Those are the words my grandfather murmured yesterday morning as my father drove him away from the town that’s been his only home since 1946. With those words, he bid a quiet farewell my grandmother’s grave, to the city where he raised two sons, to the house where he grew prize-winning roses, to the station where he worked as an engineer for many years, to the assisted living facility where he moved after my grandmother’s death. To the lifetime he spent there.
Nine hours later, give or take, my grandfather arrived in his new hometown. A new hometown at age 94. Many would say they could only hope to be around to have a new hometown at that age, but I don’t know if he sees it that way. So much of what made his life his life is gone. Even Vicksburg is now a different place. It wears a veil of memories that makes it resemble the old town only in his mind. And in our minds, too. But it still seems like it would be hard to leave the home you knew for so long, regardless of whether it’s actually still the same.
Around dinnertime, I met my father and my uncle at the nursing home. My older son, William, who is six, walked beside me, and I carried his little brother, Andrew, who is two. We walked cautiously into my grandfather’s new room, and I thought how on earth 94 years on the earth be contained in this one room. And yet it is. Those years are contained in the hunched shoulders, now birdlike in their thinness, of my grandfather, sitting in his wheelchair in a room with a motorized single bed and a call button for the nurse. My dad once referred to my grandfather as “robust,” and while I never thought of him that way, per se, he was always active, upright, walking around in his sensible gray slacks and soft-soled shoes. He never seemed to age at all, in fact, not until just a few short years ago. In my head, he was perpetually about 65 years old–the same age my father is now.
This past winter, my grandfather fell and fractured a hip. He was hospitalized, had surgery, and was discharged into the nursing unit of the assisted living facility, where he began physical therapy. He improved. He declined. He improved again. Whenever anyone asked me how he was doing, I always replied, “He’s doing okay. For someone who’s 94 and has a broken hip.” We knew then that he’d never be able to return to any type of independent living facility, so we resigned ourselves to looking for a room in a nursing home. By then, we also knew that my parents were moving here to Nashville, to be close to me and my young family. As exhausting as the boys can be, there is something so utterly compelling about their round smooth faces, their high voices and their excitement over the smallest things, and my parents didn’t want to miss out on that any longer. But if my parents were to move here, we knew that my grandfather would have to come here, too.
And so, he is here now, uprooted, because of me. Indirectly, I suppose. But still here. Whether it’s rational or not, I feel no small degree of guilt over this.
My grandfather is from Nebraska originally. He never lost his Midwestern accent, not even after all those years with my grandmother and her Louisiana drawl. She always talked more than he did, but I can quite clearly remember him telling stories and voicing opinions. He doesn’t say much now. I don’t know that he doesn’t have much to say, or if he feels that he’s already said it all. He is quiet, withdrawn, almost numb. He knew that he needed to move here; he said so to me on the phone last fall, when my parents decided to buy a house just a few miles away from my house. “Well, I can’t stay down here,” he declared in a no-reasonable-person-would-possibly-say-otherwise voice. He knew. He understood. He agreed. After all, he was the one who made the decision to move out of his old house once my grandmother was gone. But he is not saying much now. I don’t think he disagrees now. I think he still knows this is what needed to be done.
It doesn’t make the transition any easier.
My brother mentioned that I might want to take a treat to Grandaddy now and then. We all know that a macadamia nut cookie won’t solve anything. It won’t bring my grandmother back. It won’t magically heal my grandfather’s hip or erase the savages of age. It won’t take him home. He might not even eat the cookie. I’m still going to do those sorts of things, though. It’s the least I can do. And I want to find other things I can do to show him that he matters to me, so much. He matters to all of us.
So. We’ll see how it goes.