Monday, March 7, 2011

The Same But Different

Looking at the porch from inside the garage
When I enter their house it is always the same and always different. The paradoxical world of a grown up grandchild. The bathroom hasn't been remodelled since sometime in the 1970s. I amused myself wondering who would argue over inheriting the brown and orange seahorse that has been on the wall for four decades. The carpet is the same my whole life, the linoleum upstairs the same for my mom's whole life. Some things never change, and I think I'd be heart broken if they did. I love this old-fashioned house where it's always been simpler to just be.

This photo was taken over 10 years ago
but the house looks just the same.
They are the same as always and of course different. Time has marched on. Their beings more boiled down to the essence. I heard once that our personalities are like a big pot of soup and old people seem more themselves because all the broth as evaporated out. Maybe that's why some old ladies wait their whole lives to be feisty and outspoken. Maybe that's why some old men are said to have mellowed with age. But my old people (who are the youngest old people I'll ever know)...she's simply more sweet and he's simply more devoted. That twinkle in his eye is much twinklier, and the grace in her smile is even more graceful.

Sometimes I feel that the worst thing I ever did was grow up. I stopped being small and compulsive and creative and charming. I did that ghastly thing of settling down, and learning to measure words and affection in small doses. Somewhere along the timeline I started believing that now it was what I could do for them, rather than still seeing all they still do for me.

On Saturday she taught me how to make a pie crust, and my absolute assurance that I would screw it up, made her laugh and say

"You know that thing above your shoulders is your head,
it's okay to use it."

And she's the only dear soul on Earth who could get away with saying such a thing to me. Because she was speaking the root of my problem. I don't believe I can do it so I can't do it. She sees the intelligent, capable young woman I've become but I still hide in the helplessness of childhood. She wants me to be the young woman she contributed to raising.

I know they miss when I was little, but growing up wasn't, in fact, the worst thing I ever did. It was a gift. My grandparents are very old--they were 72 and 64 when I was born. Most people I know, their grandparents are only know reaching into their mid-70s. I don't know if they expected to see me graduate high school... graduate college...get married...and this autumn they got the news their first great-grandchild was born. This winter they got to hold her, and the best photos are of his 97 year old hands and her almost 90 year old hands holding her little month old hands. And if we hadn't grown up, my brother and I, they wouldn't have had these joys, these blessings from a gracious God.

I still wish every now and then I could be the small creative bookish pixie that used to flit around their house and yard seeing magic, making magic every where. But even though I'm big now, there's still room for my head on her shoulder as we watch TV and talk about our favorite person--my niece, her great-granddaughter, and what a miracle she is. This next generation, this breath of life in our old family. She laughs and says,

"We needed some new blood in the family."

One of my favorite things in the attic-
an old pump organ.
The house is the same but different. Same furniture (mostly), the surfaces a bit more cluttered with gifts and knick knacks and other notions. The attic, always my favorite treasure trove, stuffed full. We wonder what we'll do with everything when they're gone. There's just so much stuff, we all say over and over. But I don't want to think about when they're gone. We've been planning for that my entire life. Truly. And here they are, able to give us far more 'stuff' from their hearts than we'll ever take from their house--if we pay attention to the gifts.

I love them differently that I love anyone else on earth, and it will always be that way. My heart has a special room, an attic room perhaps--which for most folks would be insulting but for them seems just right as a favorite place--that no one else will ever abide in. A room furnished with the gifts I'll take from them--devotion to God, devotion to family, laughter, grace, whimsy, ingenuity, smarts, and always and everywhere love.

My Grammy and PapPap. Such childish names, I can tell some people think, when I call them that. But they've never been Grandma and Grandpa, they were entirely different people in my life. I get indignant when people call her my Grandma...she's my Grammy. Always and forever my Grammy and PapPap. In the novel I've been writing for nearly a decade now, a character is raised by his grandparents and although he is a thirty-year old man he still calls them Grammy and PapPap. Like my brother, like me. Not childish names, affectionate names...their only names as far as I'm concerned.

They are the same but different. Still in love with each other but their love is different--it's somehow more pure having been refined by 72 years of marriage and sickness and trials. They love me the same but different--they love me as they always have, unconditionally and deeply--but with a love that has learned to let go and let the pixie-child become a woman. And they love God as they always have, steadily, faithfully, but I think they are closer to Heaven now more than ever. He's drawn near to them in these twilight years, as we call them. But God sees them not as twilight but as a the pre-dawn to the Life that awaits. He sees them the same but different. He's been with them for a lifetime of miracles and blessings. He loves them even more than I do, if I can imagine such a love.

Going home, it's what we call it. Even though my address has never been theirs (which has changed several times despite the fact they haven't moved houses in over 65 years), their house is my home. And every time I go home it hits me, the house is the same as it always was, but it feels a little smaller, a little fuller, a little different but maybe I'm just bigger. And when I lean in to kiss their soft weathered cheeks, I realize they are the same as always and maybe I'm the one who is different.

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