George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family…in another city.” If he’d said “in another state,” it would have described us.
Each month when I come to see you, we do at least one special thing. This month, I planned a day of whimsy. From food to fingernail polish to field trip, we would be playful and fanciful.
The fingernails were fun, weren’t they? Your great-grand-daughter Grace sent her favorite colors of nail polish, and soon your fingernails were bright with lime green and orange. In solids, stripes and dots that made you wiggle your fingers and smile. Later we had a special snack: gourmet cupcakes! One was Coconut-Confetti (which we shared in memory of Dad, who loved anything coconut). To remind us of the upcoming election, the other cupcake was called “Bi-Partisan Red and Blue”—with bright-swirled icing, half blueberry and half cherry. We served them on the placemats your granddaughter Molly had a vendor make for you at Territory Days more than twenty years ago. Yours was a “ mock announcement” of winning the Pulitzer, and Dad’s was an award for being the Best Grandfather.
Then came our field trip. We used Dad’s old wheelchair because we were taking a long walk outside, around the facility to the pond where ducks paddled over to meet us, and to enjoy the bright mums and last roses growing along the borders. You hummed melodies, and I sang along with the ones I recognized. David stopped by to bring toilet paper because we were out and I couldn’t leave you alone to go to the store. You thought it was a special gift your son had brought for you. After he left, you smiled and said that was your brother Sam and he always brought funny gifts, which was a perfect finish to our day of whimsy.
That night, when it was time to get ready for bed, I laid out your fleecy robe and a nightgown with pink butterflies. You refused, pushing them away. When I asked if you wanted to wear something else, you shook your head solemnly. “Mother and Daddy are coming for me tonight,” you said, “and I have to be ready to go.”
You might not remember, Mom, but nearly four decades ago, a week after visiting your mother in Missouri, you sensed it was time to be with her again. That day. Right away. Even though you called Granddad and he said she was fine, you still packed a bag and started driving. You arrived as Granddad was fixing her some soup. You sat with Grandma, singing with her and talking, holding her hand as Grandma closed her eyes and took her last breath.
So this week, on the evening after our day of whimsy, when you said they were coming for you and you needed to be ready to go, I listened. You wanted the blinds open in your bedroom and the window opened slightly, so you could hear the rain and feel the fresh night air. I sat on the floor next to your bed and leaned against the wall, close enough to reach out and pat your hand.
The next morning you were hungry. I fixed you biscuits with sausage gravy, which you gobbled down. Your daughter-in-law Sharon dropped by with cookies from a local shop, and after your breakfast you ate part of one and then I took you downstairs to get your hair done. It was a new day, with neither whimsy nor foreshadow, and as I guided you down the hall toward the beauty shop, you looked at your orange and green fingernails, wiggled your fingers and smiled.
Leo Tolstoy said, “If you want to be happy, be.”