I was thinking about my maternal grandparents today. I have no idea what prompted it, but it all started with a memory of riding with my Grandpa down the road on the edge of town. I was pretty young because he was driving his old white '68 Oldsmobile. I remember thinking that he had a lead foot for an old guy.. and that it was kind of cool. Even then, it said something about him.
He was a beyond-frugal tenant farmer who raised 5 kids on less than anyone should ever earn for such hard work. That is, until his heart problems kicked in and he had to quit. But... I always knew him as an exceptionally cautious man. I knew he had been a scrappy guy in his younger days, and he had the reflexes of a cat up untill the end, but i never knew him to be carefree or careless.
So on that day in his car as he accelerated and made the Oldsmobile jet down the road... I saw a glimpse of the young wild guy he must have once been. Just a tiny glimpse...
Then... we approached a place in the road where the asphalt met an entrance on the right. It was on a slight hill and the entrance created a hump on that side of the road. It wasnt very significant... but most people still kept to the left a bit, or slowed down.
However, just as we met that rise... Grandpa gunned the engine and swerved into the hump, making a bit of a roller coaster effect. I gripped the blue vinyl door handle just as my stomach hit my thoat. And Grandpa let out a "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee."
I cracked up laughing as he said with a smirk, "Didn't expect that, did ya?"
Pretty tame, I know... but it stuck with me. Now, as a grown man I look back and realize that it stuck in my memory because it allowed me see another side of the old man... and a funny side, at that.
That memory took me to other memories about how he had a knack for finding gigantic, one-owner, low-mileage cars that were twenty-plus years old, but in perfect condition. He would get the car for a song and then drive it forever!
That memory took me to the last car he owned. It was the biggest of them all and by far the most plush vehicle he ever drove. It was a perfectly preserved relic - a giant, yellow barge. But... my Grandmother had developed problems getting around... and it was the only vehicle she could get in and out of.
That next memory brought me to think of exactly how important that car was... and how we never know how something so random will make all the difference.
In their last few years, Grandma was in a care facility and Grandpa would go see her almost every day. Then, when Grandpa took a turn for the worst, Grandma had to come to him in the hospital. But she never drove, and couldnt anyway. So the family would load her up in Grandpas car, or the care facility would use their handicapped accessible van to shuttle her to the hospital.
On Grandpa's final day, we had been told it was just a matter of time. He had been in and out... but we knew he was going to leave us sooner than later. The nurses and doctors urged the family to go take one last reprieve to collect ourselves, have a meal and then come back. We had just left the hospital to take Grandma home for a while... and the family met down the road to grab dinner. No more than we sat down at the table, we got a call at the restaurant. In just a few mintutes, Grandpa's blood pressure dropped and he was fading fast. This was it.
But... Grandma was back at the nursing home! We had to get her to the hospital with Grandpa. The family scrambled. Somehow I ended up with Grandpa's car keys and found myself racing toward the nursing home. Mom called ahead and the nurses were bringing her to the front. I swung the big old car under the portico and two hulking paramedics were out front and expertly plopped Grandma in the front seat.
I turned on the flashers and drove with Grandpa's lead foot all the way to the hospital. She softly held my hand for a few moments after we drove off until I needed it to steer. I wasn't sure if she was comforting me, or if it was comforting to her. I recall that Grandma kept saying, "Hold on, Gene. I'm coming. Just hold on, Gene."
We pulled into the Emergency doors at the hospital and more paramedics flopped Grandma into a waiting wheelchair and whisked her away. I parked the old car and took off running. I reached his room just behind Grandma and saw her reach out and take the hand of the man who had been her life-partner and father of her children for 60 years.
HIS life flashed before MY eyes as Grandma leaned toward him from her chair and said, "I'm here, Gene." She told him she loved him, and almost immediately his breaths slowed and then... stopped.
I don't know why I ended up driving Grandma back to the hospital that night, but I have always felt incredibly blessed to have been so honored as to have helped her be there at that moment. It means more to me than any other experience in my life before, or since.
And... THAT is what life is all about, isn't it? It is about providing a vehicle that will allow you to have every possible moment with those you love. It's about driving a little faster down the road sometimes just to feel alive, and... not forgetting to have a little fun along the way by steering into the hills just to feel the inertia. It's about getting there just in time. Or maybe... it is just about having someone hold your hand and say, "I'm here."
Funny... in such an important memory, the two things I remember the most are my Grandma's soft hand and my Grandpa's lead foot. There's a moral in there somewhere... but I'll let you figure out that one. The memory itself is enough for me.