Flying the Coop

My three kids are spread out across the country.  My older daughter is in Manhattan preparing to graduate from New York University.  My second daughter studies neuroscience at the University of Colorado, and my son recently left for college in Tallahassee, Florida.  This Thanksgiving Day, for the first time in several years, we will all be together, and for that, I am humbly thankful.

My kids called last Thursday to put in their orders for the feast.  Their main concern is that there be no oysters in the dressing.  Speaking of stuffing, they asked, will I even be able to make it, given that our family is gluten free?  And this was the final mandate: Lauren, the neuroscientist, proposes activating some new neurons in my brain via the challenge of deep frying the turkey.

I promised oyster-free cornbread dressing, which is gluten free if one uses cornbread made without flour, which I believe is God’s original recipe for manna.   And I roundly rejected the idea of frying the turkey because I don’t want to burn down my house.

Then they said something that made my ears sizzle.  They said, “We’ve been talking about how we’re all so stressed at school that we can’t wait to come home and let Mom cook for us and just take care of us.”

My response to them was, “I’ve been working so hard lately that I was thinking you guys could come home and take care of me.”

The conversation took place while I was driving to Atlanta.  My grandfather was in the hospital, and I was on my way to see what I could do to care for him.  He’s nearly 91, and his doctors are predicting the imminent failure of a heart that’s endured the Great Depression, the horrors of liberating concentration camps at the end of World War Two, and the death of the woman he loved with every beat of that heart.

He was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday, and by noon on Thursday, when I walked into his room, the diuretics administered to flush out the fluid surrounding his heart had done miracles.  He was already grumbling about getting out and going home.  On Friday morning, I walked into his room at 7:15, and he was fully dressed and sitting in a chair that he had moved so he could face the door.  He had pulled all the monitors off of his chest, and his packed bag was waiting on his bed.

I’d brought him breakfast, but he said, “I’m not hungry.  I’m just ready to go home.”  When I suggested that he might as well eat while he was waiting, he pulled the bed tray around to the chair and ate.  Then, when his hospital breakfast arrived, he looked at the scrambled eggs, blueberry muffin, and fresh strawberries and said, “I’d better mess this up a little so they’ll think I ate.”  He ate every bite of that second breakfast, and that’s when I knew for sure Granddad was back.

His cardiologist released him at nine that morning, but we still had to wait for his primary care physician to see him.  By three, after repeated calls to the doctor that received no response, we decided the chances of a doctor showing up on a Friday afternoon or evening were not good.

When you’re on the backside of ninety years old, you don’t have time to waste watching afternoon television in a tiny hospital room with bad lighting.  So my brother went to the nurses’ station and found a wheelchair.  Granddad pulled the IV port out of his wrist, then settled into that chair, and we set the captive free.  My brother noted that it was a break worthy of The Shawshank Redemption.

As I drove the getaway car north on Interstate 75, Granddad laughed about busting out of that hospital.  Then he said, “I wish I wasn’t causing everyone so much trouble.”

The man fought in Germany and in the Pacific to protect us.  He has fixed numerous washers, dryers,  dishwashers and lawn mowers for the members of my family over the years. He bought me a piano when I was seven.  He let my family live rent-free in his house when my husband was starting a business.  And he took me to Shoney’s for hot fudge cakes when I was a kid just because he knew how much I loved them.

I told him it was no trouble, that I wanted to be there.  He said, “I need to just go ahead and die.  That would be better for everybody.”

“Not for me, it wouldn’t.”  I could hardly get the words out because I was crying.

He let me collect myself, and then he said, “Well, I’m going to try to hold out until the Rapture, and then we can all go together.”

We got back to his house, and I made him a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned soup for dinner.  He wouldn’t let me clean up the kitchen.  After he had done the dishes and settled into his favorite chair, I told him I was going to eat dinner with a friend and that I would be back by nine.

When I walked into his house at nine, he was still sitting in that chair.  He looked at his watch to confirm that I had made curfew and grinned.  He told me he’d been watching a television evangelist who was predicting that the fourth blood moon, foretelling the return of Christ and end of the world, would take place in 2015.  “I think I can hold on ‘til then,” Granddad said.  And then he told me he was going to bed.

My kids are coming home for Thanksgiving hoping for good food and TLC.  I can’t wait to dish both out because I know how good it feels to have someone take care of me.

But I draw the line at deep frying a turkey.

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