Things are mostly moved now, from the big one-bedroom apartment to the small one-bedroom apartment. The things that make a life, like pictures and furniture, cookware and curio cabinets, piled up and divvied out to new homes.
The woven photo albums in splashy 70s shades, like avocado and harvest gold, are open again -- their contents like a life movie with each page turn. There's the old two-story house that came before me, with its summer kitchen, on East Main Street...and the summer trips to 'the lakes' (which, where I live, 'the lakes' refers to a region in the northern part of the state that is polka-dotted with bodies of water remainded from a glacier -- nobody is really particular about which one, Wawassee or Big Turkey -- as long as it's a lake). There are weddings, and anniversary celebrations. There are Christmas gatherings, and annual cousin pictures in front of the tree. I used to spend hours looking through these during visits to Grandma's house.
The furniture, like the upholstered chair made in my grandfather's factory so long ago, sit waiting for a new nest. The furniture, made by the hands of men drinking coffee at the Palmer House, worshipping at the Mennonite church, standing at the gas station; the furniture, as strong as the local artisans who crafted it, will stay in the family. Two wingback chairs to Dick, the kitchen set to Barb, the curio cabinet to Janet...
For weeks now, this move has been in the front of her children's thoughts. "It's time now, Mom," their minds, and hearts, and hands would say. Somewhere behind those wonderings hid their darker counterparts...the ones, they hoped, would never see today's light -- "What if she forgets where she parked the car while running an errand?" ... "What if she forgets how to get home?" ... "What if something happens to her and we can't get there in time?" ... "What if she doesn't remember us?"... "She needs more support than her place offers," they conclude.
"Mom, we think..."
The bedroom suite gets divided. The dressers, both bachelor and tall boy, head to assisted living down the hall; the bed moves to Barb's because the new space is equipped with a hospital-style bed. Just in case. Which, by now, the 'just in case' scenario is the stuff of Grandma's dreams. It's been 17 years now without him. 17 years in her own apartment. 17 years to gradually lose heart and health, family members, and track of what was once so natural.
"I'll live where you want me to," she resigns.
My mom, third in birth order and elder daughter, is blessed with reconciling Grandma's old apartment kitchen because the new one is a slim reminder of independent cooking. She finds the dull, metal colander that would emerge each fall for homemade applesauce; the time-worn candy thermometer that would help create the Christmas candy my little chubby fingers loved to reach onto the buffet and grab; the stout stockpot where I once saw a cow tongue boiling. (I mention this now because I'm pretty sure I will never forget the sight...) A guilty thought takes root...and grows between the piles of Pyrex, melamine, and relics from a number of auctions and family hand-me-downs: "My mom never had anything nice," she muses while considering the shiny All-Clad cookware tucked into her own kitchen cabinets.
These things are just things, nice or otherwise...the thermometer, the pots and pans, the furniture, the tchotchkes...the ones I remember from their three-bedroom ranch, and then the one-bedroom apartment, now moved and boxed and piled. They are the things of life, but mostly they are reminders of the person whose hands first held them...and who first held us.
My grandmother, Lorraine.