About a month ago, I surprised my Grandma and Grandpa — Grammy and Grandaddy — in Medford, Oregon for Grammy’s 89th birthday. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have not been able to see my extended family — family that I had typically seen at least four times a year. This experience of distance and longing has not been easy for anyone, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I was finally able to sneak out of Charlottesville and spend this precious time with my family. Although it pains me to think this way, I know that these moments are ones to cherish, and, now more than ever, that time is truly, and beautifully, of the essence.
Since I was much younger, I found comedic relief in observing the dynamics of my Grammy and Grandaddy, an unlikely pair that complement one another in many ways and clash in others. Grandaddy, G-daddy as his great grandchildren call him, is a jokester, always ready with a witty remark, a kind “hey gorgeous,” when you wake up in the morning, and a silly yodel to make his many grandchildren giggle. He knows how to burst my bubble and give just the right amount of grief — I love his honesty and his balanced ability to be so with love and laughter. My Grammy, on the other hand, is not always one for his jokes. Where others find Grandaddy’s jokes goofy and endearing, Grammy can’t help but greet them with an agitated “Ken!,” as she shakes her head and mumbles beneath her breath. Rather than take anything too much to heart, Grandaddy brushes it off, kissing her hand and absolving only Grammy from the grief he gives to everyone else.
To complicate matters further, Grammy is nearly deaf and Grandaddy is legally blind — they take the meaning of “other half,” to a whole new level. In many ways, even when they don’t see, or hear, eye to eye, they are each other’s greatest asset. Just as Grandaddy takes the time to ask that others speak louder or checks in to make sure that Grammy’s hearing aids are working properly, Grammy kindly whispers “can Ken see?” as we all huddle around a photo on my iPhone. While it may seem that these disparate disabilities likely lie at the root of their conflict, I have found that it bonds them together in a special kind of way.
Although G-daddy’s humor can really ruffle Grammy’s feather’s, on my most recent trip to Oregon, I noticed that their bond has only strengthened after two years of strict lockdown. As Grammy grows more frail, Grandaddy’s loyalty and care has remained unwavering. Despite his scarce ability to see, he insists on making her morning smoothies and helping her complete various tasks throughout the day. His greatest value to her, however, comes in the form of emotional attentiveness and empathy. Because Grandaddy has no trouble keeping up with the many conversations his kids and grandkids have around the kitchen table — we are really just trying to keep up with him — he often sits by Grammy’s side. She is relaxed when he is there, and it is evident that in staying at home she has solidified her real home in him.
During the last day of my February visit to Medford, Grammy’s birthday celebration with her five children, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren left her feeling grateful but overwhelmed. It took about an hour for her to fully grasp that all of her family was on the front lawn together, and, showered with heaps of love, Grammy struggled to differentiate the many voices from one another. She settled in, however, and after the celebration came to a close, Grammy and Grandaddy sat together in her bedroom lounge chair facing the TV. Although they did not know that I was watching from the doorway, I silently listened to their conversation — Grammy and Grandaddy sat in amazement, thinking about the lawn full of humans which they had created.
In a slightly rarer moment, I watched as Grammy took Grandaddy’s hand, gently kissed it and smiled at him with adoration. He could barely see her, and she could barely hear him, but their love was more apparent to me than ever before. He nodded to the TV, asking Grammy, “is that your boy on?,” referencing her long standing crush, golfer Jordan Speith. She replied, “Oh, leave it on please!,” and they spent the afternoon — Grandaddy on Grammy’s walker and Grammy in her chair — hand-in-hand, watching golf together.