This is a fictional story I created while taking a class from a website called Write from the Heart.
Since I was a baby, my great-grandmother, Myrtle Willis, (whom I call Nanna), spoiled me rotten. When we were at the grocery store, she always fished for a spare quarter to buy me a gumball. Nanna gave me a Superman costume and then pretended she believed I could fly. She would pretend to be a villain, or bank robber, and I would save the day. She always liked superheroes and she passed that onto me. When she babysat me, she would microwave some popcorn and play the old cartoon of Superman, 60’s Batman, or The Incredible Hulk TV show. That was before all the new Marvel movies were made. The few marvel movies that were out were as my parents said, ‘to violent’. In the old movies there was nothing more than a fake punch and some corny sound effects.
We hung out a lot until I was 11 years old. Nanna and I stopped watching superhero movies then. That was right before I got old enough to watch new superhero movies, which is a shame, because Nanna would have loved Captain America, Spiderman, Man of Steel, and of course The Dark Knight. That was when she had to go to a nursing home because of her dementia. It got awkward. I knew I should spend time with her while I could, but it was difficult. She didn’t remember a lot of things, not even our conversations from the day before. She kept retelling her story about the time she went down to New Mexico and played poker in her early twenties with her boyfriend. That story was funny – the first five times…
It had been three years since I last visited her at the nursing home. I know, I know, you are probably thinking that I am a horrible grandchild, but just put yourself in my shoes and imagine for a moment that your best friend ever starts having trouble remembering the things you used to do together, and suddenly can’t even remember your conversations from the other day. On top of all that Nanna was about to die. I didn’t want to think about that. My mom kept telling me I should go down and visit her. She visited Nanna once a week, but I made excuses that I had homework.
On a Tuesday, Nanna’s nurse called my mom and told her that Nanna had had a fall while she was walking to the recreational room. Nanna had broken her leg. Her nurse also mentioned that Nanna’s health in general seemed to be declining. When my mom told me the news, my lip quivered, and I had to walk away before Mom could see the tear that rolled down my face. I hurried to my bedroom. Holding back my sobs until I could get a pillow to hide my face in, I choked on my hidden gasps. Lying curled up in a ball on my bed and sobbing, I felt all my memories with Nanna flood back to me. The memories crushed me with the certainty that we could never go back to how it was before.
That evening my family loaded up in our minivan to go visit Nanna. On the way over there was total silence. When we walked into the nursing home, a nurse in pink floral-patterned scrubs smiled and asked us who we had come to see. My mom smiled and told her we had come to visit Myrtle Willis.
“Oh, Myrtle is so sweet!” exclaimed the nurse. “She is always so cheerful, which is rare around here, but she is not feeling well.” With a sigh she squeezed mom’s hand and then added smiling, “I am Violet! You must be her family? Which one of you is Andy? Myrtle is always going on and on about him.”
I gave a faint smile, nodding, as I blushed, and stammered out, “I’m Andrew, I mean Andy.”
My thoughts were racing, screaming, My Nanna still loves me! She told her friends about me! She hasn’t forgotten me!
When we reached Nanna’s room, I suddenly felt nervous and guilty for not having visited her. Sure, she might think I was great, but I felt horrible. I mean, I had ignored her for three years. I walked into her room with mixed emotions, which is why when we were standing next to her wheelchair, I couldn’t’ say anything.
Nanna greeted everyone with a huge smile. Turning, she noticed me for the first time and outright grinned, “Andy! You’re here!” Turning to the nurse she asked, “Have I told you about what a fine young man my Andy is?”
Nanna was about to dash off into a description of what a fine young man I was, which I knew could not be true, so I hastily interjected, “Nanna, you look wonderful today! Nurse Violet must be helping you a lot!”
That statement did exactly what I had intended. It changed the subject and shifted the awkwardness to someone else. It was now Nurse Violet’s turn to try and change the subject. While she was doing that, I started wondering how I was going to connect with Nanna if I felt so guilty when I was around her. Violet was probably looking down on me too, for not visiting more often.
Looking back over to Nanna, I discovered that Nurse Violet had in fact changed the subject. Nanna was relating her story about playing poker in New Mexico.
The next day after school, I grabbed my bike and peddled over to Heaven’s Doorstep, the nursing home. It was only a mile away. The fresh shock of Nanna’s condition had worn off; so, I was able to fully take in my surroundings. Heaven’s Doorstep was made of yellowy pink bricks that looked like puke. The tin roof was darker than military green and the supporting poles which were the same color were wrapped in tattered gold tinsel. As I walked in, I got a whiff of grease from the kitchen, disinfectant, and peppermints. The lady behind the front desk automatically cranked out, “Welcome to Heaven’s Doorstep. It’s the closest place to heaven this side of glory.”
I noticed that the walls were papered in a dark yellow and were hung with pictures at rakish angles that still had the price tags from a garage sale. Most of the pictures were landscapes, but it was hard to discern what type through the thick layer of dust. It was June, but a leftover Christmas tree still adorned the Recreational room. Evidently the front desk was influenced by the same decorative touch as the rest of the facility because it too was a mass of frumpy tinsel.
When I found Nanna’s room, she was swallowing her daily pills with Violet’s aid. Hearing her door, she turned her head and then spit out her water to shout, “Andy! You came!” and then turned to the nurse to ask, “Have I told you about my darling Andy?”
Nurse Violet, evidently remembering my previous discomfort on this subject, replied, “Yes dear, you have. He has come just to see you! Here, swallow these last few pills.”
Hastily Nanna choked down all her remaining pills at once and then turned to face me, still grinning. I awkwardly hugged her, and then sat on a green paisley chair next to her. She asked me how I had been, and even though I wanted to connect, I could only give yes and no answers. Thankfully Nanna was able to carry on a conversation by herself. She continued rambling on, oblivious to my social paralysis. After a fifteen-minute talk, I got up, hugged her, and said goodbye. She waved and cried, “Come back soon!”
Those words broke my heart. She loved me so much that she still wanted to see me.
Her words replayed again and again in my head that night. I kept thinking, If Nanna didn’t forget everything, she would be disgusted with me. She thinks that I have been so kind to her. I wish I could live up to her expectations and show her that I still love her. I had an inspiration.
The next afternoon I again biked to Heaven’s Doorstep, but this time I carried a Reader’s Digest and a crossword puzzle. Marching back to her room, I set them on her bedside table.
“Nanna” I explained, “you are probably bored a lot, so I brought you some things to do.”
She cut me off, “You are such a fine young man. I don’t know if I have told you how much I appreciate you. I don’t think you have ever known how much I adore you.”
It was my turn to cut her off, “Nanna you have told me that, and believe me, you are wrong. Here, Mom said old people like this kind of stuff.”
I didn’t stay very long. As soon as I could, I quickly hugged her and walked out to bike home. I had decided that every day I would bike down and give her some new activities, so on the next trip I brought her some superhero movies. I asked Violet to play them for her.
When I came in one day with some more movies, Nanna looked at me still smiling radiantly. “Andy,” she said so sweetly, “Will you stay for a little while?”
I reluctantly sat down. Again, it was an awkward one-sided conversation. Strangely Nanna enjoyed every moment of it. I left after 30 minutes, but Violet stopped me in the hall.
She said, “Andrew, do you know that your grandmother has not used any of the activities you bring? She looks at them a lot, but she doesn’t pay attention to the movies when I turn them on, she hasn’t read your book, and she hasn’t filled out the crossword puzzle. It is the sweetest thing I have ever seen that you care for her so much, but she just wants to be with you. She’s much happier when you are around.”
I went back into Nanna’s room and relaxed next to her for an hour, just letting her talk, and listening. She told me another story. It started with “When I was in my twenties my boyfriend took me down to New Mexico to play poker.”
When I got home, I asked Mom to come talk with me. Mom sat for an hour listening to me pour out my inner conflict. I finally cried and leaned on her shoulder. She didn’t say much, but her advice was what I needed to hear.
“Andrew, Nanna really won’t care about your mistakes. She has lived long enough to know that no one is perfect. You could take your homework down there and just do it next to her.”
Mom grabbed her bible and flipping to 2 Corinthians 9:6 read “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,” Closing her Bible, she said “sow seeds of love and someday you will reap the harvest.”
The next afternoon I took my history books and sat next to Nanna. She was so happy that I was there and asked me what I was reading. I told her it was about World War II, and she told me that she had been born in 1938, one year before the war started. She told me the stories her parents had told her from the war. Her father had been a pilot. When his plane got hit by a missile and crashed in the ocean, the Japanese found him in a yellow inflatable raft and sent him to a prison camp. He was one of the few survivors from his unit. I listened to the story for two hours, and this time it wasn’t boring.
On Saturday I got there in the morning and Nanna told me more stories. Even though one of them was the poker story, many of them were new to me. It was crazy how much she could remember, but Violet told me that dementia patients often remember things from their childhood even when everything else fails.
I asked her if she wanted to watch a superhero movie, and she said yes. It was like old times. Violet even went to the kitchen and made us a bag of popcorn. It was not part of Nanna’s diet, but Violet said a little bit wouldn’t make a difference to her health. We watched Captain America. Nanna seemed to like it, so we watched The Winter Soldier too.
We stayed up late watching movies. Heaven’s Doorstep was closing for the night, but Violet let me stay to finish both new Spiderman movies. Nanna loved them. She even told me that I reminded her of Peter Parker.
“Remember, Andy, how you used to dress up and defend an imaginary city? I was always the villain. Remember that? Andy, I have always wanted to be a superhero. What was his name, oh I can’t remember? I just want to do good things for people. Always remember this, Andy,” She cleared her throat, “the most change is brought about by simple kind acts.”
That night I had an idea. The next morning, I called Violet before going to school. She liked my idea and agreed to help me out.
That evening when I dropped in on Nanna, I had a surprise for her. I had found some scraps of fabric and old clothes, and then used mom’s sewing machine to fashion a cape and mask.
I tied the mask around her head, and the cape around her neck. Wheeling her wheelchair out into the lobby, I told her, “You are going to live your dream. You are going to be a friendly neighborhood superhero. Let’s go do some effective change in this world.”
She didn’t seem to remember what I was talking about, and I realized she had forgotten everything that had taken place the night before. That didn’t matter though because I knew she would still have fun.
That morning on the phone with Violet, I got a list of women in the nursing home who were having an especially hard time. I decided that it might cheer them up to have their fingernails painted.
“Nanna,” I asked, “would you like to be a superhero?”
Nanna gently smiled and said, “You know I would.”
“Well, we are about to be kind of like Batman and Robin,” I explained. “I am going to be your sidekick, and we are going to help some people in distress.”
“Okay,” she smiled. “But you are going to have to be the hero and I will be your sidekick because I am very tired.”
“Nanna, if you were having a distressing day would it make you feel better to have your nails painted?” I asked.
“Why yes it would. I recall that when I was in New Mexico with my boyfriend, I was sad, and he went to a store and bought me some silver nail polish. It cheered me right up. Say did I ever tell you about how when I was in my twenties my boyfriend took me to play poker in New Mexico?”
“Yes, you did. Nanna would you like to help me paint some fingernails?
“Andy, you know I would!” she cried gleefully.
Nanna helped me select the colors for the first few people. Her hands were too shaky to paint. She snored through the next few people. Her eyes would flutter now and then, and a drop of drool would fade into the big wet spot on her shirt. At last, she sat up rubbing her eyes and asked, “Where are we?” I smiled, reminding her that we were being superheroes. She grinned and exclaimed, “I have always wanted to be a superhero!”
The great thing about forgetting something, is that you get to relive the experience of surprise. I surprised her with the news that we were superheroes at least three times. Every time she was freshly astonished by my intuition and mind reading powers.
Finally, when we finished, with Violet’s help, I laid Nanna down in her bed and walked out the door. She smiled at me and asked, “Leaving already? You just got here! When I told her I had to go, she was intentional about saying, “Andy, I love you.” I knew it was intentional because of the way she looked me square in the eyes.
I kissed her cheek. I am so glad that I did because the next morning we got a call from Violet telling us that Nanna had passed away in her sleep. I will always remember her last words to me, “Andy, I love you.”
The next Saturday at her funeral I got up and told everyone about our last few days together. I was crying and they were crying. Violet was in the front pew smiling at me with tears streaming from her eyes. Afterwards everyone met at our house for lunch. As we all sat around the table, people began telling more stories about Nanna. It seemed like she had taught everyone in the room something. My mom squeezed my shoulder and smiled at me.
“Andy,” she whispered, “would you believe it? When I was your age, Nanna used to take me to the nursing home to sing to the people there. It seems that she taught another pupil and was repaid for her kindness. Always remember, Andy, that when you bless those around you, there will be a reward to your soul. If not here, in the next life.”
I will always remember Nanna’s legacy. She loved me when she could have resented my absence, and she taught me the value of perseverance. I learned that in life, the time I spend doing things for and with the people around me, is what makes my life meaningful in the grand scale of things. Love is not always a feeling; it is a daily choice.