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Last Visit with Grandfather

Updated on October 22, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Growing up in northern California gives me the opportunity to share personal experiences of everlastingly misplaced understandings.

I am sixteen driving my yellow Volkswagen quickly down the winding boulevard toward my destination. My visit with my grandfather at the rest home. A quick right onto the street I have passed so many times before without a bother. Then, another quick left, and I am in the parking lot. I park my car.

My pace slows as I anticipate my visit. I sit leaning on the steering wheel, thinking. Grandfather has been at this rest home for well over a year and this is my first visit. Why am I I here? I could be at the park with my friends. They are just a mile away.

“He’s suffered four strokes. You better go see him before it’s too late. He rarely gets visitors,” my mother’s persuading answer resonates in my mind.

I look up and see the rest home, a one-story, burnt yellow building with huge tinted windows in front. Surrounded by a tiny forest of evergreens, and plenty of shade for this hot summer day. It appears tranquil, cooling my uneasiness.

Following the cement path toward the entrance steps, I contemplate the biological fact that he is not my true grandfather, my mother’s stepfather. Why should I visit him? I could just turn around and be out of here as fast as I came.

Ah, it comes to me now, he is the only fatherly man who spent time with me as a young girl. He always encouraged me, so few did. Perhaps, that is why I am visiting him. To thank him before, well, he goes.

My memories of him are as a quiet man who shares his life privately with a select few. Oh, yes, and that expression of loneliness while he rhythmically sprays water on the lawn over and over again. Applying that same rhythm while he waxes his baby blue Impala.

My pace slows a little more as I stare at the entrance steps. Remembering him has caused me to feel tense and low. I should have visited him sooner. In any event, relax, I am visiting him now. I open the door and proceed.

Oh, the receptionist desk. The nurse asks, “You are here to see?”

What is his name? I have always called him grandfather. Oh, yes, that’s right. She announces, “Down the hall, second door to your left, first bed on your right.”

“Thank you,” I force a smile.

Down the hall, I go, making my left. I enter the room. I look. Is that grandfather? I am stunned. He is laying in his twin bed, succumbing. He’s so thin. Is he asleep? I look around the tinged yellow room with closed wooden cabinets for each bed and see his three roommates. Like my grandfather, with vacant stares, far from a cheerful greeting.

I sense danger and lose my breath. Perhaps, I sense my own mortality. As a teenager, I have never thought about it. I guess, I should – interesting idea, “fear of death.” I put my thoughts in order and quietly find a teal plastic chair. I pull the chair under me and sit down. Beside his bed, I study him. His cheeks are lined and sunken. He needs a shave with parchment skin. He looks spent.

Looking inward I turn the pictures in my mind. I come to the age seven. A retired colonel, he looks bigger, stronger, and livelier than the man in the twin bed. On this day, we get in his Impala, and he drives me to Mather Air Force Base, not far from his home. We go into the Commissary where he buys me new clothes and a pair of tennis shoes. With pride, he tells the clerk, “She is my youngest granddaughter who is named after her grandfather.”

We are back in the car. Our next stop is Mather’s Fire Station. Grandfather parks the care. Takes me into the Fire Chief’s office. Presents me to a young Airman who is assigned my “Personal Tour Guide.” The Airman and I leave the office. Grandfather stays to visit with his close friend the Fire Chief.

I get the VIP treatment. The Airman shows me the firefighting equipment and the lockers. He motions me to be quiet as he takes me to a dark room. Where the men who work at night sleep during the day. I can’t see a thing. But, I hear snoring and breathing. I almost want to laugh, covering my mouth.

Then, we climb the stairs to the Look Out Tower. Where I can see the whole base. I never dreamed of an area so large before. I ask if I can see a plane land. I learn because the Vietnam War is on, planes take off and land at specific times of the night. Has to do with regulation. So, today, I can’t see any planes. But, still, I am up awfully high. And, look, I can see Grandfather’s house. How exciting! I can’t wait to tell him.

Next, off we go to the big red fire truck, the Airman helps climb aboard into the cab. He drives us away from the station and down a long runway. I sit near him, watching intently He turns and stops the weighty truck. I am shown the controls. And, away I go blowing its siren and spraying its water. Unbelievable! Back to the station we go. The whole adventure ends with a nice cold soda pop.

What a day!

That was nine years ago and one of the best days.

Sadly, I look at my grandfather, now, a feeble and lifeless man. He is different, pretty much catatonic. I smile for I am pleased to be with him, though, and hope he knows this.

But, I am uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. A friend told me these places are hateful. I say to myself, ask about the rest home. So, I clear my throat, “Are you happy here? Do they serve you good food?”

My grandfather’s eyes brightened. Evidence of the strokes comes to the surface and answers with difficulty, “Yeah.”

Nothing comes from his sickly, listless body. Maybe, he is dead. I should go --- get out of here.

Abruptly, a nurse enters, startling me. Like an assembly line worker, she jams a couple of pills in his mouth and forces them down with a glass of water and says, “Well, grandpa, you have a visitor, your granddaughter. Isn’t that nice.”

But, her expression doesn’t match her words. She could care less and exits.

Grandfather’s weary eyes look around the cold, artificial room, every now and then, glancing at me. Does Grandfather know what is happening to him or who I am?

I sit staring at this old man who is looking off into space, now. I suddenly realize in this place, at this time, we have nothing in common.

Still, there is the past.

I sit staring at this old man who is looking off into space, now. I suddenly realize in this place, at this time, we have nothing in common.

Nervously, I lean forward. My voice trembles, “Grandfather, remember that time you took me to the Fire Station for a tour while you visited with your old friend the Fire Chief. Wasn’t that one of the best days?”

My grandfather’s eyes brightened. Evidence of the strokes comes to the surface and answers with difficulty, “Yeah.”

Holding back my tears, I go on, “Did I ever tell you that I could see your house from the tower?”

He is looking right at me. His unmoving eyes gleam.

“And, the fire truck, I had a great time riding in that fire truck, blowing its siren and spraying its water. I’m really glad that you took me there.”

“Yeah.”

Tears well in my eyes. “Remember, the countless times you’d take me to Sambo’s for lunch, and you’d tease me saying you didn’t have enough money to pay for the meal. And, I’d have to wash the dishes to pay the bill.”

“Yeah, Yeah,” he tries a smile.

“Remember, your baby blue Impala…”

I am doing most of the talking, reminiscing, while Grandfather smiles a lot, really enjoying it. I’m smiling, too, never thinking this first visit will be my last.

I am doing most of the talking, reminiscing, while Grandfather smiles a lot, really enjoying it. I’m smiling, too, never thinking this first visit will be my last.

I left the rest home, following the same path that brought me. Except for this time, I have a grin on my face.

Inevitably, Grandfather took flight and reach out to another life. He will always be in my thoughts as I am sure I’m in his.

Perhaps, that’s why I visited him. To bring those pleasant memories to the surface, frame them forever, and say good-bye.

© 2017 Kenna McHugh

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    • Kenna McHugh profile image
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      Kenna McHugh 4 weeks ago from Northern California

      I hope some of you get a chance to read this. I'd love some honest to good feedback.