When I was a child, those choose-your-own-adventure books were my favorite. Remember those?
Growing up, my grandma lived just up the road from my folks. I’m an only child — & so is my mom — so we were all quite close. When I was in grade school, Gram & 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 & Christmas time was just about the best one-month stretch of the year, as both her & my mom enjoyed baking & 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 & still 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 & Gram went to live in a couple different assisted-living homes.
At the beginning of last year, 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 & 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 & 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 (where she grew up), 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 & pieced together jigsaw puzzles, we ate Cheetos & peppermint patties, we counted down the days until Thanksgiving (her & my favorite holiday), and more often than not, we just sat together.
So, after a full year of Wednesday mornings with Gram, these words & photos were my best attempt at pulling together as much of the personality, emotion, teaching, love, & opinions that my grandma exuded throughout the year.
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, & was the in-house cat’s favorite resident. She turned ninety-two on October 2; and 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 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 slows you down to just about the right speed. 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 has somehow encouraged me to repeatedly choose my own adventure.
Choose your own adventure, friends. Find your path & blaze it. Make memories & tell stories.