But he never asked and never listened when she gave it anyway. Made her wonder sometimes why she bothered. Married for over 50 years and he still did his own thing, thinking it was best for her without asking. Stubborn, bull-headed German. She shook her head and muttered to herself.
It was coming up on her birthday, she wondered if he’d remember. Probably not. He never did. She remembered his and everyone else’s, always mailing birthday cards with a little note. Hardly anyone remembered hers. Sometimes, though she’d get a note in reply, sometimes even in Swedish, the language of her parents. It was reason enough to keep on remembering.
She’d given her body for her children, six of them, with the last two being twins at 40, no less. Took it out of a person, growing life inside you, expelling them into the world and then raising them. Her back was hunched now, her hips fragile. Osteoporosis does that to a person.
Brought the first genuine smile to her lips in days to see the shock on her granddaughter’s face the other day when, in a skirt, she’d climbed over the barbed wire fence in the back yard, did it oh, so carefully, but showed her that grandma could still do that tomboy stuff of her youth. Just on a smaller scale these days.
The door knob rattled and the backdoor opened and there in the kitchen appeared that granddaughter, tall, straight and slim. Her eyes lifted from the dirty grout in hope, thinking perhaps her granddaughter was coming in to sit down and talk for a bit. Nope, the young girl slipped silently past, heading to the bathroom. Would it kill the girl to acknowledge her grandma instead of walking by like she’s invisible? Teenagers these days. Her eyes lowered back to her fingernail moving over the grout, thinking that someday that girl might understand what a little time given would mean to someone.
The stories the old woman had to tell, such fascinating stories. How it was unheard of back in 1930’s for a woman to drive, but she had learned how. How her mother had swept a dirt floor and the irony of that, sweeping a dirt floor to get the dirt out. The stories of her courtship with her husband, that sparkle in his blue eyes and the glint of the sun in his hair the color of which echoed the sun. How handsome he was. Oh, how they had enjoyed their ridiculous banter with each other back then. Probably made no sense to anyone else, but sometimes that’s how love is. Lordy, how he’d made her laugh back then. His motorcycle and how she rode on the back of it. Their first child, a little girl and the joy she brought. How starting a family had made them feel like they had crossed an invisible fence into adulthood. How children are a marker of how time passes you by all too quickly. What a hard worker her husband was and how he always seemed to buy the right piece of farmland at just the right time for their needs. Their second child, third and fourth child. How the time, it just seemed to accelerate and blur. The children growing, going through school.
The ups and downs of hormonal changes, the feelings of being alone in the middle of chaos. He’d somehow given up making her laugh and instead devoted that effort to his friends in town. Then having the twins, such a surprise at the end. Her regrets that she had no time to spend with each child, to see their accomplishments and kiss their boo-boos. There was just too much to be done. How no one had seemed to understand how a person could get depressed and overwhelmed, and then feel guilty for feeling that way. How could one feel depressed and overwhelmed when you have so many blessings?
She’d had to go away for awhile to get better, she hadn’t wanted to. In fact, she didn’t remember much about that time, except feeling resentful toward her husband for making her feel like she was inadequate and immature. He sure could’ve handled that transition a lot better than he did. But intuiting things about feelings and emotions just wasn’t part of him. Understanding things he’d never experienced himself, such as depression, loneliness and being overwhelmed, well, those are things you were expected to snap out of. Maybe someday, she hoped, someone would understand her. Maybe someday people would realize she hadn’t “gotten better”, she’d just gotten better at swallowing the pill of bitterness.
In early 1987, my grandma and I had gone to Sprouse Reitz, a variety store similar to Woolworth’s but on a smaller scale. We had shopped together, she had bought a new dress, I don’t even remember the price anymore, but I don’t think it was very much money. It was special, though, because it was such a rarity for her to buy herself something, and even moreso because we had chosen it together.
She passed away in 1987 after a long struggle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. I’ve often wondered if what she died of was symbolic of the life she lived.
She was buried in the dress from the five & dime store. I insisted on it, actually, in my 16 year old wisdom, because even though the dress had cost maybe $20, she had bought it because she thought it was so pretty. Plus, it was the newest dress in her closet.
I’ve thought about her over the past few years. I wish I could tell her that I now understand her, at least in some ways.