It’s not often I talk about my childhood with people. Not because it was a horrible childhood, it wasn’t — it was the only childhood I know, but because my life is so different now than it was back then. I grew up poor, but I guess I really didn’t realize it back then. I lived with my single mom for most of my childhood, until I was 12, when I moved in with my father. Most of that time we lived out in the country, and I do mean country. Being an only child, my outside fun often involved making sure I didn’t step on Cooperheads, going to the Yadkin River, and catching lizards. We lived in a trailer, a single-wide, in the middle of the woods for a while. I remember my mom being so proud of buying her first home. I remember the 1989 red Chevy Cavalier she bought, her first new car, it would later become the first car I owned as well, and I remember playing basketball in the back yard of my grandmother’s with my aunt, who only a few years older than me always seemed more like a sister than an aunt.
It’s funny, I have a remarkable memory. I can remember so much about my childhood, just like it was yesterday. I remember spending a lot of time with my three cousins, mostly on the weekends, but because we all went to the same schools, weekdays were not uncommon.
My childhood was far from perfect. Once I open up to people and talk about my childhood I am often told I should write a book. The picture of dysfunction would be a great title.
When you are a kid you don’t realize the full scoop of that. Dysfunction. Being poor.
Through all of those years… the tears, the ER visits, the birthdays, and the… dysfunction, there were very few constants in my life. Aside from my aunt who was always there, I would say my grandmother was the second most constant person in my life. In all honesty, it was likely because my aunt lived with my grandmother… but non-the-less, my grandmother was always there. It was at her house I stayed a lot of nights. Her single-wide was literally two houses down from mine. It was there I would catch the bus a lot of times. It was there I would come after school. There I would often have dinner and sleep on the floor in my aunts bedroom, always wanting to be a little closer to the person who shaped me more than anyone else. It was there I learned to ride a bike, my red Schwinn that I loved so much. It was there I used to slide down the hill on an orange sled, in the leaves mostly… except for the year it did snow and I broke my grandmothers new dogwood tree. Through all of that… my grandmother was there. Normally in the exact same chair, watching tv, or at the table playing cards. Rummy. She loved to play rummy…and drink milk. I’ve never seen someone drink as much milk as she did. I swear she would go through a gallon a day, herself.
My grandmothers relationship with any of her children was never perfect, and that filtered down to the kids often. She was never an overly affectionate women… but I always knew she loved me. It wasn’t the typical grandmother’s love.. it was a firm, tough love… but it was love non the less.
During my high school years my grandmother moved her trailer to the coast of NC. Where she grew up, but hours away from “home”. I went from seeing her constantly to seeing her every few months. I called her often.. and as soon as I would go see her it was always as if nothing had changed. She still sat in the same chair. She still LOVED to play cards. and at first her home was still smoke filled.
Then a few years ago I found out that my dad’s mom had Alzheimer’s. It progressed quickly and in January of 2010 we lost her. Right around that time my other grandmother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s as well. At first it was a slow realization. She would repeat herself over and over again. She would tell you something and as soon as there was a pause in the conversation she would start again with the same story. Then, over the last four years, my grandmother changed. That once firm, tough love, became almost childlike… and scared. She began to lose weight and her health started to fail. Finally, a few months ago the decision was made to place her into a nursing home, where she is currently in hope that she could go through therapy and get better and go home.
Unfortunately that option was taken off of the table last month… and last week my grandmother “gave up” according to her doctors. My once strong, stubborn, fiercely independent and political grandmother who knew everyone in my town it seemed, and everything about them… has become a shell of what she was. She cannot remember what she last ate for dinner and has been unable to get out of bed since Thursday. On Monday I went to see her and was shocked at the sudden change. My aunt dropped everything and flew in yesterday, and this morning she is surround by family. All of her children and grand children have visited her within the last 48 hours, something I venture to say hasn’t happened in 10 years. And this morning the decision was made to call in Hospice.
Last night at dinner my fortune read “Do what you want to do. There are only so many tomorrows.” That is so true. Life is so short. I know I say it a lot, but it’s because I truly try to live it. Make sure those around you know how much you mean to them… how much you love them… and that they have a place in your heart. I’ve never had the illusion I was guaranteed a long life, and maybe that is why I do try to normally go out of my way to show those in my life what they mean to me… including my family.
Don’t fill my wall with “I’m sorry”‘s or anything like that. Instead tell those who matter to you how much they matter.. and say a prayer for my grandmother… and my entire family.