Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Native Tongue

"We love your grandpa!" the nurses called after us.  Of course they loved him.  He is a flirt.  He likes to shine his crooked smile for the ladies.

Grandpa navigated the way to the dining room, circled our choices on the little menus, ate silently next to his buddy who is also a John.  Fish, jello, cottage cheese, chocolate pie, all of it into his 6'3" frame.  In a wheelchair, just like his mother.

She had spent her final years in a nursing home after suffering a massive stroke that robbed her of English and left her with Slovak.  He, now, was in a physical rehab center, having fallen into a period of weakness.  Whether he would return home remained to be seen.

As we wheeled back from dinner, the sun was starting to set.  The hospital grew rooms.  There was a beer for me in the fridge.  His mother was in the kitchen.  I was his daughter and his granddaughter and his daughter.

"You sure you'll be all right?" he asked about my leaving.  "I guess it's about a half a mile from here."

"I'll be fine," I said.

"Let me call Grandma.  I'll let her know you're coming."

"That's okay, Poppa.  I already gave her a call."

It is a fifteen-minute drive to their house.  I arrived just after sunset.  My grandma sat in her chair watching TV; I took a seat on the couch to her right.

"Poppa called to say you were coming," she told me.

We chatted.  A few minutes later, the phone rang.  My grandma picked it up.  I heard my grandpa's voice on the other end.  After an English "hello," they spoke in Slovak.

Whenever they speak Slovak, it means they are telling each other to give us money.  I braced myself for the tussle that would follow.

Grandma hung up.  "I told him you made it okay."

She stared quietly at the TV.  Then she said, "I know why he was speaking Slovak.  He thought he was calling his mother."  We laughed.

"Dialed the same number both times.  Didn't notice that."  This she said a little self-consciously.  Then, "That's sweet, calling his mother to say 'I love you' before he goes to bed."

 = = =

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  1. My great-grandpa flirted with all the nurses in the home, too, and they loved him! This reminded me of him; the accent (except my grandpa was Dutch), his solicitous behavior. Well written!

  2. Oh, man. These are so hard, the stories of our loved ones again. I love how you mentioned his mother early on, then she came back in the phone call. Great details that made this story real and unique, even though so many of us have been through something similar. Great job!

  3. Heartbreaking but a great read. I like the way you opened with a line of dialogue, the indirect way you told us his name, and the nice little turns like "the hospital grew rooms." Very well done.

  4. The hospital grew rooms. Perfect.

    I don't know if I'm meant to feel sad but this post really makes me feel so happy :) It's my first cab off the rank on the grid this week and it's a great start - thanks very much :)

  5. This is such a sweet story, and how interesting that a stroke can leave a person with just one language (if they have more than one).

  6. Oh, yes, a sweet story indeed! It's sad in a way, but it made me feel warm to read it.

  7. This was so touching, Esther. I really enjoyed it.

  8. So bittersweet. He sounds like a wonderful man. You did a great job with this!

  9. It is sweet - calling his mother to say I love you. It's sweet too that your gramma saw it that way.

  10. So sweet, but sad, but adorable at the same time. Lovely overall. :)