Kris, Zach, and I got to spend three days at grandma and grandpa’s independent living facility. In staying there, I expected certain things like slow moving cafeteria lines and a gout specialist.
What I didn’t expect was the middle school social structure: The residents jockey for position with each other, showing off their new walkers that have rubber skis on the back legs instead of tennis balls. Wii Bowling and shuffleboard skills in the community replace bravado and kickball skills at Junior High. But the top residents, those at the height of the food chain, those who are allowed to go to the front of the line and eat their dinner at 3:45 p.m. instead of the standard 4:00; those are the residents who have family members visiting.
And of all the residents who have family members visiting, the highest of the high position belongs to he with the youngest family member. And Zach is just over two months old.
The residents shocked me with their response to Zach. I figured that grandma and grandpa would like Zach. To quote the Italian aphorism: “The 10th great-grandchild is more savory than spaghetti and pesto.”
What I didn’t count on, was being chased through the lobby when I was pushing a stroller. Everyone wanted a glimpse of Zach. The women with the ski-leg walkers were quick and agile. I dodged them like a running back, trying to get to the grandparents’ room.
We got to their room and discussed our plans for the three days. “Kris and I wanted to treat you guys to your favorite Chinese place,” I said. “Maybe we can go to the beach or play some cards here and you can try to take the ‘family champion’ title from us.”
In his gruff Jerry Stiller voice, grandpa replied, “We already have the weekend planned out. Each day, we’re going to play with the baby until 11:30; lunch is downstairs at 11:55, right before the bus leaves for the mall. Then we can let the baby sleep during my Wii Bowling practice time. Then we can eat dinner at our community restaurant. We have a seat in the corner reserved where everyone can see us. After dinner, you guys can watch my shuffleboard game. And church on Sunday!”
And so we did. They took turns holding Zach and I saw the youth and memory in their eyes. Zach cooed and smiled and they were young parents again.
We went downstairs. Grandma and grandpa took turns pushing the stroller. When another resident was drawn by the aura of a baby, grandma would shout, “Our tenth great-grandchild!” in a voice loud enough for the 90-year-old listener and grandpa would say, “Who does he look like?” while grinning like a boy hoping for a, “He looks like you,” response.
Grandma and grandpa were pretty good at taking turns with pushing the stroller until we got near a group of ladies waiting for the bus. Grandma was pushing when we saw the ladies and then grandpa kind of grabbed the stroller. Grandma, usually docile, held on. They pushed against each other until the ladies were close. When one stood up and said, “who do we have here?” they shared the pushing duties and walked up proudly.
Everywhere we went, we were the celebrities. Grandpa wore a dark blue “World’s Greatest Grandpa” shirt for the occasion. Residents waited in line to see Zach and to touch his fat arms and their used voices would say, “He reminds me of my Johnny,” or Scotty or Emily. They compared him to their children and grandchildren and, in one case, great-great-grandchildren.
After dinners and shuffleboard and maintaining our family title at cards, we packed to go. Grandpa sat on the couch one last time with Zach smiling up at him. 87-years-old and sad, his eyes glistened and his lower lip jutted out a little bit. I saw the resemblance. I picked up Zach and, a little too loud, said, “He looks just like you, Grandpa.” And we left.