I spent the last three days helping my grandparents move off the family farm and into an assisted-living residence.
Grandpa came down with pneumonia, went into the hospital, then into rehabilitation. While Grandpa recovered, Grandma stayed with my parents, who soon realized she couldn’t live by herself. So together they decided assisted living would be the next step.
When I arrived I found my grandparents moved into the equivalent of a well-appointed dormitory room with a big window, a big bathroom, a refrigerator, microwave, sink, a modest closet and some cabinets. Grandma was sitting in one of their dining-room chairs in the middle of the living space. Grandpa was in the brown armchair.
They looked completely out of context. I’m used to seeing them against the warm colors and dark wood trim of the farmhouse, with 24 acres and a dilapidated barn as a backdrop. Here they were like cutouts against an apartment-wall white. There they were, careworn and storied, inhabiting a room without a soul, without history.
Sure, there was the curio topped by the decorative plate depicting the Last Supper, the cedar chest my grandpa bought my grandma for $35 while they were dating, and the dining room table I’ve never before seen without a tablecloth. But it wasn’t the same.
I sat on the floor and popped medicine out of individual pillow-packs into a days-of-the-week container. We talked about their goldfish. At the farmhouse Grandma and Grandpa had 10 goldfish in a tank on the kitchen counter. None have names, except the one who is missing a tail. He’s “Stubby” and swims by twisting his whole body back and forth.
They say goldfish adapt to the size of their environment. A goldfish in a fish bowl will stay small, but one in a pond will grow larger.
My grandparents are like goldfish.
When they lived on the farm, they moved from room to room, albeit, Grandma moved a little slowly with her dodgy hip and Grandpa’s emphysema meant he had to store up energy to get from the kitchen to the bedroom or bathroom. Grandma used to navigate the steep cellar stairs to get food out of the freezer, used to walk down the driveway to get the mail and the newspaper.
They moved slowly there. But they fit, and they knew every corner of that house.
This weekend I watched Grandpa struggle to cross the hall. I helped Grandma find the bathroom. My mom and I wheeled them both down to check their mailbox. We showed them the dining room.
We hung family pictures and paintings in the living room and the bedroom. We hung my great-grandmother’s prayer plaque over Grandma’s bed.
We stocked the fridge, brought them yellow-and-red tulips in a vase and assembled a baker’s rack for the kitchen.
When we left, they seemed a little less out-of-context.
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