Yesterday, we had a family birthday party for Meelyn (April 17) and my mom (April 6) at my parents house in New Castle. After a fun afternoon of watching the Masters' tournament, eating pizza and nachos and pecan pie (Mee's choice), napping and playing cards, we four McKinneys headed over to the assisted living center where my grandparents live for a visit.
Visiting Grandad and Mary Liz is always a hoot. They are both octogenarians and have reached the time of life where they say what they feel about life in no uncertain terms, much like Dayden, my seven-year-old nephew and Kiersi, my two-year-old niece.
They were terribly pleased to see us and we all gave out hugs and kisses -- I belong to a very huggy and kissy family. Pat and Poppy and my Uncle Mike frequently greet Grandad with a kiss on the cheek. I wonder where all that started?
Anyway, we got our first installment of frank and uninhibited discussion when I asked Grandad, who has had trouble with one of his feet due to poor blood circulation, that foot was doing.
"My doctor is an idiot," he trumpeted belligerently. "You know I ended up having to get my little toe cut off because he wasn't checking my foot out. I might have ended up having to get my leg cut off right below the knee."
(He tells me this every time I talk to him, and I know his doctor, who is not an idiot. Grandad often forgets -- conveniently? -- that the reason why his circulation is so poor is because he just wants to grumpily recline on his bed like a sultan, watching endless reruns of Matlock, Magnum P.I. and Little House on the Prairie.)
"Yes, that's too bad," I said sympathetically.
He ignored me. "You know what I told him? You want to know what I said?"
(I know, because he tells me this part every time, too. I looked uneasily at Meelyn and Aisling, but you might as well try to stop the earth in its orbit than try to stop Grandad when he's in Indignant Mode about his foot.)
"I told the doctor, 'Get me a gun. Just go ahead and get me a gun.'" He made a gun out of his thumb and index finger pointed it to his temple. I caught my husband's eye and he raised his eyebrows. Meelyn and Aisling looked at Grandad with shocked expressions.
I gave a tiny, silvery laugh, indicating that we all knew he was telling a funny little story and hurriedly changed the subject. "And how has the food been recently?"
This is a topic on which he can work up a great head of steam -- the deep injustice of the lack of variety, the poor use of seasoning, the enormous field-hand style servings that no one could be expected to eat and the ice crystals that are allowed to form on the outside of every cup of coffee he lifts to his lips. I don't completely understand this, because the assisted living center has a family brunch on the last Sunday of every month, and every time we've gone, the food has been wonderful.
He made an impolite noise.
"What did you have for breakfast?" Grandad and Mary Liz both love breakfast, so that's always a good place to start.
"I had oatmeal," he said, brightening. "And some eggs. Toast, and some bacon. Milk, orange juice and coffee."
"That sounds good," said my husband encouragingly.
"It was," Grandad conceded. But then he frowned. "Everything else is terrible though. I won't eat lunch, ever. I had a glass of Ensure and some yogurt today."
I smiled at him. "That sounds good. I didn't know you liked yogurt."
"I don't. I hate it. But they tell me I ought to eat it, so I do." The fact that he doesn't do anything he's in the least bit disinclined to do was not lost on me; he must like the yogurt more than he's willing to let on.
"Have you had your dinner yet?" I asked, noting that it was seven o'clock.
"Yes, chicken noodle soup."
"It would be kind of hard to ruin chicken noodle soup, so I bet it was good," I offered.
"It was awful. It was cold. Everything's cold. But the thing that gets me the most is that whenever they serve chicken, they boil it."
I was a bit nonplused by this. On the one hand, there are so many delicious ways to cook chicken, why always boil it? On the other hand, the source was a man who dearly loves to complain about the food served at his really lovely assisted living center, which you'd think from his description was run like a reform school instead of being the beautiful and gracious place it actually is.
He took my silence for disbelief because he raised his voice and said, "Isn't that right, Liz? They boil it, the chicken."
Mary Liz hadn't been following all this because she is terribly hard of hearing and often turns down her hearing aids so that conversation murmurs past her as gently as the waters of a quiet stream slip over the rocks. "WHAT?" she yelled.
"They BOIL the CHICKEN."
"WHO BROILS THE CHICKEN?"
"NO! The KITCHEN! BOILS THE CHICKEN!"
Mary Liz paused to consider this. "WHY WOULD I WANT TO BOIL A CHICKEN? I DON'T HAVE A KITCHEN!"
Grandad, exasperated, shouted back, "NO! The KITCHEN here -- they BOIL the CHICKEN!"
Mary Liz gazed at him thoughtfully and then abruptly lost interest. "I LIKE FRIED CHICKEN," she announced helpfully to the room at large and then refused to participate in the discussion any further.
"She's very deaf," Grandad said unnecessarily, but in a conversational tone that indicated that he thought the visit was going quite well indeed. I was fighting back laughter by that point and noted that my husband and the girls were purple in the face and quivering.
We stayed a few more minutes after that. I took note to bring them each a Frosty from Wendy's the next time we visit, and maybe a couple of extra-crispy meals with mashed potatoes from KFC if we're there before they eat a meal. We kissed them both goodbye and came home, praying our rosary as we traveled through the greening countryside.
After we finished our prayers, I sat quietly, pondering the fact that I can see myself -- if I make it to eighty-eight years old -- being just exactly like Grandad. Or maybe even more so.
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