Gene Pool

“Dear Je…”

“Hot food over here, cold food over there.”

My Grandfather was laughing so hard he couldn’t finish the prayer.

My Grandmother has always been a little hard of hearing. My Grandfather has always been a little hard of seeing. So between the two of them… they’re a perfect pair.

If that’s not the best way to describe my Grandparents, I don’t know what is. But allow me to continue.

My Grandfather is a well-educated, even-keeled man. He has a Bachelor’s, two Master’s, and a Doctorate. His official title is “Reverend Doctor Boppa Sir,” but we just call him “Boppa.” (Since I am the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, I called all the shots). I’ve never heard him laugh, but I have heard him chuckle deeply. He may forget where he placed his keys, but if you ask him a question about anything he ever learned, he’ll remember the answer. He was a College Professor before he retired, and he was also head of the Religion and Humanities Department for a while. It should come as no surprise then that when I needed help writing a paper for one of my classes, I sought him out for help.

When I called him up and asked if I could “borrow some of his knowledge” (those were in fact my exact words), he didn’t sound too enthused. But I could sense excitement in his voice as he responded with a strong, “sure. When are you free?” When I showed up the next morning, he said it would take him a few minutes to find his notes. Not more than 30 seconds later he returned with a copy of all his lectures. (Clearly he knew exactly where they were, and clearly he was waiting for the day when one of his Grand-children would ask for his expertise on his specialty.)

Unless you are prepared to learn why you are wrong and are prepared to receive a lecture on what Grammar means, “where are you at?” is not the correct answer to use in my Grandfather’s presence. Yes, he was an English major in College. And in case you are wondering, I probably received my love for English from him. But that’s not all I received from him. We both love trivia and game shows, and we both think Jeopardy is fantastic. We both like puzzles of the jigsaw and brain varieties. And while he does his crosswords in pen, I do mine in pencil. And we both love a good game of scrabble. I beat him at Scrabble for the first time a few months ago. I was excited on the outside. He wasn’t. But, I know on the inside he was proud.

He plays Solitaire on his computer for hours, but he’s never lonely. He has seven Grandchildren. One of them shares his name. (One time my Grandmother was yelling at my Grandfather, and my Cousin put himself in time-out (ok, it was more than once)). I’m sure when we’re all together it feels like there are more than seven of us. Both of his daughters married Italian men, and Italians are good at being loud and eating.

My Grandmother knows how to cook. When you are at her house, you never go hungry. At her house, there is no such thing as a simple snack, because even snack is five courses. Phrases such as, “Grandma, I wanted a little scoop of ice-cream, not the whole tub,” are heard frequently. The candy jars are always full, and you always leave her house a few pounds heavier than when you came. She doesn’t know how to cook for two people; she only knows how to cook for a small army of people. And even though she has hearing aids, she may not hear you the first time you call. But when she does, she’ll be there immediately.

When I was smaller than I am now, I would curl up in her lap, and we would read books for hours. By the time I was too big to fit in her lap, we had three joke books memorized. That is why I’ll always understand the punch line before everyone else (living with my Dad may have helped my getting of punch lines too, but shhh. It’s a secret). She always gives the best advice: “Never get old, Kaleigh. Your memory starts to go/your knees get bad, etc.” I hate to tell her my short-term memory is not much better than that of a goldfish. I think I’ve inherited her bad knees, too. They are starting to mimic the sound of an old house.

Staying home from school because of sickness were always the best. It meant a free day at Grandma’s. She just knows how to take care of you. When I had my appendix out one Christmas Eve, all I wanted to do was see Grandma. So I ate that yucky hospital food. I peed in the stupid toilet. I took that painful walk. And even though it was 7:30 pm on Christmas Eve when I left that hospital, I went to Grandma’s, because she wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see her. Grandma makes everything better. And I’m not sure if it’s because she was a nurse, or it’s because she’s Grandma. I’m leaning toward the latter.

When she left her purse in the cart at K-mart, the first thing she thought was, “Oh no! The Grandkids!” She was more worried about not getting those pictures of her grandchildren back than she was about the credit cards. And if that’s not the perfect definition of Grandma, you need to change yours.

My Grandparents give more than they take. They’ve been to more concerts, school plays, soccer games, and piano recitals than I can count. They even came to my High School Graduation (bless their hearts)! They’ve let my sisters, cousins, and me spend the night. They even let me spend a week at their house, sleeping in one of their extra bed, eating their food, because they didn’t want me spending the week in an empty house (even though I am 19).

My Grandparents taught me what it means to love. They taught me love is in the little things, not necessarily the big. They taught me loving someone is not the same as liking someone. And you don’t always have to like someone, but you always have to love them.

My Grandparents are adorable. She calls him “dear.” He pours her coffee and opens the bottles she can’t. And sometimes when he’s going to meet my cousins’ school bus, he will pause at the door a little longer and say “bye” one more time.

So I know genes are inherited, but most behaviors are learned. And I want a marriage like theirs someday. I want to be like them someday. And I know life isn’t a competition, but I’m winning. Because when it comes to Grandparents, I have the best ones.

Lesson Learned- A Memoir

How I ended up there, I don’t remember exactly; it’s a blur of events—a mixed-up jumble of vaguely remembered hallways, conversations, faces. What I do remember, however, is waking up, snapping out of that nice dreamland known as anesthesia. I remember stirring just slightly; opening my eyelids just enough to let a small ray of light hit my drowsy eyes. I remember seeing people with masks rushing around; I heard them yell, “Someone restrain her! Give her more anesthesia!” That’s all that had time to register with my brain before I was back under—returning to that mystical dreamland.

When you are little, Christmas lists are long and filled with trivial items such as toys, books, games. But now that I’m older, my lists tend to be filled with more meaningful things. This past Christmas, all I wanted was for my Dad to be off of work. You see, my Dad works three different jobs to support the 5 of us, and sometimes his work schedule doesn’t allow him to be around for the important events. This year, Christmas was one of them. And it wasn’t fair.

When I first found out that he had to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I was upset. I cried. I might have even thrown a temper tantrum. This man that has always worked hard to give his daughters the best life possible, who has always put up with ridiculous hours, who has always picked up the slack at work, who has missed many important events in my life since I was 4, now had to work on Christmas. And it wasn’t fair.

So, when it was time to start writing Christmas lists, the one item on mine was that Daddy could be home for Christmas. At the time, it seemed impossible. There was no way anybody would willingly volunteer to work for him on Christmas. Everybody he works with has families of their own.

It seems as though the person in charge of handing out unusual Christmas gifts has a sense of humor, because I got my wish—in one of the worse ways possible.

Do you ever have that feeling of impending doom, or that something bad is going to happen? On Friday, December 23, 2011, that’s how I felt. It started out as a normal day, except for that nagging feeling in the back of my mind, warning me to be on my toes. On the surface, nothing was unusual; however, deep inside me, all hell was about to break loose. My body was fighting an infection that it would take people in white coats, cutting me open, to get rid of.

So here I was, lying in a hospital bed, the day before Christmas Eve, too drugged to even realize the humor in the situation. The needles in my hands pumped the morphine dripping from the IV bags into my body. My hands were bruised from the failed attempts at inserting the needle into my tiny blood vessels.

I remember test after test trying to determine the cause of the excruciating pain in my abdomen. I remember doctor after doctor coming in and pushing on my abdomen. I remember sounds coming out of the doctors’ mouths that sounded like gibberish to my “high-on-morphine” brain. One word, however, reached my ears with a clarity that terrified me—appendicitis.

The rest is a blur. I was too drugged up on morphine to remember events clearly.  I heard a doctor say, “The surgery is tomorrow morning at 7:30.” I saw elevators and lights. I remember waking up with tears pouring down my face as electrolytes were pumped through my body, burning their way through my skin as they entered my bloodstream. I remember people with white-colored coats talking to my dad about what was ahead. I remember being wheeled away from him as they took me, terrified, into the unknown. I remember waking up as they were yanking the tube out of my throat, and hearing someone yell, “Someone restrain her! Give her more anesthesia!”

How I ended up there, I don’t remember exactly. What I don’t remember is the nurse telling me about my surgery, asking me questions, having a conversation with me, because I asked the same questions a while later. What I don’t remember is the in-betweens, the small details that people may ask you about.

I do remember that I left that hospital on Christmas Eve. I was home for Christmas and so was my Dad.

Lying in my makeshift bed on the couch that night, I found myself laughing, even though it hurt, at the humor of the situation. I asked for something that seemed impossible, and I got what I wished for in the most unconventional way possible. I learned a very important lesson last Christmas, and I hope I never have to learn it again:

Be careful what you wish for, because it may come back to bite you in the butt.