Funerals. Weddings. Sudden illness. Anniversaries of marriages and sometimes of deaths. We gather and it reminds us of the things we know are essential, but which we put carefully and lovingly aside, like the good china or the silver candlesticks, out of the way once the everyday hustle takes over again.
My Grannie had a small “incident.” At 97 things can change quickly. I got on a plane. I went, I came back. In between I tried to make sure she felt seen, that she remembered the things she’s forgotten in the sorrowful fearful dwindling of strength and time.
We were eating in front of her favourite television program, and, thinking I was making an occasion of dessert, I had set out the old silver spoons I found in the drawer next to the everyday cutlery. She asked me to take away her spoon and bring one of the small mis-matched ones from the everyday drawer. It looked like the kind used for camping, or airline service before they switched to plastic.
When your hands are bent with arthritis and the bones in your wrists have become brittle you will only want to use thin, cafeteria-weight cutlery. When your feet swell and your waist has vanished, you will tamp down the back of your slippers and pull your sweaters a little lower so the undone button doesn’t show. Maybe you’ll take a walk anyway.
Or maybe a walk is too exhausting and you don’t want anyone to see you in your broken slippers. So you will stay in. Soon enough, you will feel forgotten. So why bother?
I tried to help Grannie bother. I washed out the silk scarves, which hide gravity’s crueller effects and distract fashionably from pulled-down sweaters. We walked a bit. We laughed often because sometimes that is the only thing you can do.
Shortly after my return I baked a cake. Next to the plates I set the rarely used inconvenient small silver forks with their odd notched tines and pleasing, unfamiliar weight. A few nights later I tossed nugget potatoes in the pretty gilt-rimmed special occasion china bowl even though it was a Thursday night, and it was just us, with homework in the corners and the dog drooling under the table.
I want remember what truly matters. I want to live until I am weak from loving well and being loved. I want to learn to fix my mistakes a little better every year. I want to stay interested in other people and I want to remember to be kind. And when the time comes to set down the silverware, I want to use the mismatched lightweight stainless spoon with the dented handle because I also want to be able to eat the strawberries and cream."