My mother is 84 years old and has the constitution of a Russian tractor driver. She survived a brain hemorrhage six years ago and has almost fully recovered. She has never had a cavity, toothache or headache. The only notable health issue she has experienced is an irregular heartbeat that was addressed with the implantation of a pacemaker—something that makes her seem all the more impregnable, like a Bionic Viking Grandmother.
Recently, we went shopping for a double bed for her assisted-living apartment. She had had a twin bed, but one day she hopped onto it, overshot the landing and flipped to the floor on the other side. The result was a broken toe, which she continued to walk on to everyone’s horror. Once the toe was properly set and bandaged—she never required any painkiller—the family decided that a double bed might prevent this type of mishap in the future.
Before we entered the mattress store, Mom smiled sweetly and whispered to me, “When we get in there—shut up.” I asked her why and she said she didn’t want the saleswoman to know too much. Why, I wondered…would we have to kill her?
When we entered the store, the very pleasant saleswoman greeted us and asked what we were looking for that day. Mom eyed her suspiciously. I responded by explaining our quest for a double bed. She pointed out a few mattresses in our price range. Mom plopped herself on various models, clutching her purse tightly in both hands, squinting for a thoughtful moment, then loudly announcing either that the beds were “awful” or “felt alright.” I made some small talk with the saleswoman and Mom impatiently walked over to me and shouted, “Shut up! You talk too much!”
Viking Grandma had spoken. I smiled, the sales lady smiled and I promised Mom that I would refrain from talking. “Good,” she replied with irritated satisfaction, and proceeded to wander around the store in an aimless sort of way.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that my mother is not lucid. While she does sometimes have days when she has problems conjuring up the right word, she most definitely understands everything going on around her. And with a candor unique to the elderly, she has no problem telling shopkeepers when their goods are too expensive, shoddy or just plain ugly. She also feels it is her moral duty to rate how my hair looks and if I have dressed to her liking. Poor posture is also up for grabs. The courteous veneer that we all learn to don throughout life has long since worn away for her, and she reports things strictly as she sees them.
I guess after having grown up during The Great Depression, pinching pennies and doing without to save for retirement, raising two children, and caring for a sick mother and husband then losing them both, she has earned the right to drop all pretenses and speak her mind. She is a rugged survivor. And she storms the ramparts of social convention, wherever the gauntlet may land.
(C) Copyright 2010