My grandparents have lived in the same house all of my life. A wonderful, magical house situated in the middle of two and a half acres with mature oak trees… Even though some of it’s former glory has faded, it’s a place that I still find magical even now that I’m in my 30s, and when I watch my own two little ones swing on the back porch swing or play hide and seek in the yard I’m instantly reminded of doing those same things with my own sister, and it feels like home.
Today I went to that same house to visit my grandfather – I call him Paw. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and this morning for work I was about 10 minutes away so I decided to go pay him a visit once I was off. When I was younger, it was Paw who introduced me to John Wayne, and much like the characters John Wayne played, Paw seemed six feet tall and bullet-proof to me. But Paw did always have a weakness, his love for my grandmother, Gammy. Gammy was one tough lady, but was also incredibly chic, my grandfather always used to say that Gammy was “one hell of a woman”. They were married for 64 years.
Gammy passed away two years ago after a battle with Alzheimer’s.
Losing someone you love is always crappy. But Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Not just to the person who has it which I can’t even fathom what that would be like, not knowing who you or the people around you are, but for the people who love them. I remember the first time Gammy walked right past me, her oldest grandchild, like I was a complete stranger – I still remember the shock and hurt I felt. After that I tried to distance myself from it as much as possible, I just couldn’t deal with it – what the disease did to her. Unfortunately, I now regret not seeing enough of my Gammy before she passed. But my mother, and my Paw, were there until the end. In the end, my grandmother didn’t remember anyone. Anyone, that is, except for Paw.
Paw has had it rough the past two years, health wise, but in true John Wayne style doesn’t like to show the pain that his arthritis causes him, nor the pain of losing his life-long love. But, perhaps today I caught him by surprise, his “#1” granddaughter dropping by unexpectedly…
For four hours we talked. I talked to him about what was going on in my world, and he gave me some good grandfatherly advice. Then he told me the same old stories that I’ve heard countless times but he gets such a kick out of telling them that I listen anyway, and finally, he started talking about Gammy. About how they started dating when he came home from the war, how they married, how she supported him through college and when he refused to turn in a final assignment because of an argument with the professor, she did the assignment for him, got a B, and Paw was able to graduate. He told me stories of their travels (he was in international construction) and how she stayed in Texas and built for them the house that they have lived in my whole life when he was out of the country for work. That she always called him her “Boy Toy”, since he was younger than her.
Then he looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and asked me in almost a whisper, “Why is it, Shannon? Why is it that after two damn years, I can’t get over losing that woman? What kind of woman does that to a man?” I thought for a moment, and with tears running down my own face answered, “One hell of a woman.”