My father’s father was born in 1920.
Like my other grandfather (rest in peace), he has lived an almost archetypal Greatest Generation life: his childhood was the Roaring Twenties, and he came of age in the Depression. He served in World War II, though a complicated series of events prevented him from participating in D-Day (“Storming the beach at Normandy”, as Teddy Duchamp might say), then came home and participated in the Baby Boom. He drove truck for most of his life, raising a family of eight children during a time when a family with one blue-collar income could do that. He’s seen one child (his only daughter) into the ground, and very nearly lost several more, most recently my uncle Butch (christened Kenneth, but addressed as such only by his wife, and sometimes his mother).
He’s witnessed wonders and horrors that I can barely imagine. He’s been married to my grandmother for seventy years as of June 29, and he is ninety-three years old.
Grandpa is actually doing pretty well for ninety three years old, but to be honest…that’s not really very well. He reminded us all of that with a pretty big scare on July 4th.
It had been a very good day. Almost all of Clan Keville had come to celebrate Independence Day and my grandparents’ seventieth anniversary – sixty of us, give or take. All seven sons were there, along with their wives, all but a few of the grandchildren (and their spouses), and the great-grandchildren. The weather was bright and sunny, and while it was a bit cool for those of us who might have liked to spend the day in the lake, most of the gathering was happy to have avoided the oppressive heat that had characterized the rest of the week. One of my uncles had had the party catered, so my mother didn’t wear herself to a frazzle preparing food (just worried herself to a frazzle because the food situation was out of her hands), and the caterer made a fine barbecue. Best of all, there were enough kids so that they could entertain each other, and leave the adults to our own devices. There were pictures and songs – all in all, the kind of celebration you try for when you’re not sure how many more you’ll get. The afternoon was winding down toward evening, and people were being encouraged to revisit the buffet, which was still half-full. Grandpa was shuffling up for some more pulled pork…and then he was down on the concrete patio, his head bleeding.
In seconds, the sons converged. One elevated his head; another his feet. One fetched a blanket and pillows, another held pressure on his head wound.
Two granddaughters called 911 simultaneously.
In a terrible irony, two of the grandchildren who couldn’t make it were the doctor and the nurse. We had a grandson-in-law who was a firefighter, so that helped, but it was still good that the EMTs arrived so quickly. My youngest sister – the aforementioned doctor – tells me that the Fourth of July is a very busy day in emergency rooms (fireworks accidents and such), so they were probably on high alert.
My fear – everyone’s fear, I think – was that Grandpa had slammed his head directly into the concrete. That’s a good recipe for cracking anyone’s skull. Fortunately…kinda…it turned out that wasn’t the case. What had happened was that he’d tripped on the edge of the patio, then scraped his head against one of the porch supports on the way down. Head wounds always bleed so much, and at his age, the skin is so fragile anyway.
“At his age”. So much about this situation is about those three words. Grandpa shuffles instead of walks, so the edge of the patio is a tripwire. He takes blood thinners, so he keeps bleeding. His reflexes are slow and his bones are fragile. His neck is bent with arthritis, so elevating his head isn’t just necessary, it spares him excruciating pain. His age.
Anyway. Grandpa was okay. Mostly. He never lost consciousness. Completely lucid, knew what day it was, what year it was, who the president was. Didn’t want to go to the hospital, but they talked him into it. CT Scan turned up nothing, and that was what we were all really worried about. X-rays found some cracked ribs, but there’s not much they can really do about those anyway. They were able to send him home that very night.
But last I heard, his forehead was still bleeding. Much less than at first, but it still leaves blood on the bandage. They couldn’t stitch it because it wasn’t a cut so much as it was a gouge. It’s going to leave a significant scar, but then, he’s got other scars.
This past Friday, he was visited by his granddaughter, the doctor (doctor sis) (and talk about things that have changed in his lifetime), and she found that he did indeed have a concussion, which gave him occasional dizzy spells. Like the cracked ribs, there wasn’t really anything to be done, so they’d just have to wait it out.
Still, he’ll be all right. Eventually. I’m sure he hates all this fuss, and it must be as frustrating as hell for a blue collar working man to be so physically weak, but for his age…
What really haunts me is Grandma.
I was right there when Grandpa went down, but I was looking the other direction. I heard a thud, and then I heard Grandma scream. Grandma doesn’t scream. You don’t raise eight kids without growing a certain amount of mental toughness. But it was what she screamed that haunts me:
“Oh God, no!”
I remember a few years ago, Grandma had a melanoma on her arm that needed to be removed. My father tells me that Grandpa had already dug Grandma’s grave when he heard that. He didn’t know how easy such a thing was to treat these days – he just heard the word “cancer”.
Both of these people have reached a place where they believe that if anything, anything at all, goes even a little bit wrong, that it will be the end of seventy years. And sooner or later, they’ll be right.
Because she’s eighty-nine and he’s ninety-three. Their age.
I can’t imagine that kind of loss. It will be bad enough for me.
I wasn’t originally going to go up to my parents’ place for the Fourth of July. As a temp, vacations are days while I try to have fun while I count the money I’m not making. But when I heard that we were celebrating my grandparents’ seventieth wedding anniversary, I didn’t hesitate. Because every day we have with them is precious, and we have so few of them left.
Because of their age.
Tell the ones you love that you love them today. For me. Because whether they’re ninety-three or nine, the days you have with them are limited.