When I was a child, those choose-your-own-adventure books were my favorite. Remember those? And on the topic of adventure, 2012 was a year that contained plenty, of which I'll always have fond memories. I could write endlessly about them, but these words are not intended to be about all those things; this one’s about my grandma, and its about a personal project I gave myself at the very beginning of the year.
Growing up, Gram lived just up the road from my folks. I’m an only child — and so is my mom — so we were all quite close. When I was in grade school, Gram and I would spend Friday evenings watching TGIF on one of the local television channels. We’d order sausage pizza from Pizza Hut and make forts in her living room. She always cooked up some of the best breakfast, and she would have those choose-your-own-adventure books.
Thanksgiving and Christmas time was just about the best one-month stretch of the year, as both her and my mom enjoyed baking and being together. It was always just the four of us, my dad included; pretty low-key & always enjoyable. My fondest memories will always be of holiday time at home.
Several years ago when I was still in college and living with my folks, Gram moved in with us. She was convinced that I needed a meal in front of me all twenty-four hours of the day, and she was likewise convinced that I always had laundry that needed to be folded. Nearly all of the time, she was correct. And then after college, I moved out of my folks’ house and Gram went to live in a couple different assisted-living homes in Lawrence and Baldwin.
As mentioned, at the beginning of 2012 I made it a goal of mine to go spend some time with her each Wednesday morning. A few minutes past nine o’clock I’d always be able to find her waiting stoically for me just inside the front door. “I wanted to make myself visible, just in case you might miss me,” she’d say, as if there were a serious possibility that I’d turn around and leave if I didn’t see her the split-second I walked through the door. I made sure to always take my camera, as well as a pencil, to keep track of the funny things she'd do and say. She nearly always had some kind of mildly offensive comment about an innocent passer-by; or an off-the-cuff, matter-of-fact piece of advice about my weight or haircut. Which I appreciated most of the time.
We talked about the weather in Arkansas. We sat outside watching the flag fly. We listened to the neighbors make small talk. We chatted about the latest technology – her pondering what “they” were going to “come up with next." We did word-searches and pieced together jigsaw puzzles. We looked at the pictures on my cell phone. We ate Cheetos and peppermint patties. We counted down the days until Thanksgiving. And more often than not, we just sat together.
So, after a full year of Wednesday mornings with Gram, the words and photos below are an attempt at pulling together as much of the personality, teaching, opinion and character that Gram left on me.
Gram eventually found her way to a nursing home in Wellsville, Kansas — a thirty minute drive down a rural road that seemed to have a personality of its own — where she played Wacky Ball & nickel Bingo, and was the in-house cat’s favorite resident. She turned ninety-two on October 2. Then, on December 1, she picked her own next adventure and went to be with Jesus.
It’s funny how much a person can teach you without using many words at all, from a wheelchair, with not much physical ability. Funny how you slow down to just the right speed after driving through the country and sitting down for two hours with someone whose only concerns are the weather and whether or not her wristwatch is working correctly. Funny how I’m still learning from her, remembering just now all the little things she did & said in given situations over the years. And funny how, without harping or preaching, she somehow encouraged me to repeatedly choose my own adventure.
I can guarantee that Gram is shaking her head right now, downright disgusted that I’m putting her pictures where strangers can see them. To be candid, while I’m terribly compelled to put these words & pictures in public's view, I can’t explain exactly why. Perhaps it's simply reemphasized the power of a photograph to me. Or maybe it’s just showed me, again, the power of relationships & the power of stories. More than anything, I’m grateful to have had time — and these photographs to serve as memories — with Gram over her last few months. This project and the resulting stories have developed into something so dear to me that I’m unable to really comprehend it. Something that I most certainly wouldn’t trade for anything. To relate it a bit, the fact that I get to capture emotions, and document stories, similar in fashion to this one, for families and couples year in and year out... that's really, really cool to me.
Choose your own adventure. Find your path & blaze it. Make memories & tell stories.