My grandparents have been married for 63 years. Six decades, 3 years and about 2 months. My Granddaddy is 86, and has a touch (okay, maybe he has more than a touch, for those who know him) of Alzheimer’s. My grandmother, 81, is better known by my granddaddy as the “Food Nazi”. Remember the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Well, my grandmother is my granddaddy’s version of that guy. Now my granddaddy doesn’t call my beautiful grandmother this name (I do, but definitely not to her face, whew, no way, so don’t tell her I call her that), but because he has diabetes, she has really been watching his diet. Now because of his disease, my granddad has absolutely no memory of when he’s eaten last.
It’s funny how this disease has progressed with him, and by funny, I am not laughing. Okay, maybe I am, ( and the rest of my family better admit to it, too); I laugh a little at what my granddad says. I can remember about 7 years ago, we were having a very sedate conversation and all of a sudden he looks at my grandmother (who, yall, is as proper as a Southern Baptist Southern woman is supposed to be), and lets loose with this stream of semi-R rated words. Now I had certainly heard worse ( and truth be known, had said worse, but again, don’t tell my grandmother), but those words coming out of my granddad’s mouth and the look on my grandmother’s face, well, suffice it to say, even after losing all sorts of memory through the brain fluid I leaked during pregnancy (and I was pregnant then), well, I recall that moment very, very well. I stopped walking and looked at him and my grandmother, and realized that he wasn’t himself.
And now, he isn’t himself. My granddaddy has been mine since I was nine years old. My dad married his daughter in 1979, and Granddaddy became a part of my life. He is kind, smart, hard-working, and funny. He was a farmer, and like my step-dad, never came across as intelligent as he really was, because he tended to measure his words and think before speaking, which made him seem slow. He just needed time to think, and he knew things that boggled my mind. He served on several boards (ALFA insurance, Cattleman’s, to name a few) and was always busy. He told great stories, and even though he repeated himself every now and then, I still listened.
Now, he doesn’t just repeat himself every now and then. As the last living child out of 16, he tells everyone “I was one of sixteen, and now I am the last”, and the other refrain we hear quite often is “when do we get to eat?” The grandchildren have been recruited as food police, and we are supposed to distract him from the fact that he doesn’t remember that he just ate a good meal ten minutes earlier. He also asks me every time he sees me when I became red-headed, usually 5-10 times every ten minutes, and he asks how much I weight I have gained and tries to guess out loud, (this question has caused me to become a little food nazi-ish on him too). And after the last time he asked this question in front of OUR WHOLE FAMILY DURING A FAMILY REUNION I reminded him that if he didn’t have anything nice to say that we really shouldn’t say anything at all, RIGHT???
Most of all, my heart is full of love and respect for these two people who have been in my life since 1979. My grandmother is so patient and kind, and just gently leads my granddaddy where he should be, even as he is talking and resisting. And my granddaddy, well…my mom told me a story of their last few weeks. My grandmother was having surgery on her wrist and my mom and granddaddy were in the waiting room. My Granddaddy looked around this glum room, and said out loud, “Well, yall are a bunch of sad faces” and proceeded to talk to everyone there. My mom said that within 5 minutes, everyone had a smile on their face. A week later, Mom took the Grands to a funeral. My G-daddy asked at least 5-8 times from the front door of the funeral home to the widow “Now who died?” But when he got there, he spoke with his MIND about that man to his widow, and spoke from the heart and with memory. My mom said the widow ended up comforting her, but what a beautiful testimony to my granddaddy.
And about the Liberty overalls. Well, my g-daddy has worn these Liberty Overalls since I have been around. They are so cool. I made him give me one of his old pair when I was in college (and could still fit in them; I no longer wear overalls since every time I do, someone asks when the baby is due), and I wore those babies out. My mom and the grands went to a restaurant that serves peanuts in buckets and you put the shells on the ground. Well, my g-daddy ate quite a few of these, and when my mom and g-mother finally got him to stand up to leave the table, he proceeded to stuff his overall pockets full of peanuts. As he is following them out of the restaurant, he stopped at a random stranger’s table, said something that made them smile (my mom couldn’t hear it) and grabbed a handful of their peanuts out of their bucket. And then got some out of the big barrel by the front door.
Now, as my mom is relating this to me, I am rolling in the floor laughing, really. I can picture my g-daddy doing this, and spreading smiles everywhere. I also think he was saying to himself “let the food nazi find all these nuts, I’m gonna eat til I remember”, maybe. I do know that my Grandaddy is still making people smile, that people show their love by letting him be himself, and that my grandmother is a saint. I know, from watching them, that marriage is about loving the other, even when they are stuffing their clothes full of peanuts. I know that love is staying put when it would be easier to leave. I know that love like that is more special than all the peanuts in the world, and that their marriage lets me see a little of what God’s love for us is like. We stuff our lives full of things, and forget sometimes what’s important, but bottom line, He loves us anyway. My grandparents will have left a legacy to all of us (and there are a lot of us) that will be treasured and pondered. They are the last of a generation, and my grandparent’s life will affect generations to come.