<Continued from “Nana is Dying and You Are Not Invited” post.>
I walk through the familiar wide golden oak front door and set two bags just inside the door, stashing them behind her chair.
“Hi darlin’, how are you feeling today?” Coming around her chair, hands free, I bend down to kiss her pale sunken cheek.
She has been shrinking for years. Now she looks like a strong wind might sweep her away from me.
“I am ok.” Nana’s quivering voice a pale shadow of the woman I remember. Her skin hangs off sharp bones.
“Really?” I feel my one tell-tale eyebrow climb in query. I have loud face. She does not look ok.
“Oh well I am a little tired honey.” She reaches up to pat my cheek and I can feel the fine tremble in her slender fingers.
“Have you eaten anything today?” Her skin is slightly cool against my face on this early summer day.
I am comfortable in a black sleeveless undershirt, jeans, and soft leather moccasin boots laced up to my knees. I notice she is wearing her old purple sweatshirt and the new yellow warmup pants my mother sent her.
The day is warm, her clothes are warm, and yet her skin is cool and she trembles.
“Oh, I had a bite of toast this morning with my medicine.” She flutters four perfectly shaped shell pink fingernails in a dismissing gesture towards the kitchen.
Her middle finger is missing its final joint. She cut it off in a laundry accident when I was 10. I so clearly remember that day.
The day she called and my dad answered the phone.
God-the-Father listens for only a moment, throws the phone to me without a word and runs out the door.
I have almost never seen my father run.
He generally saunters.
This time he runs all the way up the street, the three doors from our house to Nana’s house.
I put the phone to my ear and say, “Hello?”
I hear Nana’s quivering voice say, “I cut my finger off. I wrapped it in a towel.”
“Dad is on his way. He is running.” There is a hint of wonder in my voice.
“Ok,” she says, “Go tell your mother what is going on.”
I hang up the phone and go to tell John-Wayne-Mother.
I walk into their bedroom.
“Who was that on the phone?” She asks.
“Nana cut off her finger.” I report.
“What??” Where is your father?” She demands.
“He ran up to Nana’s.” I am still shocked to have seen him run. He normally strolls through life, calm and assured.
She grabs the postcard showing a glowing nighttime picture of the statue of liberty and New York City’s skyline. God-the-Father had recently gone to New York on a business trip, and of course, a tour of Bethal. The Watchtower, Bible, and Tract Society’s main headquarters.
She stuffs the card into her library book marking her place and heads for the bathroom to run a quick comb thru her short dark hair. “Go tell your brother to get his shoes on, get your shoes, and grab a book. We have to go to the hospital and you know how long that takes.”
I run to get my brother and my stuff.
Just as the three of us hit the living room God-the-Father pulls up in Nana’s car with her in the front seat. He honks the horn and we all run out and jump in the car.
We rush her to the ER with the tip of her finger wrapped in ice.
The doctors say she is too old for her finger to be reattached.
There is nothing to be done for her. They bandage her up and send her home with us.
She has always told me that she was afraid of that deathtrap of a laundry hamper.
Her house has a built-in laundry hamper in her house. For as long as I can remember she told all of the grandchildren never to touch it.
It is large. Something like three feet tall, three feet wide, and 18 inches deep. It is heavy. It is weighted to pull itself back closed with a vibrating clunk. It is perfectly sized to fit a child.
Nana said, “When your grandfather built that thing I told him it was too heavy. I said it was dangerous. I was always afraid one of the kids was going to climb in there and get killed. It is such a tempting size for mischievous little boys, and I always had a house full of them. But your grandfather insisted I needed a built-in laundry hamper.
Thirty-some years she lived with this hamper. She was afraid and nothing bad happened. Then, in one instant, the cupboard door slips from her grip and snaps off the end of her finger.
That was twenty years ago now. I notice fingers don’t grow back.
Now she is old and frail. I got here in the late afternoon and hear she has eaten one piece of toast many hours ago.
“Nana,” I say with a small worried crease appearing between my eyes. “It is four o’clock in the afternoon. You need to eat. I will get you something.”
“No, no,” She shakes her head with familiar doggedness. “Come and sit next to me for a minute. Tell me, how are you? How are the children? Where are they? Didn’t you bring them with you? Are they outside?”
I slip to my knees next to her big rose-colored recliner and put my hand over hers. “Of course darlin’, I am happy to talk with you first. I am fine. The kids are fine too. No, they are not with me. I left them home.”
“I wish you would bring them. There is plenty of room for all of you. I am all alone in this big old house. I would love to have all of you here.” She pats my face and smiles. “Sweetheart, get a chair! You are going to hurt your knees.” She fusses over me gesturing towards the old polished wood rocking chair in the corner.
“I am fine Nana.” Sitting back on my heels, I smile and shake my head decisively. “I like the floor.” Patting her thin fingers, I add, “I brought us some food, whenever you are ready.” I frown slightly and add, “If you are too tired to come to the table I can bring you a plate in here.”
“Oh no dear I am fine. I can come to the table.” She sits up straighter, “Are you hungry? Honey, let’s go get you some food.” She starts to jump up to hurry to the kitchen.
She stumbles as she pushes herself out of the deep chair. I shoot up onto one knee and steady her with one hand under her elbow and one at her waist.
In an instant I am eight years old and helping her up at night in my room. When it was my job to take care of her.
“Darlin’, slow down, please,” my tone somewhere between a plea and a laugh. “Here let me walk with you. Hold onto my arm.”
I offer her my elbow in finest gentlemanly fashion. With a small bow and a sweep of my other hand in the direction of the kitchen I say, “Madame, may escort you to supper?”
“Why yes,” she offers me a small almost curtsey in return. “Thank you, kind sir!” She takes my proffered arm with a small laugh.
I see a bit of color back in her face. She is flush with the energy and attention, but she leans more heavily on my arm than she ever has.
She calls me ‘sir’ without a hint of irony or apparent awareness of my gender transgressions. It looks to me like she is playing the same game with me we have always played…Pretend.
“I don’t have much, but I can heat you a can of soup.” She offers as we make our way to the other room.
“Nana! I am not here to eat your food.” The mock scandal in my voice edges into a little laugh. “No, I made us a roast chicken, little new potatoes, and some beautiful carrots I found at the farmer’s market.”
“You did! That sounds delicious. Did you buy one of the roast chickens from Safeway? You know they have a lot of salt.”
“Of course not darlin’. I would never serve you salt. I roasted it myself in that nice clay baker I have.” We arrive in the spotless kitchen with its harvest gold linoleum. “Perhaps you could set the table?”
“I would be delighted.” She washes her hands at the empty sink. Then heads for the cupboard where the plates have been kept almost longer than my mother has been alive.
“I will go fetch the food. I will be right back.” I bounce lightly on my toes and dart into the living room. I grab the two grocery bags on the floor just inside the door.
In addition to the roast chicken dinner I have some good bread, half and half, nice coffee, and real butter.
I will be here for a few days, I expect.