. . . you have too many candles on your cake!
In the warm New England summers of my youth, I spent a great deal of time with my maternal grandmother. I can remember my parents making the trek to Burlington Vermont, packing my grandmother into the Buick sedan and bringing her to our home in Western Massachusetts to stay for the summer.
We had wonderful times together sitting on the shaded front porch nestled just below the massive leafy branches of the towering maple tree in the front yard. She would tell me the stories of her youth, like how much she loved ice skating and about the time she beat up some bullies in defense of her younger brother.
Although she wasn’t a wizard in the kitchen, we enjoyed her famous mac and cheese layered with buttered elbows, extra sharp cheddar, and whole tomatoes from the can, and her strawberry shortcake made from homemade biscuits that looked like giant cookies the size of a dinner plate; both beyond compare.
My grandmother was rotund, short, and wore reliable tan suede Clark Wallabee shoes and matching polyester pants and vests that, to quote my mother, ‘wore like iron’. She used an old wooden cane to steady her travels, although she still managed to take numerous falls, many of which left her laughing heartily at herself, especially when she ended up ‘ass over teakettle’ in the bushes.
She knew what she liked; on one hand she was never shy about enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail – Southern Comfort on the rocks with just a splash of water which seemed to only enhance her quick wit, and on the other a true connoisseur when it came to enjoying a fine meal of franks and beans, saving the fleshy chunk of salt pork for her last delectable bite. We all enjoyed our summers with her; we were lucky!
As the years passed and her mobility suffered, she moved in with my parents permanently. She had her own space which included a separate bedroom, living room and bathroom, but my mother was always within ear shot. “Ma,” she would bellow to her daughter, wanting for some ‘thing’ or merely her attention.
Despite her aches and pains, she still made her way to the kitchen, cane in hand, to snap green beans for the family dinner, throw back a cocktail, or grace us with an entertaining story from her past. But, most of her time was spent in her living room, relaxing in her motorized lift chair while reading a juicy novel, watching an old western or soap opera, or plucking a few ornery hairs from her chin.
She practiced the fine art of ‘accumulation’, surrounding herself with the things she deemed necessary to survive the day. An LL Bean wooden side table occupied the spot next to her chair, housing all that she could possibly need: novel, television remote, tv guide and pencil for the crossword, glass of water covered with plastic wrap, tissues and one of those grabber sticks that could pick something up just out of reach. The table had multiple shelves adequate for holding even more necessities like a nail file, nail polish, tweezers and hand mirror, small scissors, lotion, pen and pad, magnifying glass, envelopes and stamps.
I’m not sure if my grandmother’s lack of mobility was the catalyst for accumulating paraphernalia next to her chair, but I have noticed that it’s a common thread shared by many elderly people. My husband recalls both of his grandmothers placing small containers on their side tables to hold the smallest of necessary trinkets.
I find myself asking, what is inevitable for all of us as we age: dentures, tight perms, canes, side tables and containers filled with ‘necessary’ paraphernalia? Who knows, but maybe surrounding yourself with things that make you feel comfortable isn’t such a bad thing.
Whether it’s a sign of old age or not, we all like to place things around us that bring us comfort; that simplify our lives, like cell phones or iPads for example. Life is tough enough, maybe a small container placed conveniently on a side table next to our favorite chair is just what we all need.
Having said that, I’m hoping my need for order and a visually pleasing side table outweighs my need for ‘necessary’ stuff. Now, at 80 years of age, my mother and father appear to have different ‘accumulation’ problems; it’s rumored that a collection of papers are apparently swallowing them whole in their living room.
I think one of the bigger concerns we should all have is when we verbally start adding an ‘s’ to the end of a word that does not contain one, like ‘Walmarts’. When that crazy phenomenon happens, I’m giving my children permission right now to call me out!