Saturday, August 27, 2005

Grandmother Dearest

A few years ago I made the mistake of calling her "grandma." She corrected me gently, and asked me to call her grandmother because she was entitled to that level of respect. And yes, she used those exact words.

She's always been something of a challenge. One of the many, many legends tells of the time my teenage uncle brought a girlfriend home to meet the family and he asked his mother to be nice. "I mean your nice nice, not your mean nice," he specified. Another time, when they lived in San Francisco, she suggested going for a pleasant cable car ride at midnight. When the guests and family demurred, she thundered, "We're going to go, and we're going to have a good time, goddamnit."

Anyway, my grandfather has been in the hospital this week for knee-replacement surgery, and my poor father has been stuck babysitting his mother because as her senility progresses she really cannot be left alone. Granddad got released today, so we went to go pick him up and help get him home.

We realized it would take some time to get the prescriptions filled, so we decided we would drop it off at the pharmacy, take granddad home and get him comfortable, and then come back to pick up the pills later. The hospital gave him two for the road anyway, he was fine.

Now, my grandmother is 85 or so and is essentially blind, so we decided the easiest thing to do was to send me to run in with the prescription. Grandmother insisted that she do it. We started to say, "Well, no Andy can move a little faster, then we can get Pop home--" "No, let me do it, goddamnit."

Well, as she's blind shall I say...not all there? was decided that I should accompany her into the drugstore at least. Dad had to park the car and granddad sure isn't going anywhere.

So we get in, she hands the prescription form over, and the nice lady says, "This will be ready in 20-30 minutes."

Then, in her calm but firm voice I have come to recognize as her "mean nice," she says, "Well, no, this is for someone who just got out of the hospital and is in pain, we need this right away."

The nice lady said, "Well, I understand, but we just have a procedure to go through, this has to be verified and so forth, and there are other orders ahead of you."


Then I said, "It's okay grandmother, the plan was to drop this off, take granddad home and get him comfortable and then come back."

"But he's in pain, and he needs this now."

"Well, no, actually they gave him two vicodin at the hospital, and this was his idea anyway."

Then she turned and looked at me with her two small, nearly blind pale blue eyes, which narrowed as the corners of her mouth turned up like a snarling dog, and she spat, "Shut your goddamn mouth and go home."

I have to say this took me aback. Our relationship hasn't been exactly warm and I'd heard all the stories and seen her be plenty mean before, but to hear this from my own grandmother...well, I felt like I'd been punched in the chest.

The kind pharmacy lady tried to help and say, "Actually you know, I think he has a good idea--"

"This is not your business," grandmother snarled. "I told you to go home."

Eeep. So I called my dad on the cellphone and said, "Uh...I have a little situation" So he came in and I gave him the lowdown and he said, "Fine, we'll just leave her here."

"You can't!" I protested.

"Hell, I'd leave her in traffic right now."

"No, you can't leave her here for these people to deal with."

Fortunately, this being Oregon, the pharmacy staff recognized that perhaps just this once it would be in everybody's best interests to put a rush on this order. We got the pills and made it out to the car. Long story short (too late, I know) we managed to get home and get grandfather inside, and then she threw us out. In fact, she slammed the front door in my face so hard that if I hadn't honestly leapt out of the way, she'd have broken my nose.

Then, my father -- who is a teetotaling Southern Baptist -- said, "Let's go get a drink." I had a Grey Goose and tonic, he had a brandy manhattan.


Marc said...


The story is sad, but you managed to make it humorous...especially with the pictures.

I fear my grandmother might have turned out this way if Alzheimer's hadn't completely taken over her brain at 82 and rendered her little more than a two year old. She didn't swear, but she had moments of psychological and physical cruelty that were surprising: like the time she lost it and came after my sister with a shoe, beating her for not practicing her piano lessons for as long as she should have; and the way Grandmother stood over her as she practiced, waiting for her to make a mistake, only to direct her to play it over and over again until it could be played without mistake. Unfortunately, it made my sister, who could have been a good pianist, hate the piano to the point that she didn't play in my grandmother's presence ever again after my grandmother moved from the house. Of course, my mother blames herself for the fact that my sister could have been a concert pianist if not for my grandmother. Life is grand.

Matthew said...

Yowch. I hope the weekend starts looking up. Are you sure it's safe to leave her in charge of your grandfather?

Andy said...

No, definitely not safe to leave her in charge. My dad was going to spend the night there last night, but I haven't heard yet how it went. I asked what would happen if she wouldn't let him in and Dad said, "She can't stop me." Still, I'm sure he didn't get a lot of rest.

Jon said...

My grandmother was kind of like that too -- I could tell the same the "Grandmother, not grandma" story word for word! -- and the other stuff sounds like what happened when she developed her Alzheimer's, to an extent... so sorry to hear you and yours are having to go through that...

Matthew said...

In the spirit of looking for the bright side...

It would seem that as the pharmacy was so speedy in filling the perscription, your Grandfather should have an extra Vicodin or two lying around. Maybe you should point this out to your father.

All this begs the question, would he be better of taking it himself, or powdering it up in your dear Grandmother's afternoon tea?

Jess said...

Sorry for the trouble. I know things like this don't make life easier!

Matthew said...

Ouch, Andy.

Methings Grandmother should have been taken down a peg or two in her day, although by now it hardly seems right, given her age and mental state.

Kudos for handling it the best you could.