Monday, November 05, 2007

Just a little bit of Grace

I'm not sure I'll ever understand why he loved her so much - but he did. Even as a child, I saw the way he looked at her and knew he was hopelessly smitten by this tiny lady who fussed at him but never over him. In fact, it never crossed my mind that she loved him at all but I'm sure she must have, in her own way.

I don't know when he realized something wasn't altogether right about her but I've heard stories that make me think her bizarre behavior began when her daughters were very young. Perhaps it was an extended, unchecked case of postpartum depression following the birth of four babies in eight years. I don't suppose we'll ever know what triggered the breakdown but we do know she had one.

He took her to doctors, got her treatment - including shock treatment at one facility (something he always regretted) - and brought her home where she would have periods of normalcy sprinkled with episodes of wacky behavior that become more frequent and eventually more wacky as the years passed.

Her girls grew up and left home, each taking their own emotional baggage to deal with in the coming years, as we all do. Then it was just the two of them again, Graham and Grace. He, a dawn til dusk, no nonsense, hard working farmer who worked his land and his brother's land, a cross he almost let break him. She stayed home, a confused and anxious housewife whose mind was slowly being seized by schizophrenia.

Her signature stunt was her "trip to Fort Worth." Every so often, he would come home from the cotton fields to find a note on the fridge that said simply, "Gone to Fort Worth to visit Lucille", her sister. But she wasn't gone at all. She was upstairs in the attic room. And the only access to that room was via the very narrow pull down staircase in the hallway. It was so narrow in fact that he couldn't maneuver his 6'2" 275 lb. frame up them.

He was rarely surprised to find the note because on his way home, he had passed her car parked several blocks away, usually in front of the same abandoned house he passed everyday on his way home. They'd lived in this small Texas town for over forty years so even if she chose a different house to "hide" her car in front of, it would take no more than five minutes to discover it. She would stay upstairs for days at a time, watching soaps during the day, sewing on the portable machine in the closet and cooking her food on a hot plate. She used a bucket for a toilet and according to him, would sneak down to clean it during the day when he was gone.

She was odd. She loved dolls. I had a few but she kept most of them put away so I wouldn't ruin them. She spent hours happily humming while she sewed the tiniest little dresses for my Barbie doll, dresses with perfect collars complete with intricate tatting - yet she never hugged me once that I can remember. In fact, she didn't like me much and I always knew it. He knew it too and protected me when he could. She pulled my hair a few times and made me wear clothes that embarrassed me at school. She hid my ironing in the freezer and told Daddy Graham I did it - but he knew better so I really didn't get in trouble for it.

She put padlocks on the cabinets so Daddy Graham couldn't get food from the cupboards because she claimed he was too fat - but spent hours baking individual coffee cakes and crocheting lap blankets for every single resident of the local nursing home.

The disease ravaged her mind over the years and eventually they had to take her car keys away. She forgot about Fort Worth and became much more concerned with the fireflies who were dying and having funerals in her sweet pea bed. They were dragging their little coffins over her sweet pea vines and that made her very angry. She would stand at the back window and peak out at the garden, watching closely hoping to catch them in the act.

We all told him it was time to find a place where she would be safer but he wasn't ready. He was retired and convinced he could stay home and care for her himself. Then one Thanksgiving, we were all home and out she came to serve Thanksgiving dinner - in the short, pink baby doll pajamas she'd made for herself some time before. In her 80's now, the outfit looked hysterical on her, pantie style bloomer bottoms and a loose fitting top that was almost too big. Her ever present hairnet sat like a rat's nest on top of her head with the knot threatening to fall onto her forehead Ruth Buzzi style. It was funny, memorable and sad.

Within a few years, my grandmother was moved to a nursing home and eventually, he joined her there. She still talked to fireflies and forgot who most of us were - but she always knew who he was. To the end he was her protector. It broke his heart to see her deteriorate but he stayed right there with her.

They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the nursing home. When my cousin stood back to snap a picture of them, my grandfather reached across their wheelchairs and tenderly laid his large hand over hers, now drawn up and useless.

H was clearly still just as smitten as he'd ever been.