Five KissesEssays, Family — By Susie Finkbeiner on October 18, 2012 at 5:29 am
My grandpa’s room was on a high-up floor of a hospital in Lansing, Michigan. Walking down the hall, we could see the State Capitol building through a window. I walked back and forth across that window, looking at the white peaked building. The strange thing that I remember is that the closer to the window I got, the smaller the Capitol looked. The farther away I stepped, the bigger. That particular part of my memory sits, dream-like in my mind.
Twenty-eight-year-old memories seem to do that.
“When we go in to see Grandpa, you need to use a quiet voice,” my mom said. “And he might not remember who you are.”
“I know,” I answered.
At six years old, I understood that my grandpa’s mind was sick. That he forgot things. Got upset. That he sometimes acted like a little boy. That we could play cars together. Sometimes I had to buckle his seat belt. And I’d been told that he wouldn’t get better.
I knew that it was a sad thing. That the adults around me were upset. I knew because the last time my grandpa went to church, he couldn’t remember how to take communion and that made my Auntie Olga cry. I couldn’t remember seeing older people cry, and I wanted to look at Auntie Olga. I wanted to touch her hand or hug her. But my mom put her arm around me. Made it clear that I wasn’t to stare.
“She’s sad because Grandpa is her brother,” my mom whispered.
Yes. I could understand. And, so, it made me sad, too.
The hallway in the hospital was very long and very bright. I knew that I shouldn’t run or smile or laugh. I think my brother and sisters knew, too. Being the youngest, I usually took my cues from the three of them. Sometimes I still do.
I have very few memories of my parents speaking to one another. It seems to be a strange gap to have. But I do remember them speaking to one another in the hallway. My dad came out of a room and whispered to my mom. But I could hear him.
“They’ll let the kids in. But just for a little while,” he whispered.
The next thing I remember is being in a room. The smell and the lights and the way my grandpa looked made my head hurt. He sat. Looked weak. Wore hospital clothes. He was confused.
For the first time in my life, I was sad about all of it. Truly sad. Not because someone else cried. Or because my parents told me that it was sad. My heart grieved because I was losing my grandpa.
We stayed for only a few minutes. I do not remember much of the visit. Only that my dad put a blanket across his dad’s legs. And that my grandpa smiled a few times. His eyes used to crinkle in the corners when he smiled. Such a kind smile. Even as an adult, nearly thirty years later, the memory of his smiling blue eyes makes me homesick.
The four of us kids lined up to give him hugs. To say good-bye. Ginger. Sam. Betsy. Susie. We lined up. The oldest was first. The youngest was last. Like the von Trapp children sans lederhosen.
“So long. Farewell. Alveterzane. Adieu.”
My siblings hugged him. Kissed him. I could tell by looking at him that his cheek would feel rough against my lips.
I stepped toward him. Put my little arms around his neck. So afraid of hurting him. What a strange thought that a little girl could hurt an old man. But I feared it.
He kissed my face.
Five kisses. I giggled. His eyes crinkled with a smile.
He was still there. A little of him, at least.
“I kissed you five times because I forgot how to count,” he said.
I giggled one more time.
We walked down that hallway again. The Capitol shrinking as we walked toward it.