It took me almost a year to return to the cemetery where we laid my grandpa to rest. And almost two more to write about it. He is eternally bird watching now, high up on a hill that overlooks the city, just a half mile from my house. There is an overlook there, with trees and memorial stones, and a wall with etched placards to tell the stories of the the ashes it holds.
It was a normal day when I first visited, in the fall. I headed to the grocery on my lunch break to get some ingredients for a cooking project that the kids in the after school program wanted to tackle. I suppose they were tired of charades and my budget friendly game of “let’s build something out of paper towel rolls”. There is almost nothing that will keep me from a chance to teach those cute little urban kids a reasonable life skill and quite literally nothing that will keep me from a reason to eat.
I was standing in line at Kroger with a bag of frozen hash browns, staring at the gum and mints listening with half an ear to the elderly gentleman in front of me, struggling with his food assistance card. The cashier looked at him solemnly and said “You ain’t got enough” in her slow Appalachian drawl. I looked over at his cart; 6 cases of assorted sodas, 4 bottles of shampoo, 3 frozen pies, and more bags of cheese than I could count. The old man scratched his head and tried to swipe his card again while the bag boy started offering up options that he might not need from his cart. I couldn’t imagine any reason he would need any of it.
“You AIN’T got enough.” the cashier said again.
“But I need it…I need it for the thing.” he said earnestly. My breath caught as I recognized the tone of a man missing his words.
“You’re ten dollars short.” the cashier said, waving her open hands in his face. He looked at his own hands, as if there might be something in them he had forgotten.
I opened my purse and slipped a ten to cashier. “Here.” I said patiently, not moving my eyes away from his wrinkled confused face, staring desperately at his basket, “It’s really okay. Just take this and let him go.”
The cashier looked at me blankly and stuffed the cash in the drawer, handing the gentleman his receipt. He turned and looked at me, almost aware that something had happened but in his distant blue eyes, I knew he wasn’t sure. They were the same color as my grandpa’s eyes. An antique blue, aged by a good life but a bit sadder than when he was young and now laced with confusion. He was tall like grandpa, a small tuft of hair on his head and freckles on his arms. He didn’t say anything to me, but shook his head a bit as he turned with his cart through the automatic doors.
How many people had paid for my grandpa’s groceries before we noticed a problem? How many hours had he spent wandering the store, choosing too much of the wrong thing? Were people rude to him? Did they help him? Did he know something was wrong?
“He didn’t even say thank you.” the cashier scoffed, breaking my train of thought and shoving my hash browns into a bag. I started to cry. Large, silent tears that confused the bag boy and annoyed the cashier. I handed her a five, and tore out of the store with the frozen bag under my arm. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the same stone bench that I hid behind at my grandpa’s funeral. I cried for awhile, clutching the hash browns until they melted, cold potato water dripping over my arm. I don’t know if I was crying about him, or for him, but I missed him.
Three fourths of Alzheimer’s patients go undiagnosed, left to wander the grocery stores unattended, wanting cereal and heading home with frozen pie and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Even in families as loving as ours. Ultimately, it was a brain tumor that took my grandpa, but it was Alzheimer’s that took his livelihood. There is a whole world of people out there, sobbing silently into their hash browns, and because I never took the time before, I want to dedicate this blog to them and most importantly my mom. Because she noticed. Because she took his keys. Because she changed his locks. Because she wrote his bills and managed his care. Because even when it was hardest, she made sure my grandpa always had the right amount of love, the right amount of care, the right amount of shampoo and just enough (but not too much) pie.