“Nana was in a car accident.” God-the-Father says while my brother and I stand next to his Big Chair. “She broke both of her shoulders and one of her wrists. The doctors strapped her arms to her chest and tied them to her body so she can heal.” He looks at us with calm serious eyes. “Your mother is going to fly back and pick her up from the hospital. She will bring Nana home.”
We nod quietly and watch Father closely.
“When she gets here,” he continues, “she is going to stay with us until she gets better. She will need a lot of help for a while.”
God-the-Father is the son of a doctor. He grew up working in his father’s office and John-Wayne-Mother says he has excellent bedside manners.
“Her bandages might look funny or scary, but they are helping her get better. She can’t wear a cast because it is her shoulders that are broken. They tied her arms across her chest so that she doesn’t move them. This will give her bones a chance to heal.”
His calm clear words tell me I can handle what is happening. I am not afraid.
It has taken John-Wayne-Mother a week to go and fetch Nana home. She needed to stay in the hospital until today. They got on the airplane to come home this morning. We have been working to make the house ready for her. At eight-years-old I can change the sheets on my bed by myself.
One of my Believing-Aunts dropped off an old army cot. My mother always borrows this cot for me to sleep on when visiting grandmas need my bed.
I am happy to share my room with my grandmas. It is like a sleepover.
I don’t have friends over very much. I am by myself in my room most of the time. So I am happy she is in my room because it is like having a slumber party every night.
I can have my bed any old time, but Grandmas only stay with us once in a while.
“Children, they are here. Come and help carry their luggage.” God-the-Father calls as he heads out the front door to meet Nana and John-Wayne-Mother.
As I pass the long stretch of china and crystal in my mother’s living room I carefully keep my arms tucked close. Moving fast, I don’t quite run, not in the house.
Outside, under the spreading arms of the giant olive tree, I see my mother and her mother walking carefully together. I am happy I swept the front walk before they got here. An hour ago, it was covered in squishy overripe olives and their tiny hard pits.
Nana looks like she is in a straight-jacket made of bandages. John-Wayne-Mother is holding onto her like she might fall.
In the house we work on settling her in. Mother sets up her suitcase in the corner of my room on a chair. She gives instructions over her shoulder as she works. “Go get your grandmother some water. You can help her take a drink like you help a baby drink from a cup.”
“I want some coffee.” Nana sounds like she has not been enjoying the hospital coffee.
Laughing my mother says, “I will make you some coffee when I am done organizing your clothes and things. For now,” she looks at me, “go and get her the water. Oh, and put the kettle on to boil for her coffee.”
I head into the kitchen thinking about the babies I have held and helped drink from a cup. I love to hold babies. Now that I am 10-years-old there are several babies in the Congregation and several younger cousins I get to hold sometimes.
With little ones I know I need to hold one hand under their chin while they take a drink. I have seen lots of mothers doing this.
I wonder if I need to do this with Nana? After all the baby doesn’t know how to hold its lips around the edge of the cup. That is why they tend to spill it down their front.
Nana already knows how to drink from a cup. Her problem is she doesn’t have any hands right now to hold things for herself.
As I come back into my room carrying the water glass I decide I will hold my hand under her chin anyway. She may know how to drink but I don’t have a lot of practice tipping the glass. I might spill it on her. I figure it is better to be safe.
She and I manage to get the water into her without any accidents. “Do you want some more?” I ask after she has taken a couple of sips.
Nana smiles gently and says, “No, that is plenty, thank you darlin’ for all your help.” An anxious look appears on her face. She says, “I don’t want to be a bother.”
She says that a lot so I am not surprised needing so much help is hard for her.
John-Wayne-Mother turns around and sees the problem of potential spilling. “I will get some straws for you tomorrow. That will be easier to manage.”
She heads for the kitchen, to finish making the coffee, leaving Nana and I alone in my room.
“Thank you,” Nana repeats when my mother has gone. “I really appreciate you and your mother helping me like this. Your father and brother too, for being willing to have me here. I know how much trouble this is and I feel so bad taking your bed.” Her eyebrows crinkle in a familiar expression of worry. “I’m especially sad about you having to sleep on that horrible cot.”
“I’m fine!” I jump in quickly. “I am happy for you to sleep in my bed. The cot is fun. I always sleep there when Yiayia stays with us.” She is my father’s grandmother and she stays with us for a month or so every winter.
“Besides your bones are broken. It is important for you to be comfortable.” I finish with a flourish like a poker player laying out a royal flush.
“Still I worry about your back.” She insists shaking her head regretfully.
“I’m fine.” I repeat baffled by her refusal to see my logic. It is so clear to me.
I do not want to sleep in my bed. It is an adventure to sleep in the cot.
I can pretend I am on a campout.
Oh well, I know John-Wayne-Mother is not going to allow Nana to switch places with me. I also know I can’t stop Nana from worrying or feeling bad for me.
So, I will get to sleep on the cot until Nana is healed enough to go home.
God-the-Father says she will probably be at our house for 6 weeks or so.
I decide to change the subject. “What happened in your accident?”
This distracts her from continuing to talk about how bad she feels letting us help her. She starts telling about the car crash instead.
Mission accomplished! I keep my smile quiet and internal.
Mother returns carrying a cup of steaming coffee. She carefully holds it to her mother’s lips. Nana blows on the hot liquid before taking a small drink.
“Newly-Baptized-Sister will be here in about an hour with some dinner for us.” My mother begins while she holds the china cup for Nana to enjoy her first good cup of coffee in over a week.
Everyone knows how much Nana loves her coffee, and how she takes it…strong, hot, and black.
“Tonight,” John-Wayne-Mother continues, “I want you to walk with her, and help her go to the bathroom during the night. If you two need anything come and wake me. Remember I will be asleep at the other end of the house and can’t hear you very well. So be sure to come to my room and get me, don’t just call for me.”
I feel excited and strong and needed. It is an important job that is really helping my Nana and my mom. I am happy that they trust me with this. I love helping my family and I love being on night duty. Night is a special time.
I am not usually allowed to be up and talking at two in the morning.
That night we sat down to the chicken pot pie and apple cobbler Newly-Baptized-Publisher had brought for our dinner. Nana sits in my seat and I put an extra chair right next to her.
“Son, you fill up the water glasses.” John-Wayne-Mother directs while she is dishing up servings for each of us. “Daughter you put the knives and forks out and you can help your grandmother eat.”
I feel very grown up with this assignment to help my grandmother.
When it is bedtime, mother helps Nana into her night gown. “Remember, come get me if you need me.” She says as she finishes getting her mother ready for bed.
I nod in understanding of my instructions. We will be fine.
I watch her from my cot, seeing all the things she does to get Nana ready to sleep.
Waiting for her to finish I lean over the side of the cot to wiggle a piece of yarn for our half-wild tabby cat. Her glowing amber eyes follow the fluffy yellow string intensely waiting for some perfect cat moment.
I see the moment strike by the sudden narrowing of her slit-pupils an instant before she pounces. She catches the very tip of the fascinating bit of string in her sharp claws.
Tugging on the bit of yarn, I pull it out of her paws and up onto the edge of the cot. Her head snaps up and she follows the luring bit of string up onto my bed.
She rubs her face against my fingers and starts to purr.
Mother says good night to us as the cat settles herself behind my knees. We curl up to sleep in the cot’s narrow frame. Mother turns out the light and pulls the door mostly closed to block the kitchen’s brightness.
Lying in the warm darkness, Nana says, “Are you comfortable, really?”
“Oh yes,” My answer is immediate while my fingers continue to wind through the cat’s thick silver fur. “I’m fine. Could you tell me a story?”
Nana laughs, a light tinkle of sound, and asks, “The Man with the Golden Arm?”
I giggle with her, “Of course!” I have heard it a million times and it is still my favorite Nana story.
Later that night, when the house is dark and quiet, Nana whispers my name. “Are you awake?”
The whispered words gently pull me from sleep. “Yes, I am awake.”
I jump up from my warm blankets, leaving the cat snuggled in our nest, and hurry to the side of her bed.
While I am moving I am thinking about what I need to do. She needs to sit up. How can I help her get up but not hurt her broken shoulders?
“Let’s try it this way,” She suggests as I get to her, “I will roll a little this direction and you put your arm under my back.” She turns away from me by just enough for me to fit my arm under her.
“Then I will try to sit up and you give me a bit of a boost. Ok?”
She rolls back and starts sitting up. My arm is behind her waist. She does most of the work. I am only steadying her.
“Whew,” She lets out a big breath and is successfully sitting on the edge of the bed. “Thank you.”
While she walks, I keep my hands close to her hips to steady her if she should start to stumble. We make it to the bathroom with no problems. I pull up her night gown and hold an arm behind her as she sits down.
Her balance is steady even without her arms.
Her legs are strong.
We make it back to the bed easily. Before she lays down I help her take a drink from the water glass on the bedside table. Then she settles gently back on the pillows. Quietly giggling, I pull the blankets up around her bandage-wrapped shoulders.
“I know,” She laughs too, “I am usually the one tucking you in.”
Still laughing I climb back on the cot with the sleeping cat. Nana’s soft voice comes from behind me. “Thank you, sweetheart. I am so grateful for what you are doing. You are taking such good care of me.”
“You are welcome. It is no big deal, I like to take care of you.” I coil myself back around the warm body of the comfortable cat.
“No.” She says, “It is a big deal. The whole time in the hospital I never had a night nurse as good as you. I am going to tell everyone what a wonderful job you are doing as my night nurse.”
“Good night Nana.” I wrap my covers around my own shoulders and snuggle into the pillow “I love you. Wake me up again if you need anything.”
The digital clock on my dresser flickers to 2:03 AM
Where the cot is positioned I can lie in bed and watch the moon dance with the trees outside my window.
“Can you see the moon Nana?” My question sneaks through the quiet night air. “It looks full!”
“No, honey,” she whispers back, “I can see it pouring over you right there though.”
Her usually graceful hands are wrapped in bandages and not available for the gesture my eyes expect my grandmother to use.
I can hear the words caress my ears with her poet’s voice.