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US Tour Day 2, Part 1: Grandma Visit

Driving in to Templeton along Highway 101.

My grandma Cele is my father's mother. I recently learned that she fell and broke her right hip and had a partial hip replacement. I guess between that and her Parkinson's disease she was too much work for the nurses at her old place in Morro Bay. So, they asked that she be moved to a convalescent hospital in Templeton. I was not pleased to hear this.

I didn't mind that she got moved to another city. That part was OK. But, before she was in an apartment living somewhat more independently. Now a convalescent hospital? Convalescent hospitals are not places where people go to get better. I have never heard of a single person who entered a convalescent hospital that came out alive. That coupled with the statistic that 90% of older people that break their hips die within the first year did not get my spirits up for my visit with my now frail and tiny grandmother. I gathered all my hope and faith and went inside the double glass doors.

The woman at the front desk insisted that there was nobody there by the name of Cele Gelles, and she asked if maybe I was thinking of another hospital? Heather Court is a tiny street, only about 300 feet long, and as far as I could tell this was the only convalescent hospital around. When I drove into Templeton I noticed that there was nothing but dry, brown fields for miles around—surely I had not overlooked any other convalescent hospitals. Maybe someone was hiding a tiny hospital in the fields? Or, maybe the hip, new thing is to paint geriatric facilities with an intricate camouflage that allows them to completely disappear into any dry, grassy landscape?

No. She had been admitted with her previous last name, Burgess. I always liked that last name better, and it required some mental effort to get me to using Gelles. And, for the last year or so I would think about my grandmother and the last name I preferred whenever I hung out with or thought about Bobby Burgess. I have often wondered if somehow they were related, not that it matters since blood relation is often only an excuse to mistreat people who are in fact deserving of great love and respect. And I already like Bobby Burgess plenty—no need to discover some lost blood relation.

She would have been angry at me for taking a picture of her in her, given her condition. But, I wanted to capture the moment. So, when she dozed off a took a picture of what she sees through her bedside window. The light from her the window made her smooth, sleeping face seem to glow.

Cele looked better than she did the last time I visited her. She was asleep so I could observe her uninterrupted for a few seconds. Her face looked so smooth, and the smoothness of it uniformly reflected the sun's glow as it trickled in through her bedside window. She looked almost lovely, and I tried to imagine what she looked like at 15 or 25 or 35.

I placed my hand on her arm and asked if she was planning on sleeping the entire day away. Without opening her eyes or acknowledging my presence she said yes. She opened her eyes a little at first—the initial wake–up opening. And her eyes seemed to open a second time as they focused on me—widening with excitement. I understood this motion, as I was also very excited to see her.

Even though she is very sick and often loses her train of thought, I still very much enjoy my visits with her. I have always loved my talks with her—she is intelligent and witty, well–travelled and worldly. I remember sitting with her in her apartment: She was always the one who riffed off of any joke; the one who brought out photo albums of her trips to Russia or China or whichever photo album was closest to the couch where we sat in her house.

She is so old now and in so much pain. But the same person shines through her fragile skin and her trembling mouth.

She asked me to play a song for her from my album, but she faded into sleep before I could press the play button on my iBook. This wasn't abnormal—she is often in and out of sleep a few times throughout her conversations these days. Her eyelids grow too heavy for her to hold open and she grows silent, only to reawaken in a minute or two, asking where we were in the conversation. So I kissed her on her forehead and told her she was wonderful and that she should sleep now, I would come visit again soon. Her eyelids heavy and closed and she half–mumbled–half–whispered, "Please don't forget."

How could I forget?

After that I drove to Atascadero and got off the freeway at the first exit that compelled me. I found a Masonic Temple with an unkempt lawn. It looked like a good place to lunch on the sandwich I made at my uncle's house earlier that morning in Paso Robles. I sat next to the Peace On Earth totem.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are so refreshing, and they remind me of lost childhood memories. I looked at the peace totem and considered that all sandwiches will taste much better when there is peace on earth.