I don’t plan on saying too much on this blog as I think my wife really wants to share the beauty, strength and power of women, from a woman’s perspective. A mans perspective isn’t, nor can ever be, that of a woman’s and I respect that. I was compelled, however, to share the beauty and story of a woman I met again yesterday. This is a wonderful woman I’ve known all of my life. Now that she is in the later stages of Alzheimers, I say I met her “again” for a specific reason. I see her every other week or so, and when I walk in her room I can tell she doesn’t know who I am, but there is something in her eye….a twinkle of familiarity.
My name is Peter but she started out yesterday by calling me Bob and asking me things that were neutral type questions like “How is your crew?” She answers questions about memories or events in her own life with “Isn’t that nice but we don’t have to worry about that now.”
Pego, as we’ve always called her, is my grandma. One of the coolest people I’ve ever known.
Pego was smart and tough. Having been the captain (and catcher) of her high school baseball team back in 1940 and the president of the “posture” club at Downer School, Pego was clearly in charge. She dressed and carried herself in such a way that people around her knew when it was time to assist, stand up, or prepare for her command. The beauty of Pego was that she didn’t usually have to do it forcefully or in a way that seemed like she was asking too much. Sure, there were times when she had to raise her voice or be a little more direct but Pego knew it had to get done, and ultimately, so did you. To her core, she was a perfectionist. A job didn’t get done unless it was done well and then honed until it was perfect. When you made your bed, if the sheets weren’t tucked in so tighty that it was difficult to get in, the bed wasn’t made correctly. The pillows had to be fluffed. The crease in the turnback part of the sheet had to be straight and true. The bedspread had to be even around the floor with every seam meeting up with the bed corners. When I was a boy, it was a hassle…. But after a long day of running in the neighborhood riding my bike, swimming, shooting hoops and playing flashlight tag, that bed was like heaven. You’d pull back the crisp sheets after a cool shower, your head would hit the pillow, you’d smell the fresh scent of summer on those sheets and fall into a deep, magical sleep.
Pego taught me how to tie my shoes. The correct way. She taught me how to sail and say things like “Coming About” out loud, every time…even though we were on a tiny butterfly sailboat in the middle of a deserted 20 acre lake. The sail had to be taut and your posture trimmed and true if you were steering the rudder. And you should be smiling.
She taught that while eating soup your spoon goes ‘out with the waves and in with the tide’. Never vice versa (which she would also point out was a latin word). You never blow on your soup to cool it off and you always place your spoon next to the bowl, not in it, when finished or taking a break from eating it.
Pego and I had many long conversations together. A lot of times when people are having conversations these days, they tend to multi-task or maybe think too hard about what they’re going to say when its their turn to talk. When she and I would talk, if I said “What?” to something she said, she would ALWAYS say “You heard me.” with a smile. She would rarely repeat herself. More often than not it drove me crazy, but she was right….I heard her. It was her way of teaching me to listen to other people. Pay attention. While I can’t say that I’m a good listener because of it (my mind wanders for sure!), her message was a good one. I’ll never forget it.
The most important thing she did for me though, was teach me about optimism. Her positive energy was buzzing all around her. When she finished her 7th round of chemotherapy for breast cancer and I asked her how it went, she said “Oh, it was just wonderful!” And she meant it. Yes, she had all the side effects of the chemo, but her perspective was that she met amazing people…doctors, nurses, fellow patients, relatives of other patients…..that she would have never encountered without the cancer. She felt blessed for all the new opportunities and friendships….and she beat the cancer. Her positive nature affected everything she did and everyone she met. It still does.
Thinking about her attitude towards life drives me every day.
I’ll probably go and see her today. She’ll call me Bob, or Rick and ask me about my crew….I’ll remind her that she taught me how to tie my shoes and she’ll diplomatically point out that my grandpa still ties his shoes the wrong way.