I wrote the following when I was staying with my grandmother in San Antonio last year. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever met–full of stories–my favorite kind of person is one who is full of stories. But she’s also probably the loneliest person I’ve ever met. I’ve realized that I’m not afraid of aging. I’m afraid of the combination of old and lonely and divorced and depressed and stuck in a place I despise, full of stories. My grandma is a writer; I am a writer. She and I both love books and judging people and Luby’s (almost as much as we love books, to be honest). I guess that’s the way it is with family. There are so many things (whether you realize them or not) that you’re already emulating or you want or wish you could emulate…but then, in other ways, you strive to be that person’s utter opposite. It has sadly become one of my life goals, to be yellow where she is black. But I know she would approve.
I am learning about growing old. My grandma teaches me about it every Monday and Wednesday, when I spend the night to save a little gas. She lives right by my office, in the same house she’s been in since she was young and working, having babies, married, and happy from what I hear. Now it’s the same house, but empty and stale, just her and two snoring dogs and one annoying, chirping bird. It used to be filled with laughter and cooking. Now it’s filled with stuff…stuff that she stares at and then says, “I wonder who will ever want this once I’m gone…” Stuff like her teapot collection, her spoon collection, her stamp collection, and her Princess Diana doll.
I always say, “Grandma, you don’t even need to be thinking about that, it’s too early,” even though I know it’s not. And now the only cooking she does is toast with blackberry jam. She drinks her tea, eats from a tin of English cookies, and always has a full bowl of fruit on the table ready to be a centerpiece for the guests who never come. I am learning about growing old.
“I like your sunglasses,” she says in such an innocent voice, begging me to love her, listen to her, be her friend, pay attention to her, notice her. She laughs at all my jokes and tells me about things she read in the newspaper or saw on TV. She is so much like her youngest granddaughter, although they are 80 years apart.
On love life, she’s bitter and cold. She tells me about her only true love, buried in England, never really knowing how she felt. Her pale blue eyes are lost in 60+ year-old memories, forgetting I’m there. At that moment, I wish with all my might that she’s right in believing that Heaven exists, just so she’ll get to tell him, to be with him. She believes in God but not love. I believe in love, but not God. I’m worried that time will switch these beliefs.
She tells me things I shouldn’t know about my Papa. I’d rather have the facade of some people. She tells me about being alone for over 40 years now. “Who would’ve wanted someone like me anyway? Too old, too poor, and four kids. It was too much.” She scares me, she’s created a fear inside of me–of pining after a grave of I-wonders and what-ifs. I am learning about growing old.
She criticizes the world without hesitation. “People just used to be nicer, better,” she says over breakfast, as she scans headlines. “Things just used to be so much simpler,” she says when I explain my marketing job. “You know, you used to be able to go to the store and find all the good brands. Now the stores all have their own brand and that’s all you can find,” she says, shaking her head sadly at a box of blueberry muffins. “But your generation doesn’t care about that kind of stuff, do you?” I shrug my shoulders and grin.
What am I supposed to say to that? I want to say, “No, we don’t. It’s cheaper and it tastes the exact same.” But I don’t want to shatter any protective walls. She’s built them up around her for decades. You can almost see the cloud of pessimism and depression around her. She hates this country, she hates this time period, and she hates store brands. I am learning about growing old.