“Who's there?" Bubby says as soon as I open the door. I walk into the family room and her face lights up. "Hi Pussycat! Thanks for coming. It's so good of you to come. You can't stay long, you're busy. Come sit down. You'll just stay for a little bit. I can’t offer you a thing. I don’t know what’s in my Frigidaire and I can’t get up, I…”
“Hi Bubby,” I say, kissing her cheek before taking the seat she indicated.
“How are things? I can’t offer you a thing…there’s water in the kitchen. And a glass. And maybe some nosh, I don’t know. I can’t offer you a thing.” She says “water” like my dad does, so it sounds like “wooder.” I am momentarily embarrassed that I trained myself to say “water” instead, just like I taught myself to say “on” instead of “oin.” Bubby’s house is synonymous with “nosh” in my mind, and I feel a pang that there is nothing to eat on the table, not because I’m hungry, but because it’s symbolic of the changes occurring.
“Things are good, Bubby,” I say, taking off my jacket. “I don’t need anything, I just ate.”
“How’s school,” she says before I’ve finished.
“Work’s good,” I say. She forgets I’m not still at school and can’t really understand the concept of an internship.
“You work hard,” she says, nodding, like she knows she’s right. “You always work hard. All my kids work hard.”
“How are you feeling?” I ask, trying to get a word in before she asks another question.
“I’m fine. That school you go to, it has a good reputation. I never hear anything bad about it. You do good work. You work hard.” These are not questions, they are statements. “And you love it. You work hard but you love it. You work hard but you love what you do, baruch hashem. You work like a dirty dog.”
“Everything is good though, Bubby,” I say.
“You never complain. You work hard and you never complain. You cook for yourself? You make yourself dinner?”
“Yes Bubby. I…”
“I think that’s so good. All you kids cook for yourselves. I don’t cook anymore. I put the thing from the Fridgidaire, from the – the freezer--in the…um…the…I put it in the…um…”
“Yes. I put it in the microwave and…that’s it. I don’t cook anymore.” She nods, finalizing her last statement
“That’s okay, Bubby. And you’ve got people helping you here now. Don’t they cook for you?”
“Yes, they cook, the other day she…uh…what’s her name? Not this one. The other one. The one that comes here sometimes. At night. She comes at night. She made chicken. It was alright. She made it in the kitchen and gave it to me, and it was alright. It was alright.” She continues without taking a breath. “Your father won’t let me drive anymore. And the doctor, he doesn’t want me driving anymore. But I told them I know I can’t drive right now, so we’re just going to wait and make a decision later. We don’t have to decide now. I’ve been a good sport, but I’m not going to give that up. I don’t go far. I go to the beauty shop. I go to…you know…just right up here.” She points. “Down…” she points in the other direction, “you know…McDonough…no, not that one…Liberty…down near where Aunt Jean used to live…anyway, I go down to…you know that place to buy groceries. I go down there. And I go to Betty’s. And I visit Aunt Faygie. And that’s it. That’s all I do. I don’t go anywhere else. But they say I can’t do that, and I tell them they can’t take that away from me yet, for the thing there. But that’s what they said.”
“Well Bubby, I think everybody is really worried right now. And you have all these people here helping you that can take you where you need to go. You just tell them you need to go to the beauty shop or go shopping and they’ll be happy to…”
“We’re not talking about it. I don’t go far. I just go to the beauty shop and to visit Aunt Faygie and…”
“It doesn’t matter how far you’re going. Things can happen, even just going down the road to the beauty shop. Things can happen in a parking lot. You know that from when you hit that pedestrian before…and everything was okay that time, but Bubby, you’ve got to listen to your doctor even if you don’t want to listen to Daddy.”
She laughs. “He takes good care of me. I know he just…he worries. Does he worry? He worries.”
“We all worry, Bubby.”
“I know, we all worry about everybody, honey. We all worry.”
“We’d worry less if we knew you weren’t driving.”
“We’re not talking about that,” she says. She folds her arms to let me know the conversation is really over. There is silence for a moment as I listen to my heart pounding in my ears. How do I contradict my 87-year-old grandmother? She isn’t a scary woman, but in this blur of a conversation, my heart hurts as I try to figure out how to be her granddaughter and also protect her. How to convey my respect of her authority and age and wisdom. How do I give her the respect I need to give based on the very fact that she is my Bubby, and also let her know that she is wrong. That I disagree with her. That I am in a position where I need to protect her. This is a woman I have never seen cry, even when my grandfather died. A breast cancer survivor, a woman with 14 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, my grandmother serves 42 relatives for Passover seders. She makes salads so big she uses garbage bags to toss the lettuce with the dressing. She yells at me when I carry dishes to the sink, telling me to sit down and stop doing so much. You don’t disagree with her. You don’t tell her what she can and can’t do. She uses lines like “I’m your Bubby and you listen to me.” And so you do. You just do.
But none of that matters now, because we’re not talking about it. That much is clear. It’s a conversation we will need to wait to resurface and, maybe then, I will have better answers. Maybe then I will know better how to say it…or maybe not. Maybe it will still make my heart squeeze in a rhythm not my own.
“The lady who helps me…you know the one? She was here the other day.”
“Which one?” I ask.
“You know the one. I can’t think of her name.”
“Was it Paula?”
“No. The other one.”
“No. The other one. I don’t know why I can’t think of her name.”
“What about her, Bubby?”
“Why can’t I think of her name! You know. The other one. This is so silly. Why can’t I think of her name?”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t get old, kid,” she says. “Getting old is for the birds.”
I laugh. “I’ll try not to,” I say.
“Why can’t I think of her name?” she asks again. “She has the same name as me.”