I should have never cracked the car window. Dang this unseasonably warm weather. Sixty degrees in February. With time, being able to catch gulps of fresh air would be a blessing.
I watched the door of the ice cream shop as my husband ran in to get a coffee drink, and I watched a woman with a walker walk out. She was escorted by her son and his wife. She had all the makings of a woman who has come to terms with her older status and her condition. Bright, clean tennis balls adorned the front two supports, and sturdy sneakers held her in place. Her steps were slow and purposeful, bone and muscle clearly full of the memories of a few steps previously misplaced.
She was over 80, if she was a day. Well-groomed. Tidy. And the man, who I took to be her son, was my father’s age. 60s. Established. Comfortable in his life. The woman with them was his age, but he was the direct link to the walker, I surmised. All wore wedding rings, but the deep relationships ran beyond the binding of gold.
I saw them coming towards the car next to mine, and I decided that pulling back a bit to give them room would be so helpful. The tail end of my sedan was pretty much protected by the monster SUV idling to my right. A distant memory reminded me that you need room to maneuver a car door, a human and a walker. You need space and time and patience.
When my dad’s mother was in the last few years of her life, she was relegated to a walker. She took to it pretty well. She was a joyous and happy woman most of her life, and what would be a set-back to many just kept her moving, which kept her happy. What I remember most about this time was the feeling in myself that it was time for me to slow down, too. Rushing through life needed to abate, and I needed to watch more and see more. I had to be missing things by not standing still a bit. By not waiting. My time with her was clearly running shorter, and I learned much from her final years about myself and my family. Some of us couldn’t wait to ditch her walker at the restaurant after getting her settled. Some of us would apologize to others in public for our speed, even if we weren’t impeding their progress. I noticed strangers would occasionally have trouble making eye contact with me, as if my grandmother’s limited ability was a freak show they shouldn’t be watching. On several occasions, my grandmother would start to make conversation with an able-bodied stranger, and they seemed shocked that she could speak clearly!
Much came flooding back to me as I watched this group leave the ice cream store while adjusting my car’s position. Tears came to me slowly, and I was transported back to a cool, brisk day several years ago when I took my grandmother out for her last Coke and short walk. Within 24 hours, the beginning of her end would start, and she would soon take me on a journey that would eventually end at her graveside.
When the stranger had his mother seated in the front seat of his car, he and his female companion walked toward the back of their car, and he said to me, through my open window, “Thank you very much. That was kind of you.” I was barely able to choke out the part about how it was the least that I could do.
“I remember it all so vividly,” is what I told them from behind my sunglasses. And I do.