"Mom, do you have any books I could read? Like real books, not ebooks," asked my 12 year old daughter. She knows that I have lots of books on my Kindle, but prefers the feel of a book in her hands.
"Seriously? You have like 50 newer books on your shelf and you have nothing to read?" I said. She nodded. "I think you have read everything that I have right now, but I'll look," I said, wandering into my bedroom, where several books of my current reads are stacked on my bed stand. I would love for her to read the wood cops mystery series by Joseph Heywood, but all I have on my stand is book 5: Strike Dog. She really should start with the first one, Ice Hunter, or she will miss some important parts, like I did when I skipped book 4 accidentally. Just as I was about to give up, I spied a dusty oldie-but-goodie. It's been so long since I've read it that I can't remember all of of it. I pull it off it's semi-permanent spot, blow the dust off the top, and a flood of memories come rushing in.
It was November of 2002, and my maternal grandmother was living out her last days in a local care facility. My mom and three of my aunts took turns, around the clock, being with her as she continued on her path to heaven. My sister and I went over after work to spend as much time as possible with her, but I was a miserable granddaughter who could not quite grasp the sterile room with the stale medical smell. I saw sadness in my mom and aunts's eyes. When I looked at Grandma Lucille, I saw a thin shadow of what she was. I wanted my sassy grandma back, who would spend hours painting her nails bright red and always had a pile of juicy books, but I knew that it wasn't going to happen. I left that first time with a resolve to be a better granddaughter tomorrow.
The next day, after tossing and turning with thoughts and dreams of sterilized medical facilities and flashes of a feisty Grandma Lucille driving down the wrong side of a one way street while driving me to basketball practice, telling the car that was beeping at her exactly how she felt in very colorful verbal and sign language. I was a tired mess. After the terrible night, I still wasn't sure how I was going to accomplish my promise. It was a busy day at work, thankfully, as I didn't have time for any thoughts of the upcoming visit.
After work, I parked my car outside the care center, took a deep breath, and looked to the passenger seat, where my sister should have been, but she had other obligations and was going at a different time tonight. Instead of her, I had a box of books in my car that were destined for new readers via the drop-off at the resale shop. I grabbed the book before exiting the car, knowing that one of my aunts or mom would need a break, and I thought maybe I'd read to myself while sitting with Grandma.
I walked into the room and cringed at the same sight from yesterday. My aunt was there, but because Grandma seemed to be getting closer to her time, she was hesitant to leave. I went over to the bed where Grandma was laying, pulled a chair over, and sat down. "Grandma, this is a great book. I thought you'd like to hear it. It's called Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts." I opened the book and started to read. It was the first time I had read aloud to any adults, and it was a little strange at first, but, like usual, I got lost in the story, and forgot about the audience I had. Sometime in there, my aunt decided to take a break, and my audience was smaller, but I barely noticed. When another aunt showed up for her turn at waiting, I stopped. "I'll see you tomorrow, Grandma. We can find out what happens next to Novalee." I kissed her pale, papery cheek, and walked out to the hall where my aunts were waiting for me.
"Liz, that was nice. I think she can hear you," one aunt said. I must've looked skeptical, because she followed up with, "Her breathing was really labored all night, but when you started, she visibly relaxed. That's why I decided to step out and take a break."
Getting into the car that night, I sent up a little prayer of thanks. God had it all figured out. This is something that I need to remember more often.
This going to work, visiting and reading became a routine for a several days, until the night my sister and I were the only ones sitting with her. I was interrupted from reading, as a staff member came in to give Grandma a shot of morphine. He lifted up her shirt to reveal a painfully skinny stomach, where he proceeded to find the only spot to administer the pain reliever. It was obvious in the way Grandma bucked that it was painful. The staff member apologized, but it wasn't his fault, it was just the circumstances. After he left, my sister and I shared a look of knowing...it was time for Grandma to go. Shortly after, when mom came in for her shift, we said our final goodbyes. I'm not sure how my sister and I knew, we just had that feeling of finality. It was not sad or scary, but a relief in knowing that she was not going to be in pain anymore. That night my Grandma Lucille passed away.
Days later, I tried to give the book away with the rest of the books, putting it in the box, only to take it out when I delivered it to the resale shop. It sat in my car for months, being moved from spot to spot. I just couldn't give it away. Finally, I took it out and placed it on my bed stand, where it slowly shifted to the back of the books, forgotten.
I was thinking all of these thoughts as I headed upstairs with the book, where I found Alexa carefully browsing her bookshelf in search of a book. "Nothing?" I asked.
"I like to reread all my books, but I just finished all of them, they aren't any fun unless you let some time pass between readings."
I handed her the book. "Try this one. I really liked it, but it's been a while." I couldn't bring myself to tell her the history of that particular book, not wishing to taint her feelings about it.
Fast forward two days, to the waiting room in the orthodontist office. The secretary noticed Alexa reading the book and said, "I love that book! I think I have the movie. I'll bring it in and you can borrow it next time you come in."
For some reason, I felt compelled to tell the secretary about the history of this book. Because Alexa was listening intently, and, along with the fact that I realized it was strange to go into details with a mostly stranger, I just briefly explained why the book was so important to me.
It's funny what memories a book can trigger and what things you learn from those memories. I realize, just as I'm writing this, how the passion of reading as been passed down from my Grandma Lucille to my mom, my mom to me, and now from me to my kids. The same can be said for the stubborn gene, as it seems to follow the same pattern. The biggest lesson from this book has been to trust that God has it all figured out. It's a lesson that I struggle with, being the type of person to try to control situations. It's a lesson I know I will have to continue to visit, hopefully less and less often.
Author's note: This picture of Alexa was taken on the way to basketball practice. Although I've had my share of parent of the year moments, some of them more colorful than others, this wasn't one of them. Maybe it was because there wasn't any one way streets.