Grandma’s Aren’t Always Around


“Talc, granite, feldspar with aphanitic crystals, obsidian.” I quickly examined each rock and tossed it aside.

“Hey, I think I ought to go up to my grandma’s house for a couple of days. I’ve been planning on going for a long time, but you know how it is—always something. I could leave after school Thursday and be back on Saturday,” I said to Bev.

“Have you gotten those rocks down yet, gals?” Mr. Davis, our science teacher, stood above us clearing his throat and pushing his thick, black glasses onto his nose.

“What’s this one?”

“Umm, magnetite?” I answered.

“Way to go,” he patted me on the shoulder. “Test on Friday, remember?”

“Oh, I forgot!” I guess I can’t go to Grandma’s next weekend, I thought, but it just seems important that I go now.

“Could I possibly make up the test? My grandma’s been sick, and I was thinking of going to stay with her for a few days.”

“Uh, yeah, Carole, don’t worry about the test. Rocks are here to stay, but grandmas aren’t always around,” he smiled.

“Thanks.”

I was 17 and feeling very independent when I walked into the bus station. I bought my ticket, sat down on a long green bench, and waited. The stench of cigarette smoke hung in the air. Two boys laughed wildly as they stooped over a pinball machine. The rhythm of balls hitting bells started my foot tapping.

I’d never gone anywhere on my own before, and although my grandma lived only 80 miles from Orem, I didn’t feel like I really knew her. Sure we visited her a lot, but with the family it’s different. I was excited. I boarded the silver, shiny bus and waited impatiently as it cruised along. The familiar rugged granite mountains flashed past my window, then Salt Lake City streaked by, then Lagoon. Soon the bus pulled into Ogden. I rode the city busline to the stop near Grandma’s home. By the time I carried my small brown suitcase the two blocks up the hill to her house, my arms ached. It was an older home, white frame with blue trim, surrounded by junipers and tams. My knuckles pounded on the solid door. I waited smiling. The door opened slowly. Her distinct laugh made me laugh too as I embraced her fragile body. She was wearing her white and black polka-dot dress.

“You sweet girl. You came to stay with me. How’s S.J.?”

“He’s doing pretty well.”

She was always worrying about my dad and his health. For the next couple of hours we talked about my plans, school, art, relatives, my brothers and why they weren’t married yet. We even talked about the weather and a little politics. I could see where my dad got his conservative ideas from. Then Nana (as we usually called her) told me about Grandpa. I sat across from her on the tan sofa and listened. She had met him at a dance.

“He told his boyfriends he wanted to marry me that first night, but it took many sleigh rides, schooner rides down college hill, and buggy rides with Dad’s Ol’ Dahl to convince me,” she laughed. “We had a wonderful marriage.”

I tried to imagine my grandma young with Grandpa riding in a buggy. I couldn’t. I never knew Grandpa well; he died of a heart attack when I was only five.

Nana also helped me with my crocheting. She seemed pleased that I was making things and that she could be helpful. She always kept her hands busy making afghans and other things for her grandchildren.

As evening came I sensed a strain in Nana’s breathing. She grew weak and was soon having a very bad asthma attack. My mind went back to many family gatherings. Nana was always reaching into her purse for her throat syringe. I’d never heard her complain much about her asthma; she just accepted it with all the rest of life’s ups and downs. I helped her into an orange cotton housecoat with snaps down the front, and then into her high double bed. I wondered if she’d ever fallen out of it onto the hardwood floor. Already her usual cheery personality was fading along with the healthy color of her face.

“Carole, I’m sorry I had to get sick and ruin your visit.”

“Don’t feel bad about me,” I told her.

Slumped in the living room corner, I tried to keep my mind off her by reading, but her heavy gasping could be heard throughout the house. I checked on her every few minutes. I got out her heavy genealogy book and flipped through the pages. I stopped at the photos. There were pictures of her from when she was a baby to when she was about 25; she was pretty. I was surprised to see how much my baby pictures resembled hers. I recognized one of my uncles—Bill—her son. He was dead; death frightened me.

I checked on her again. It must be something like drowning, I worried, only it just continues on and on and she never actually drowns. She lay still on her large bed; her wheezing and slight moaning continued. Her face was pale, and the wrinkles were now deep crevices. I couldn’t help but think she looked like a body in a casket. They always put so much makeup on them, but they can’t hide the look of death. I was worried, frightened and I didn’t know what to do.

“Are you awake?” I whispered, although I knew she was.

“Yes.”

“Do you think we should call someone to come and administer to you?”

She nodded. “Call Carol Garner; she’ll know what to do.”

I found her number in Nana’s little address book. Scribbled among the addresses and telephone numbers were little thoughts, reminders, and an occasional recipe. I recognized a familiar thought, “What ere thou art, act well thy part.” Nana always knew who she was and acted accordingly. I called Carol; she said she would send some priesthood holders over as soon as possible.

About an hour later a knock came at the door. With relief I opened it to the two men dressed in suits and ties.

“Hello, I’m your grandma’s bishop, Bishop Thompson, and this is my counselor Brother Wells.”

“I’m Carole,” I said as I showed them into my grandma’s room.

“How are you feeling, Sister Thayne?” the young bishop said and touched her hand.

“Oh,” she smiled weakly, “I haven’t had such a bad spell in years. My granddaughter, the sweet thing, came all the way up here to stay with me. She’s been taking good care of me.”

“It sure is lucky she came when she did.” Brother Wells glanced at me.

“Inspiration,” Nana whispered.

The two priesthood holders stood above her as she lay upon her bed. Brother Wells anointed her, and Bishop Thompson sealed the anointing and began the blessing.

“We, the elders of Israel, lay our hands upon one of thy fine servants, Irene Erickson Thayne, a dear lady who has given much of her time unto the service of others … and we ask that she might be comforted and might get the rest that is so badly needed for recovery. Thy will be done. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

“Amen,” I repeated.

I gave them each a cherry chocolate on Nana’s orders. Detecting my worry, they lingered a few minutes longer.

Bishop Thompson clasped my hand in a shake.” Call us if you need us.”

“I’m sure she’ll be all right,” Brother Wells assured.

“Thanks for everything.”

They left and I shut the door behind them, alone again, responsible for Nana’s life. The dark muffling still of the night continued. I read, prayed, worried, and listened, listened to the constant gasping for breath, not conscious of my own breath.

I glanced at the clock: 1:15. I tiptoed into Nana’s room. Her face was white, and her hair was matted.

“I hope,” her voice faltered, “my wheezing isn’t keeping you awake. Close your door so you can sleep.”

“Don’t worry about me; just try to get some sleep yourself,” my voice shook.

Leaving my door open I crept into bed and buried myself between the cool nylon knit sheets. My body was motionless, and my eyes fixed on the flowered drapes. My ears were alert, almost expecting the heavy breathing to falter and quit. I heard her struggle out of bed and her feet drag slowly into the hallway. She paused at my door and closed it; then the steps slowly returned.

At 2:35 I quietly slipped into her room again, her body lay sideways on the bed, and her feet hung over the edge. She had been too weak to pull herself back on the high mattress. I moved her so she would be lying straight and pulled the covers over her. Her shaking hand reached for mine. I clasped it.

“Thank-you, you’re sweet.”

I glanced at the baby photograph on her dresser of Dorothy, her first child. She was killed on her first New Year’s Eve. My grandpa was driving the car, and a drunk driver hit them head-on. Nana nearly died and was unconscious for eight days, waking up to find out her only daughter was dead.

Again I crept into bed and listened until fatigue overcame me.

Early that morning I awoke with the cold memory of where I was and what had happened during the night. I couldn’t hear her wheezing. I was scared and wondered if she was all right. Apprehensively I slithered out of bed and went into Nana’s room. She was still, but as I walked nearer I could hear her breathing softly in a deep rest. Grateful, I slipped out of the room. It was as if she had been immersed in water the night before but struggled to the top for air and had won, this time.

A couple of days later I again sat at the black desk in E-21, measuring with my fingernails the pink crystals in a piece of granite. Mr. Davis cleared his throat above me.

“Well, Carole, how’s Grandma?”

I held the rock tight in my hand and thought of her soft grasp. Like the rock, “she’s still around.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Larry Winborg

[illustration] The faces stared at me out of the past. They proved Nana had been young once, and pretty too. But seeing isn’t believing, and I couldn’t imagine her being young any more than I could imagine myself being old.

[illustration] She lay sideways on the bed, her feet over the edge. She had been too weak to pull herself back on the mattress. Her face was pale, the wrinkles deep. Even though we were divided by years, by illness, and by experiences unshared, I felt responsible for this brave lady who had endured so much.