… on breathing again and respecting the old yankee man


Granny and Grampa and many grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, being photobombed by a very tall grandchild (Number One Son Sam) and a Nearly Perfect Husband). Also, in case you were wondering, ‘Family Christmas’ is always a jammie day.

It’s nearly the end of January and I feel like I’m just coming up for air, and I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath…


So I was thinking about why I felt that way and immediately laid it all on the holidays. Must have been the craziness that came with having one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Why would that matter?

Because no matter how organized I decide to be, and no matter how much I try to organize before Thanksgiving day, I never ever mail my holiday cards out early and I never have more than one or two Christmas gifts purchased or made.

Okay, most likely purchased.

Okay, fine! And those are probably lost because I put them someplace super special so I wouldn’t forget where they are.

But I am telling you, someday we will dispose of the Disposable Shack and either I will stumble upon a treasure trove of lost-but-now-found Christmas gifts or some future owner will one day uncover an archeological dig that will astound the world.

Can you imagine? “Wow. At the beginning of the twenty first century, people bought so many things that they never even took out of their packaging.  This tells us so much about the social landscape at the time…”

Yep.  I will have contributed to decades – maybe centuries – of archeological misinterpretation.

And I have no choice. This is all out of my control, due to the fact that my stuff is… you know… lost.

I hereby officially apologize in advance for the effect on humanity that my lack of attention to Christmas present placement will have.

Anyway, as I was blaming the holidays (and a subsequent back-to-back thwacking of two, two-week-long, flu-ish, feverish type illnesses, I realized that I am probably emerging from a longer period of breath holding than just that. Why?

Well, it occurred to me that Grampa broke his freakin’ neck back in September.

So, in addition to ‘regular life’, we have been living an odd version of life with an extra helping of life on top.

A few extra things to do, a little extra worry here and caution there.

Sometimes a lot of all of those.

Since he fell a few times after he got home, Grampa has been prescribed six months of bi-weekly (as in 2X a week) visits with the Physical Terrorist.

And the Physical Terrorist is Grampa’s buddy, Mark.

I say, “Grampa’s buddy Mark” because Grampa and Mark go way back to when Grampa had his knees replaced in the ’90s.

So what happens when Grampa sees Mark?

Grampa lies his ass off, that’s what.

He lies about what his doctor told him.

He lies about what his activity level is.

He lies about how often he is left alone.

His version: “Never. I am completely safe and people are hovering around me like helicopters all day long so don’t worry about me and don’t even think of assigning medical people to come and check in on me. Also, I am very careful to use my walker exactly as prescribed by my doctor. I am slow, and stay within the ‘cage’ and I never ever move around the apartment without it.”

Our version: “He is fiercely independent, and is alone quite frequently, and insists on it. Mostly because he would make our lives a holy hell (probably by proving he can re-roof the house) if he even suspected that we were watching over him in some sort of planned way. Also, we are pretty sure he is up to about 17 miles per hour with his walker, which he holds out in front of him to gain momentum.  And he seems to believe that if he is within 12-15 feet of said walker, it is considered “with him””.

And you know what? That has to be okay.

Because, respect.

That’s why.

There has to be a compromise between ‘perfect’, according to the experts in his life, and ‘livable’ for Grampa (and, who’s kidding who, a less stressed Old Yankee Man provides a less stressed environment for anyone living with an Old Yankee Man.).

This goes for Granny too (though she is a piece of cake to live with (except she kind of balked when we tried to assign her wood stacking and snow blowing duties, but whatever)).

They are both in their eighties now. Granny is eighty-two and Grampa eighty-five. They have both had fairly infrequent health issues (you know, the occasional car accident and broken neck, that’s pretty much it), and there has never been a question as to whether they would end up back at home with us after a hospital stay.

It’s funny, I don’t think of them as ‘old’. Maybe I’ve known enough people who have made it well into their ’90s to not consider early to mid eighties ‘old’. Or maybe I’m just in denial. I don’t know. But I’m fine where I am.

What I do know is that Grampa won’t bounce forever, and I’ve been having conversations with Granny because she feels like she’s slowing down a little (mostly we blame the Old Yankee Man and we laugh about that).

And I’ve been thinking a lot about them, and aging, and respecting both the process and the humans as this happens.

When Grampa was in the hospital, I was alone with him one day. His memory was still affected by the anesthesia given during his spinal surgery (anesthesia can have a profound effect on mental processing, especially on the elderly), and he had gotten pretty pissy at one of the nurses while I was in the room.  And I could tell that he hated, and I mean hated that he had to depend on me (or anyone else) to re-explain something to him, or help him out of bed, or help him dress, or do other personal things. It was excruciating for him.

He teared up,

He had never, ever done that before.

He has not done it since.

I don’t think he will ever do it again.

His voice was soft.

Here is what he said:

“You have to understand, that for more than 59 years, it’s been me and her. We have always figured it out. We get by. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what people want to do to help. I do. We do. But it’s been me and her. We need to be able to figure this out too.”

“Her”, of course, is Granny.

For fifty-nine years, Grampa and Granny have faced the world together. They dated, married, bought a house, had children. In a time when there was no such thing as ‘daycare’, they both had jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) and made that work by working different shifts. They brought up four kids through the sixties, seventies, and into the eighties. They sent the kids that wanted to go to college, to college. They lived through their empty nest, they weathered health issues, divorces, and other heartbreaks of their adult children, grandchildren, and – now – great grandchildren. And they’ve, of course, celebrated many, many joys and helped many, many people along the way. Including me.

I don’t worry about the time after they’re gone.

That is, indeed, about me.

I worry about making sure that they, and their independence, are respected in the coming years.

Because that’s about them.

So, no, I’m not going to hover over them every second.

I will listen, process, explain and/or re-explain as necessary. I will make sure that they have what they need, whether that be a few more meals a week so Granny doesn’t have to cook as much, or a taller toilet or easier shower.

And those things can just happen. There doesn’t need to be the pointing out that they need to happen, or are happening. Again, this isn’t about me.

It is the least I can do for people who have helped to make my life possible, and happy.

In addition, I will also post the occasional sign on their fridge – in huge, black, Sharpie letters – for Grampa stating, “Thou Shalt Not Make Shit Up”, followed by his doctors actual orders.

Because it’s important that these messages are delivered in ways acceptable to an Old Yankee Man.

And he will smile and look back at his Boston Globe, and Granny will smile and later remind me that I am the only one he would take that from.

But I know deep down that respect, and straight talk, and dry humor are all necessary to work with an Old Yankee Man.

Pleading and cajoling, and speaking in a loud high sugary sweet voice?

You might as well stab a fork in his eye.

You’ll certainly get the same reaction as if you did…

As I’ve said many times, I love him.

Even when I want to kill him.

And with love, comes respect.

For an Old Yankee Man and the woman he has faced the world with for fifty-nine years.

Thanks for readin’.

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