For over 32 years, she's lived with my parents (odd--I started typing "lived with my father"...an indication of the stature father has in my eyes?). I was five when she moved into our house, into a small in-law apartment on the ground floor. But these days, with us kids grown, and Mom and Dad spending most of their days in Plymouth, it was decided that the best course of action was to have her live in a nursing home.
This has compounded the sadness I'm feeling during these holidays. First, there's everything that Josie and I have been struggling with, but to have Nana, who has been such a constant source of comfort through the years, absent at Thanksgiving (and soon Christmas) has filled me with a keen sense of loss.
Every night growing up, I would go downstairs to visit her. When I was a child, it would be around seven o'clock, in my pajamas, to watch television until nine. She'd always make me toast with peanut butter and tea. I can recall so vividly sitting "Indian style" on her lime green naugahyde couch, wrapped up in one of her crocheted afghans. She'd sit next to me, a basket of yarn by her side, and I'd hear the sound of her needles clicking together, and feel the warmth of the tea in my belly, and in that space most of all I knew I was safe.
Nana is the youngest of ten children, although she always refers to Ruth--who died after two days on this earth--as the "baby" of the family. "The baby Ruth," she'd say when she'd take me to visit the Kelly family burial plot and we'd pass her small headstone. She was born into a large Irish Catholic family that lived in Pawtucket, RI--and most never strayed very far from home. She received an eighth grade education but is still to this day an avid reader--loves romances, most of all, and Word Searches.
At the age of 18, she married my grandfather, a Greek orphan whose parents had died during a flu epidemic shortly after arriving in America. Grandfather Mitchell came from humble origins, but was discovered to be something of a prodigy somewhat early in grade school. He went on to be a brilliant mathematician: in fact, there's room dedicated to his memory at Rhode Island College, and an award in mathematics is presented to him every year. Grandfather was brilliant, yes, but he died very young--at the age of 40, of testicular cancer. He had been on the verge of completing his doctorate when it happened--all the handwritten notes were completed, but he never was able to type it up. I asked Nana a few years ago where the notes went. "Oh, I threw them away," she replied. "No one could understand them..."
Grandfather Mitchell's death left Nana with two teenaged boys and no pension to speak of (although Grandpa had taught at RIC for at least ten years.)
It is an indication of the strength of my father that, even at the age of 14, he assumed the role of "man of the house." Uncle Chris, who was older by four years, had just entered Brown and essentially left Nana to fend for herself. But Dad stepped forward. I think he had always been Nana'a favourite, doted on and spoiled--for example, she decided not to have him attend kindergarten because she wants one more year with him. During that time, Dad took the first steps assuming a lifetime caretaker role for his mother.
It goes deeper than simply living conditions. For example, Nana never learned to drive, and would depend on Dad to drive her about. He drove her back and forth to work every day until retirement.
I remember, being around ten, and traveling with Dad on more than one occasion to pick Nana up from the fabric mill that she worked at. We'd drive down there in his Duster. Dad would always have this really boring news station on, the whole way, but would immediately switch the radio off when Nana was seen exiting the factory with the other "girls."
Dad has a quick wit, and loves to tease, and not a car ride would go by without Dad taking the opportunity to sing his song about Nana, which was called "Aggie from Mouseville Road." My grandmother was terrified of mice and cats, and both had prominent places in the song:
Doodle doo do, Doodle doodle do
It's Aggie from Mouseville Road!
Oh, all the little kitties and the mices, too
Squeak squeak squeak, meow, meow, meow
Okay, it wasn't exactly Lennon and McCartney, but it was obvious that these two have always had a strong bond, forged in Dad's earliest days as the "baby" of the family, and strengthened through the untimely death of grandpa and Dad's elevation as protector. In Nana's eyes, Dad can do no wrong. Home many times have I heard in my life, "You're Dad's a good man...."
Perhaps that why I wonder if Nana is truly happy living where she is now, or simply putting on a brave face, simply because Dad thinks it's in her best interests. Yes, she has dizzy spells, she is going deaf, and it is true that when she was essentially living alone at the old house, her eating and cleaning habits were falling off...but it's difficult for me to accept the fact that Nana really belongs in a nursing home. I see the other people in this home, and she is by far the most alert. I tend to think Assisted Living would be a better option, but Mom and Dad get touchy about that. Push too hard, and you'll automatically get a "You try doing this and see how easy it is!"