Everyone has their Saturday rituals, a routine forged years ago yet remains constant in their lives. Some dive deeper into the comfort of their duvet covers, relishing an extra two or three hours of sleep that’s often forsaken during the weekdays. Some begin raiding grocery shelves for produce, dairy, meat, and most importantly snacks to hopefully last the upcoming week.
Others—well others like me are doing their own thing.
By now, I knew all of the staff members by name and they knew me too. Whether she was playing cards in the recreation room, knitting clothes for the homeless, or admiring the flowers in the garden, she found a way to bring up my name. Everyone just had to know that I was a sucker for Goldfish. And she couldn’t forget to tell them that she knitted my first set of clothes when I was born 22 years ago. One way or another, she’d let you know that the sight of a marigold always makes me shed a tear.
I walked through the sliding doors and breathed in the smell of sanitization, antiseptic, alcohol, and a touch of oatmeal. “Good morning Fannie-Mae!” Wendy’s enthusiasm was contagious. Her positivity brought a light that warmed the cold rooms and brightened the place despite its bland white walls. Even her scrubs could make you smile on a dark dreary day. Today, her matching uniform had pictures of dogs dancing in a conga line. Who could stay mad after seeing that? Not me!
With a smile, I waved back. “Good morning Wendy.” She was one of my favorite nurses. Words could never express my thanks to Wendy and everyone else for going above and beyond to give my grandma a little tender love and care. I remember crying myself to sleep when she first left. It happened in stages. First, she couldn’t stay home anymore. It was becoming a hazard to her health. Bruises. Slips. Falls. Soon her home and my childhood home, was sold and she was moved into an assisted living facility. Two years later, she was moved here into Riverview Nursing Home.
I walked down the familiar hallway, saying hello to each resident I came across. Anne was the first one I saw. Her beauty was still radiant even as she went through the aging process. Her greyish bob was longer than I remember. “Good morning Anne.” She lifted her head and acknowledged me with her eyes. Today was not a good day. Bad days contrasted from her good days by the pursing of her lips and a faraway look in her brown eyes. Maybe she was thinking of her estranged daughter, the one she hasn’t seen since she left for college at eighteen.
“Good morning Levi.” He answered with a grunt, a clear sign that he was warming up to me. He used to ignore me whenever I said hello. Leading up to my grandma’s room, I said good morning to Dave, Edith, Pat, Elaine, and Wesley.
I knocked gently on the door with my knuckles, careful not to startle her. I turned the handle and pushed the door forward which evoked the squeakiest noise that kept my grandma up most nights.
“Look who it is,” she said throwing her hands up in the air. She did a little jig with her hips and smiled wide with all her teeth—her real ones. She sat upright with perfect posture, a habit drilled into her by her mother when she was little girl, in the wheelchair.
“Your favorite grandchild?” I asked. My black box braids swished back and forth as I walked forward.
She chuckled, “I hope you don’t go around saying that.” I did although my siblings found it annoying. My mom would roll her eyes and my dad would chuckle. Her wall of photos was a testament to the truth. Right across from her was a photo wall narrating her life throughout the years and her loved ones. Since it was my idea, I appeared the most. These photos date back all the way to the day I was born. In that photo, she was holding me snugly against her chest with an unwavering smile as focused on the camera. New photos were added regularly to keep the photo wall alive.
I laid my satchel on the bed, freeing my right shoulder. The satchel weighed me down because I stuffed it with too many things. It held my keys, my wallet, a small package of tissues, female hygiene products, a stylus, pencils, pens, a notepad, my wallet, and a bag of chips.
“Didn’t you teach me to always say the truth?” Many lessons were learned during the time I spent at her house, telling the truth was one of them.
She clapped her hands together as she laughed aloud. “Child, you are too much for me! Come here and give your grandma some sugar!” She motioned me over.
I didn’t need an invitation to embrace my grandma. I ignored the feel of her frail body, a reminder that she wasn’t a young as she used to be. Thankfully, her mind was fresh, young, and as smart as it was when she was in the classroom teaching fifth graders. “How are you grandma?” I asked, pulling back to admire her appearance.
Her hands were cold and calloused from working odd jobs after losing her teaching job. “Oh, you know.” She said smiling. The braids from last week were starting to unravel. Tiny strands of grey hair escaped the previously tight holds.
She smelled of cinnamon oatmeal. “Nothing new?” I asked.
“Fannie,” she said, leaving off the Mae. She didn’t like the memoriam to my paternal grandma. She raised her eyebrow. "I’ll only spill the tea after you do.”
I doubled over in laughter, “Grandma!” I yelled. She wasn’t your typical newspaper reading or tea drinking grandma. As a young girl, I would listen to her narrate her adventures in her own backyard or with her neighborhood friends. “What have you been watching?” I asked.
“I’m old, not out of date.”
“True that, where are we going today?” I asked, ready to move the wheelchair. Last Saturday, we settled near the garden and listened to the birds sing us sweet melodies. I was thankful I took my allergy pills that morning or my allergies were going to make me sorry.
She slumped back in the wheelchair. “Let’s stay here, I don’t feel like seeing much of people today.” Instead of a wheelchair, I pretended she was sitting back in a chair at a hair salon.
“Whatever you say.” I said in a singsong voice.
My nimble fingers began unraveling the cornrows, gently maneuvering her hair to avoid irritating her tender scalp. “First, I am going to hear it if I don’t send some love from mom, dad, Jay, Steph, and Asia.” My family said more than that, but I could tell her later. Each of us visited regularly yet they deemed me the messenger of the group because I came more often than the others. “And Mr. Smith, Pam, and Troy say hello too. And Susanne says one of these days she’s gonna get your recipe for the cornbread right.” The latter was an ongoing bit between them. Everyone knew Susanne can’t cook anything edible.
“Mhm, one day,” said my grandma. “But not today or tomorrow or the day after that for the next ten years.” My grandma was loved by our neighborhood. During one of her transition periods, she spent a whole two months living under our roof. It was a dream come true for me but somewhat of a nightmare for my mother. To keep her busy, my mom introduced her to the neighbors who soon gave her a new sense of purpose. When they needed a quick and easy recipe, she was there to help. When new mothers couldn’t get their baby to stop crying, she was there to ease the mother and the baby. And when I needed someone to listen without judgment, she was there beside me on my bed with her back against the board.
Running the combs through the strands of hair brought me back to my childhood days, hours spent sitting on a wooden chair as she stood behind me tending to my curly hair. She was no hairstylist, but you couldn’t tell by the elaborate hairdos she managed to do.
“And Booker?” she asked. “How is he?” I didn’t need to see her face to know there was an all-knowing smirk.
“You know,” I said nonchalantly shrugging my shoulders. We talked on the phone earlier today, right before I left the house to drive here. Booker worked a late shift at the hospital last night, meaning his shift was just ending when he called.
“Actually, I don’t.” She said. “I’m cooped up in here all day. For a woman who’s in love with the man, you don’t like talking about him.” I could hear the curiosity in her voice.
Butterflies did flutter in my stomach when his name was brought up in any conversation. “I dunno grandma—we have a good thing going. It’s surreal...I feel like if I talk about it too much, I’ll ruin it or something.” I was still trying to wrap my head around it all. “You know?” I asked.
“Nothing is wrong with talking about the happiness in your life Fannie,” she said reaching upward to pat my hands. “You deserve to be happy. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, especially not yourself.”
Depression created a darker persona that I found myself retreating to every now and then. “I know,” I said softly. “Booker,” I said shaking my head. A small smile crept on my face. “Where do I even start?”
“From the middle,” she said. “Beginnings are overacted.” My grandma was truly one of a kind.
While combing, greasing, parting, and braiding, I told my grandma more about Booker. The information was nothing new. Yet, she ooed and ahhed as if it was all new to her. Her enthusiasm for my brewing romance was contagious. I found myself giggling like a little girl and spilling my secrets to my grandma. When the laughter winded down, I just had to ask a question that’s been weighing on my mind for days now. “Grandma?”
“What am I going to do without you?” Thinking of her death was morbid, but it was inevitable. Not thinking about it didn't mean it couldn't happen.
When I envisioned my wedding day, as most women do, I saw myself looking over at her as I walked down the aisle, as I said my vows, and when I was pronounced as Booker’s wife. When we have our first child, I was naming her Ruby after my grandma. And when she wouldn’t sleep at night, I imagined myself calling my grandma both night and day for help because I was at the end of my wits. I wanted her at every barbecue nagging at my father to cook the food to perfection. I wanted her to come over to family dinners, wanting her to relish in the food I made. She taught me to make almost every meal I know; cooking was our thing especially when I was in one of my moods. I couldn't remember a milestone of my life that she wasn’t apart of, and I wanted to keep it that way.
She was silent, mentally treading through rough waters. “You, my dear, are going to live a long life filled with happiness, love, and family.” She reached atop of her head to pat my hands again.
“The family isn’t whole without you.” She was that one special piece completing a puzzle, allowing you to the beautiful picture that you couldn’t quite see without it. “You’re the glue that keeps us together. You keep us sane. Even though you’re not here, you’re still here.” I explained.
“Coming here every Saturday is the highlight of my week. If I’m not here, where else will I be?” Maybe it was the depressed Fannie creeping in, but I was worried.
Losing my grandma terrified me at night. My mind has been wandering there more often ever since Booker’s closest friend’s grandma died unexpectedly. She, too, lived in a nursing home. One minute she was living and breathing and the next she was gone.
“Fannie, death is inevitable. But we can’t spend our every waking hour thinking about it. That’s no way to live. You can’t live in fear of the inevitable. When I’m gone, I want you to know I lived a good life—a happy life. I want you to look back at the memories that we’ve made and treasure them as much as I do.” She stared at the growing photo wall covering almost a third of the wall.
I got lost looking at them too. I smiled at the one where she taught me to bake my first pie when I was thirteen. I laughed the picture of her spraying my siblings and me with a water hose in the yard on a scorching summer day. We ran around happily in our bathing suits, relishing at the cold water against our skins. I sighed at the photo of her last anniversary with grandpa before he passed. Forty long years of marriage.
“But until then, do me a favor?”
Her question brought me back to this moment. “What?” I asked hesitantly.
“Just keep coming back and spending time with your favorite grandma every Saturday, or at least when you can, okay?”
I chuckled, “You’re my only grandma.”
“And?” she asked. “Doesn’t mean I can’t be your favorite.“ She settled comfortably in the wheelchair.
”Nope, not at all.” She was my favorite person in the world. There wasn’t a doubt about that.
My hands dropped to the side. I was finally done. I angled her face towards the mirror. The finishing touch wasn’t another braid or a coat of hair pomade. It was a gentle kiss on her forehead, soft yet firm, to remind her of the sincere love I had in my heart for her. It didn’t come close to the ones she planted on my small forehead every Saturday after combing the tangles and the knots wedged in between each strand. Yet, it was a start. I would come close one day.
Kiarra Louis is a lifelong learner whose many interests revolve around reading and writing. Her early love of reading developed because of her mother’s subscription to Dr. Seuss’s books as well as the Care Bear Series when she three years old. As she grew older, this love began to incorporate writing as well. Being published in various forms and outlets provided her with the confidence and skills to pursue a career in writing, which is why she is majoring in professional and technical communication at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Although she is pursuing a degree in professional writing, she continues to dabble in creative writing by writing short stories and posting on her blog. She hopes her stories reflect not only her own reality but those of many others.