Grandma Kay: “I Never Meant to be Ordinary.”
Lakeside Center, Ventura, California. 2022. I sat across from my one-hundred-and-three-year-old mother, who sat nestled in her favorite chair next to a table where she kept a half-filled glass of water in case she had a coughing spell.
“This place,” she grumped. “If I wasn’t so old, I’d take charge of whoever’s running Lakeside and make some changes.”
“Like what?” I asked. “What would you change?”
“First, I’d get rid of all the silly stuff we do, like make birdhouses and play Bingo and sing songs. For Pete’s sake. Out of the fifty residents, there must be at least half who’ve had interesting careers. Some might have been teachers like me. We could talk about education, the traveling we’ve done, and what our lives are like now – diminished. But we can still enjoy a rich life.”
“How would you start implementing those changes?” I asked.
She took a sip of water and then said, “First, I’d organize a committee of no more than five. We’d discuss what residents thought about their lives here. The trouble is, the staff won’t listen to what we want. They think we’re too old to think for ourselves. I’d change that.”
“Sounds like what you’re seeking is more meaningful social interaction.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I’m tired of talking about medications, doctors, and grandchildren.”
This seemed a good time to ask a question I’d been wanting to ask for years. I inched toward her and said, “Speaking of meaningful interactions, was there ever a defining moment in your life? A moment when you understood a truth about yourself that you hadn’t realized?”
“Yes, Jane, I remember a moment like you described, like it happened yesterday,” she said. “Your father was watching a baseball game on television, and I was reading a book on the couch across the room. Suddenly, I felt waves of anxiety that shook me to my bones. Wave after wave, so strong I thought I’d pass out.”
“Do you remember what you were thinking?”
“Yes, the thought hit me so hard I almost fell over. I realized I didn’t love Henry anymore. Our marriage was over. We were just living together. The love we had was gone, and I’d have to find a way not just to support myself and you kids, but I’d be alone. I was terrified. He was watching a baseball game. I was alone on the couch facing a future I never dreamed would happen.”
“What did you do? Cry? Pour a drink? Go for a walk?”
“I realized I’d have to grow up fast. Without Henry. And I realized he had what I wanted – an education. But he wouldn’t let me have college because he believed a woman’s role was to be a good wife and mother. My education was out of the question. Stay home and find my purpose?”
I learned my mother didn’t shrink from making a tough choice: resume life with a man she didn’t love or get educated. She received a Masters in Education and taught for fifty years.