My grandma, Dorothy, will be 91-years-old this June. She has lived alone for nearly five years now since my grandpa’s passing in 2012. April 28 would have been their 72nd wedding anniversary.
Let that sink in for a minute. 72 years together… happily married, for 72 years. They met when my grandma was just 19-years-old, living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After a few short months they were married. The life they lived together is the closest thing to a fairytale that I’ve ever seen. The relationship they had, and the typical roles they led were so different then what today’s couple’s experience. My grandpa worked hard every day outside, drilling. My grandma worked hard every day inside, running a household and keeping the books for my grandpa’s company.
My grandpa fixed everything. He maintained their cars, the house, the yard, the company. When we lost my grandpa in 2012, she lost her partner. Nearly her entire life was spent with that extraordinary man. Simple things like working the thermostat, changing batteries in the remote, normal home repairs, were all daunting tasks to her. Her age and memory don’t help the cause either. The family all take turns making the two-hour drive up to help her as often as we can. Yesterday I noticed that the thermostat was flashing low battery. As a young woman in 2017, I thought well, I’ll just change the battery and it’ll stop flashing. I mentioned to Gram that I was going to fix it for her so she could turn on the A/C whenever she thought the house was too hot. You would have thought I was standing in front of the thermostat with a hammer. I flipped open the latch to show her where the batteries are and explain how simple this was to fix. Gram slapped my hand, “Don’t touch it again,” she demanded.
Gram is one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet, but oh boy she is not someone you wanted to piss off. I can remember my older sister and dad tell me stories about how bad her temper used to get. It doesn’t help that she is also a recovering alcoholic and even many many years of sobriety don’t hide her dry drunk anger sometimes. To top all of that off, she has the worst anxiety I’ve ever seen. Everything scares her, everything worries her. Grampy used to calm all of this. He had such a carefree confidence about life that settled everyone’s nerves. The last five years there has been a steady decline in her ability to problem solve. It still amazes me how much she can do on her own. We’ve all offered for her to move in to our homes, but she is happiest where she is closest to Grampy, which is their home on the lake.
After she slapped my hand away from the thermostat, I took a deep breath, and continued trying to reason with a completely unreasonable person. She kept repeating that I COULDN’T fix it. I showed her where the batteries were in the drawer that I had bought just a week prior to this visit. I showed her how they were the right size. I explained how the thermostat is just like the remote. It simply tells the HVAC system what to do, just like the remote to the TV. I promised her that I could do this. I could fix it for her. She begged me to drop it and leave it be.
“Tom can fix it,” she said. “Your dad can fix it next time, just leave it alone I’m not even hot.”
We were all hot, the house had to be at least 80 degrees. I dropped it. I texted my aunt to let her know that if Gram calls and says the HVAC system is broken that the thermostat just needs batteries. I apologized for not being able to fix it and essentially causing an unnecessary trip for my uncle to change a set of batteries.
I left my grandma’s house a few hours later still angry about the thermostat. Why couldn’t she just let me change it? Why doesn’t she trust me like she trusts men? Why do people lose their ability to think through a situation as they age? Why does she have to get older?
As I reached the end of the driveway and stopped to check for traffic to my left, then to my right- there it was. “Harlan Drive”, an old wooden sign my grandpa had made to mark the driveway to the home. Grampy always changed the batteries. It didn’t have to make sense to me, because it makes sense to her. She is re-learning everything all over again at 91-years-old. She wasn’t giving me a hard time. She wasn’t trying to be sexist. She was scared, and in that moment I bet she really wished grampy was there. She was just being Dorothy, and Dorothy always let her man, Harlan, change the batteries.
Song of the day: We all miss you so much Grampy! I thought about all the songs you and Gram used to dance to, but decided I’d rather listen to Solo Cup and remember how silly you used to be and how much we used to laugh together.