Day two on the Continent of Great Grandmothers turned out to be more about the great grandsons. I had promised the bots a trip to the beach. We got a late start, though, groggy from the two-hour time change, and I was feeling the strain of trying to do a lot with a little–a little time, a little energy, and two little bots. Navigating from the hotel to the Health Center to various stores for necessities was proving to be a time-eating exercise in one-way streets, endless waits in lefthand turn lanes, and impatient drivers who went for their horns without mercy.
By noon, we’d arrived at the Health Center again, and Mbot asked to come upstairs to get Great Grandma with me. So Solveig ran after Gbot, who seems to have more energy than all the rest of us put together these days, while Mbot and I took the elevator to the second floor and ventured down the hallway to the lunchroom. We found my grandmother as she’d been the day before. Although lunch looked good, she wasn’t eating; she’s uninterested in food and unable to feed herself. We pulled up a chair. I put my hand on her shoulder. She roused, and turned to look at us. I introduced myself again, and Mbot. Her face brightened and she said, “Oh! I was just thinking about you this morning!”
“That’s because we came to visit you yesterday, Grandma. The boys played in the fountain!”
We stayed just a few minutes, because an enormous man asleep at the next table started making some pretty terrible sounds which scared Mbot. No one else in the room seemed to notice. But when Mbot squirmed in my lap and asked to go, I told my grandmother that we were heading to the beach to play in the sand, not to worry because the boys would wear life preservers, and that I would come back later. She asked how my parents were. “Are they meeting you?”
“Yes,” I replied, nodding and smiling. My parents were in Idaho. I hugged her goodbye. She used to give me a hard time about being uncomfortable hugging and kissing–I was, back in my twenties. I could just hear her unthought thoughts: “So this is what a grandma has to do to get a hug around here!”
I didn’t know at the time, but knew it was a possibility, that that would be the last time she recognized me.
We managed to find the local WalMart, where we purchased picnic supplies, life-jackets, a package of Toy Story underpants to serve as swim trunks, and a short-sleeved t-shirt for me, because I’d only brought one and had left it back at the room. Then we went to introduce the bots to the Atlantic Ocean. We cruised west past a shop selling “The World’s Best Quilts,” Tarot Readings, and Accurate Accounting Services (we figured that maybe in Broward County, such a thing might not be assumed. We found the beach, clean and wide, just south of the pier, complete with a life guard who emerged from his life guard stand when he saw Mbot run in the direction of the street.
And there we spent the afternoon. The bots waded up to their hips in the waves. Solveig had thought to bring pool towels from the hotel lobby, and they quickly became covered with sand as we sat among the opportunistic seagulls. We buried Mbot’s legs and decorated him with shells. The bots ate chocolate-iced donuts with sprinkles. Solveig and I opened a bottle of screw-top shiraz, which turned out to be 15% alcohol, and drank it out of empty water bottles. It just seemed like a day for treats–to revel in the tangible physical comforts, to swim in Toy Story underpants and get our faces messy and to pursue a buzz in the middle of the day.
By five, I was exhausted, without the emotional energy to visit my grandmother. Back at the room, we found that the latch to fill the tub was broken and so after a group shower (of which Solveig opted out), we camped in front of the computer to watch four episodes of Tin Tin. I ordered Chinese food and it all tasted the same. Mbot made a Chinese food-eating breakthrough when he gnawed the kernels off of the baby corn.
I visited my grandmother the next morning, leaving Solveig in the room making costumes for the bots out of The Wall Street Journal. She was dozing in front of the TV when I arrived. I took her to sit in the courtyard, in the gentle sun and soft fresh breeze. We walked around the lake, through the rose garden, and sat by the fountain again. But this time, when she woke, now and then, she didn’t recognize me. She talked quietly to herself, a sililoquy I couldn’t understand. I read to her, as she dozed, from a biography called The Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts. I’d bought it at the airport; she’s always loved biographies. I held her hand and told her more about the boys but it was my own sililoquy. And at eleven o’clock, I returned to the room to finish packing. It was time to leave.
Driving to the airport, Mbot said, “I wish I could send all of this away. The trees, and the beach, Great Grandma.”
I could tell Solveig was slightly disturbed by this seemingly nihilistic desire. But I have learned that when a bot doesn’t seem to make sense, ask questions.
“Send it where?” I asked.
“Send it home with us,” he replied.
“Me too,” I agreed. Except for the impatient drivers and one-way streets.
“I wish we could just hop and be here with Great Grandma.”
“Me too,” I said. “We’d have to hop REALLY far.”
“Hmm,” he mused, in problem-solving mode. “Maybe I could make a potion for the bottoms of our shoes.”
It is a lovely thought, isn’t it?
I don’t think I will have another chance to see my grandmother. But Mbot has, out of the blue, started talking about her, almost every day since we returned–counting his grandmas (three!), remembering her silver hair, and that “all the grownups were eating kid food. Hotdogs, soup, pie…” We took pictures, and a video, that first day, and so that will help him remember, too.
And he’s getting a chemistry set for Christmas, so he’ll be working on that potion.