On Cook Street
When her daughter-in-law told her it was time to visit one of her other children, Grandma Vee came to visit us. She arrived on the Greyhound bus. Her son (now my “ex”) had warned the children and me that his mother carried a large purse she had a tendency to fill up with sugar packets and small jams in restaurants. Here she was in Maine. We decided to take her to a nice seafood place. She loved fried clams.
The boys, then ages ten and six, greeted Grandma very politely. One might even have described them as sedate as we all sat down to eat. The waitress took our orders and left. Grandma Vee reached for her purse. Her enormous purse. Brown leather with a snap closure. She brought it to her lap, just under the lip of the table. My youngest son’s eyes grew wide. She snapped the satchel open. She reached for the sugar. We all began to laugh. “What’s the matter?” she asked. Her son patted her arm. “We have plenty at home, Grandma.” The purse discreetly returned to the seat. Grandma Vee leaned back and relaxed.
Grandma was assigned Andrew’s room. As the smallest, he could bunk with his brother. Most days she spent in the recliner, a peach colored velour. We draped it with a towel. Grandma Vee had arthritis that caused her constant aches. She was convinced the only medicine that helped was Bengay. My son’s room and the living room soon developed a distinctive odor. Once my ex and I colluded at the grocery store. We stood in front of the arthritis salves and searched for one without a scent. We found one. Ice blue. Odorless. It sounded good to us. Grandma Vee was disappointed. She shook her head. “It doesn’t work if it doesn’t smell,” she said. The boys were pinching their noses. Her son and I surrendered. He went back to the store.
Grandma Vee was Polish. We ate kielbasa, potato pancakes and pierogies. After supper, Grandma Vee and I joined each other on the front porch. Side by side, we sat on the couch and watched the sunset. I told her my sad tale about the throat doctor who examined my neck inside and out. I got to the part where the instruments made me gag. I had asked the doctor if he liked his job. He replied, “It could have been worse. I could have been a gynecologist.” Grandma Vee asked, “Did you hit him?” “No,” I said. “You should have hit him.” Short and stocky, she was an armful for a hug.
After a month with us, Grandma Vee decided the Florida son had had enough time alone with his spouse. It was getting colder in Maine. She could feel it in her bones. We put her on the bus in Portland. Slowly and stiffly, she climbed the stairs. Her bag hung on the crook of her arm. She turned for a last look at her grandsons. We stood in a group and waved.
Some days I sit next to the pot-bellied woodstove on the porch. I think of some old sorrow that needs a joke. That bus ride was a one- way trip. Grandma Vee never left Florida until she was gone. Back then, Florida seemed a long way from home.
People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did,
but people will never forget
how you made them feel.
*Lilliana grew antique roses in Maine. She loves the story of Josephine who managed, even when Napoleon was at war, to get safe conduct for her Malmaison roses.