Of Dining Halls And Grandmothers

I lost both of my grandmothers when I was fairly young. I remember bits and pieces of them, sometimes in a flash of clarity and sometimes in a foggy haze.

I can tell you my maternal grandmother has to be where I got my drive. I remember sitting in her office in a muggy Florida strip mall, begging for $2 to walk down to the gift shop and buy some horrendous shell man or orange bobble head. She would make me file a paper or empty her trash before I had ‘earned’ enough for my souvenirs. She owned that business and ran it. An entire sanitation company. Women owned business were rare then. Still are.

She loved the dog track, and Jai alai, and her lotto numbers.

I also can remember the mass of pill bottles on her dresser. And how we weren’t allowed in her room, ever, unsupervised.

My paternal grandmother was very different. She would allow my cousin and I to sleep in her bed when visiting. We’d giggle as she undressed in front of us (I clearly got my boobs from this grandma) and then she would crawl in between us, as I do now with my children, and sing. She would sing to us songs I can still hear in my head when laying in bed at night.

She would make us necklaces out of bubble gum wrappers and later, after a stroke, smile as big as the sun when we’d enter her nursing home bedroom. I remembered how my grandfather did, and still does, adore her and how he’s never been the same since her death. He just wants to join her.

Yesterday, as I went to vote in California’s special election, I saw many grandmothers and felt an ache.

My polling place was a senior center and I arrived at lunchtime. The dining hall was packed with what seemed to be, mostly, women. I felt myself staring. Wondering what my grandmothers would be like now. What sort of relationship we would have. If they would be proud of me.

I also wondered why there seemed to be so few visitors. Maybe I was imagining things. For several seconds I pondered just wandering into the dining hall and striking up a conversation. And then was afraid they would find me patronizing. Or worse, over-enthusiastic.

So I walked by. Slowly. My mind consumed with my own family, my grandfather in Michigan now in a nursing home. I thought about what it will be like when I am that age…where will I be?

But really, more than anything, I couldn’t stop thinking about my own grandmothers. And the grandmothers in the dining hall. And how I hope their granddaughter’s visit them.

Even if they are too busy. Even if they have a million other things to be doing. I hope there is a granddaughter sitting, right now, across from her grandmother in some dining hall somewhere….just spending time.


  1. My final Grandparent (grandma) just passed on Monday night. This led me again to think of the fact that I really wish I had my gotten a chance to meet my namesake Grandma. She passed when my Mom was only 12.

    I teach a seniors fitness class 3 times a week so I know I bring some joy and laughter to some seniors a few times a week and they to me as well with their many stories as we try to exercise. I appreciate seeing these women (and a few men) so active, alert and out having fun still in their 70’s and 80’s. It means that I too can be there at that age. Heck, we have our oldest gal (82) getting married this summer! You should see the rock she got. LOL

  2. Sorry for your loss Val.

    I want a huge rock at 82 too!

  3. Wow, thanks for making me tear up early in the morning!

    I never met my paternal grandparents, so I have no idea what it would have been like with them. My mom’s mom, however, is amazing. She would always let me sleep with her when I stayed over and she still bakes amazing cookies just for me. We played card games and shuffleboard and she would get us passes to her county club so we could go swimming.

    Her husband died a few months ago and I’ve not been making the trip to see her in Arkansas like I should. Thanks for posting this. It basically made me kick myself in the ass and realize I should go spend some more time with her.

  4. I love the stories you guys are sharing. Thanks

  5. My maternal grandmother died when I was 13. We were very close. My paternal grandmother lives in town, and we see her often.

    My grandfathers are sort of unbearable authoritarian assholes, so I’m less close with them.

  6. Your words alternately made me smile and inspired guilt. My sweet Grammy is 96. She lives in Canada and I am in the Midwest. She has Alzheimers. We don’t talk often anymore because she is so confused. She sometimes thinks I am my mom – sometimes doesn’t know me at all, but sometimes – when she says, “how are you, Darlin’?” I know she knows it is me.

    She held on to her mind long after the doctors thought she would – and that spirit of hers – well, it isn’t ever going to disappear. She is sassy, she is saucy, she is divine.

    She is the only grandparent I ever really knew. I hate that a little piece of her disappears each day. I also hate that there are many days I haven’t called because it is hard to hear her so lost and confused.

    I’ll do better tomorrow. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. My living grandmother is spritely and busier than I am.

    I do volunteer at a home for the elderly, though. Aside from calling bingo numbers, I mostly just sit and talk. They love when I bring a photo album even though they don’t know my friends and family. It helps trigger their own memories, and they tell me about their Christmases, their weddings, their vacations.

  8. At 86, my grandmother suffers from dementia. She’s still living in her big, old, grand house as she is stubborn and has the means to have live in help. She’s a fantastic story teller and I love to go visit her. But you know what? I don’t do it enough. Her memory is fading fast and sometimes it’s so hard to be there when she doesn’t know who I am. She forgets who’s alive and who’s dead and lives to make up salacious stories. But that’s okay, because her stories are always good…

    Thanks for sharing, I’m going to make a trip very soon.

  9. oh, I understand this ache!

    My mother was recently in a rehab/nursing home and it broke my heart every single day. There are so many patients, many long term, who have no visitors. Ever. How can that be? Besides the loneliness factor, there is no one there to be their advocate—to make sure they are getting the right medication, at the right time, being attended to, etc.

    I know nurses have an incredibly tough job, so I’m really not faulting them. In these situations though, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    I am one of 8 kids, so my mother had someone with her round the clock. We wrote down the time of her medication and many times, the nurses would come at the wrong time, or forget, her next dosage. Had we not been there, who would have spoken for her?

    Some patients had to wait an unreasonable amount of time for someone to help them use the restroom. It was terrible!

    My mother did not survive her cancer and I need make good on my promise to myself that I would go back to that facility to befriend as many of those lonely grandmas that I possibly can. Thanks for the reminder and sorry for writing a book here!

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