We talked about other days we could visit, swimming and basketball schedules interrupting our plans. Illnesses and dance recitals interfering.
This week, I learned our grandmother had contracted pnuemonia in the rehab center. I begged off a staff meeting on Thursday afternoon, went to teach Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. then hit the highway headed south. I drove four hours to the little town of Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, where she lives.
Nothing prepared me to see my lively Nana in a hospital bed struggling for each breathe. She told me I shouldn't have driven all that way. We talked about cousins and relatives. After about 15 minutes, she said she was going to rest.
I told her I'd be back later. When I got to the car, I called my parents in Florida and suggested they head north.
My uncle and aunt who live in Kentucky were both home with the flu, which they caught at the rehab center. I called my uncle and he asked whether my grandmother recognized me.
"Of course," I said. That meant she was better than she had been. She didn't seem better to me, but I hadn't been there every day to watch her progress or regress. I took some soup to my cousin's house, since my aunt and uncle were too sick to want it. I hung out for a bit then went back to see Nana.
Standing at the hospital bed, talking about whether she would improve, was awkward.
"I told Grace we would visit when she gets home from school," I said to my grandmother, willing her to hold on since Grace is 10 hours away from home.
She said she wanted to hold on, but she was miserable.
"Are you miserable because you hurt or because you can't do things for yourself?" I asked.
She confirmed that she hated to be waited on. Her mouth was dry but she wasn't allowed to have water because they were afraid she would aspirate it. I offered to read to her from the Bible, but she said she couldn't pay attention. She had the important parts memorized anyway.
I mentioned our childhood visits.
"You all always had a big time," she said. That's how she talks. A "big time."
Here she is with all of her great-granddaughters.
Nana married my grandfather when she was 16 and he was 28. He said he wanted a bride that he could raise the way he wanted. I think she ended up being more of a handful than he suspected. She had three children by the time she was 20.
She ran a store in the country and worked at the post office. She knew everyone in her small town.
I love the stories she used to tell. My favorite was the horse that got caught in quicksand, or maybe it was the horse that ran away with her. I might be melding the stories together. In Kentucky, in Rockcastle County, time didn't progress as fast as it did in other parts of the world. That's why my grandmother could go get a permanent for her hair, but had to ride a horse to get to the beauty shop. I think that was the time she was riding home from getting a permanent that the horse became mired in quicksand. She climbed over the horse's neck to get to dry land then pulled him out.
Another time she would tell the story about the horse running away with her, "and me just a skinny, little thing holding onto the horse's neck."
My grandfather died in the 1980s and in 1989, Nana met and married Grandad Ish. Grandad Ish took her away from Kentucky to winter in Arizona and to vacation in Peru. He opened up the world for her and he thought she was the cat's meow.
She survived him too. But she has been well loved by her three children, eight grandchildren, and 12 greatgrandchildren. As my kids have gotten older, we don't go to Kentucky as much. They all have busy teenage and young adult lives now, but I bet they look back on their times at Nana's house with a smile, just like I do. I wrote about some of those adventures when we visited last May, which you can read here: Nana.
Before I left the hospital, I leaned over the bed and kissed Nana's lined, papery cheek and slipped my hand under her bony shoulder to hug her. She raised up her right arm, unaffected by the stroke, but now taped with tubes at the hospital, and patted me, hugging me.
"I love you, Nana," I said as I left. Her pale blue eyes smiled at me, but looked a little sad and resigned too.
The doctor let my parents know today that Nana has taken a turn for the worse. I'm glad I got to see her yesterday, while we could talk, but I know that my memories of Nana are not made from that one visit. My memories of Nana are made up from a lifetime of hugs and laughs and scoldings. Every bite of fried chicken, every UK basketball game on TV, every clip on earring pilfered from her jewelry box, every bottle full of jewel-colored water that sparkled in the sun, will remind me of the things my grandmother gave me in a lifetime. It's not the last few minute spent with someone we love, but the lifetime of minutes that we spend together.