Our Sunday night dinner wasn't exactly the Sunday night dinner my mother used to make while Dad took us kids up to Smith gym pool up on WSU's campus to swim. We'd come home and sit down to pot roast, potatoes and gravy, perfumed by chlorine with wet hair and blood-shot eyes from spending our eyes open under water, having races across the pool, holding our breaths, and being launched from our father's arms. It gave Mom her five minutes (or a couple of hours?) peace and helped us become the fish we all became. One such Sunday--and that day I must have had a cold or was in trouble--while the sibs and Dad were gone, Mom got a call that the wait for a baby was over. A week later, we were sitting in a downtown Seattle office building waiting for a social worked to bring us a seven-week-old baby boy. Our brother A.
When I think of Sunday dinners, it's those meat and potato dinners that always come to mind. Tonight however, Beve and I shared a Dairy Queen feast with Grampie who finds mushroom-swiss burgers, strawberry milkshakes and our company about as good as it gets. He was pleased as punch to see us, as if he hadn't seen us in a hundred days. Each time we go, we take him something so his room feels a little more like home. Today it was the painting of a white horse his Finnish artist granddaughter painted for him several years ago and a small bedside lamp. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that painting--it was like we'd lasso-ed the moon, as "So it's a Wonderful Life" would put it.
As we walked past the nurses' station, the charge nurse stopped us, "I have a strange question. Did Grampie play in the NBA?"
"No," Beve answered. "But he was drafted by it."
It was like a bomb had been dropped right there in that nursing home. That nursing station is the happening place, you have to understand. It's the gathering place, like everyone's sitting on their front porch and shooting the breeze together. Grampie was sitting right among them, his head drooping, his long legs stretched out beyond his wheelchair, practically blocking the road. He was sound asleep, while the bustling community waited for the story.
Needless to say, we didn't get to Grampie's room without telling that well-worn story of him turning down the opportunity to play professional basketball for the more stable job of teaching, coaching and being a family man. Not even a call from a senator from Massachusetts (who later became a president who lost his life to a bullet) could make him change his mind.
"And that's a true story," I told them when I finished my recitation--just the way Grampie always tells his stories.
"Grampie--he was a baller!" A nurse said.
Yes, he was.
I wonder how they'll look at him now, because him being a baller is/was very little about what made him who he is. In fact, the most important part of that story is that he chose NOT to be a baller at all.
Anyway, while Grampie ate his strawberry blizzard (foregoing the burger, but what the heck, right?), I cleaned up his room, hung the painting, put a few pictures on his bulletin board. Then we told him about a new painting this artist had done of him. "It's of you, Grampie."
His smile just about broke his face. "She's a great one, our M." He said. "Well, they're all great ones. every one of them. I'm a lucky man." Yes he is.
Even if he did want to leave half his blizzard for Thyrza, who he seemed to think was also in the room.
When we left, for the first time ever, he wheeled himself quickly down the hall after us. "This isn't right," I told Beve as I glanced back. Just about that time, Grampie lifted his voice and his body straight and tall for a moment. Then he bellowed at us. "HEY! Are you coming back for me?"
"Not tonight, Dad," Beve said as he walked quietly back to his father. "But we'll see you tomorrow."
"All right," Grampie answered, slumping again.
Resigned, I think.
We felt resigned too. Walking away with unshed tears. Knowing there will be other days when we'll have to tell him the same thing, leave him the same way, sad and resigned. Sigh.
It wasn't quite a pot roast and potato dinner, but I'm sure glad we were there.