Gram and I used to watch Jeopardy together almost every weeknight. Our little “must see” TV date began at the dawn of my memory and ended with Gram’s death shortly after my twenty-second birthday; it’s already ten years gone by.
Of course (as Gram still says somewhere in my heart), we weren’t “married to the goddam thing.” Certainly not. When I got older I’d occasionally “get a life,” and If the Mariners or Seahawks were on that night, that’s where the TV would be, Gram and Grandpa Henry both cussing and cheering, she, loopy off loganberry flips, him and his endless cases of Lucky lager stacked in the garage (which he cut with V-8 and tabasco), both spreading cigarette ashes everywhere, all of us pretending not to notice our little terri-poo Figaro filching potato chips straight out of the bag, despite what the vet had said about it.
Seems to me that the best times in life aren’t the planned big moments, like a wedding or a graduation. Those events require a degree of suffering to give them value, and they seldom yield a satisfactory return on the investment. Maybe everything is as good as it gets when everybody’s all happily Chatty-Cathy and offering vacant observations about nothing at the same time and nobody says stupid shit like “let’s appreciate the moment.”
We weren’t sentimental people. Some folks get awkward about happiness; they cream and cherry-top its passing with goo and imprecise adjectives. Seems to me a very hard way to live your life, this–always with the one teary eye on the rearview mirror, this–reaching back and back and back and coming up with hands filled with empty. That was a big saying of Gram’s, hands filled with empty.
Grandpa Henry died when I was seventeen; chip sneak Figaro eventually fell off a little later. Gram never did say anything about the somehow still (albeit much more slowly) dwindling cases of Lucky out in the garage (she disliked the taste of beer), but she approved when I suddenly acquired a taste for V-8. “Glad to see that drinkin’ vegetables makes you good company, Rena.”
Even when I attended the nearby Community College I still got home in time for Jeopardy, four times in five. Sometimes my smart-ass best pal Wren would come by and truly astound Gram with her vast store of stultifyingly unnecessary knowledge–for despite Gram’s profound common sense and street smarts, and despite the fact she watched Jeopardy for something close to a quarter century, she was as rotten at the game as the dimmest celebrity contestant. But, mostly, we watched together, alone; loganberry flips and ashes.
Gram’s first stroke cut down on the ashes; her second eliminated them. Between the second and the whopper third stroke that landed her at the Torqwamni County Convalescent Center (“T-3C”) for keeps, I’d make her flips for her in the kitchen, just adding a splash of wine to the 7-Up at the end, for taste and old time’s sake.
Although her speech wasn’t affected until the third “event” (I noticed that doctors are loath to call strokes by name), some of Gram’s mentality was scrambled by the second stroke and she’d make slightly to wildly off-target statements or ask bizarre questions, which would just hang there and cause her frustration. But I found a way to burn them to nothing the way the atmosphere vaporizes most meteors before they can land and cause harm.
“Rena, I didn’t know Argentina was in Mars.”
“The Brazillians wouldn’t have it any other way, Gram.”
The last three weeks of our long standing Jeopardy date was held at the T3C. Loganberry flips had gone to ashes. So had Gram’s ability to speak. But her mind was still online enough to communicate through her eyes.
Two days before she slipped off into a mercifully short lasting morphine-drip coma, both of us exquisitely aware that she wouldn’t be getting better because there was nothing left of her that could be improved, I finally gave voice to an open secret that had been known to all, and I suspect even to larcenous Figaro, for years and years. But as it was our way, I came up on it from the side.
“Gram,” I said, smiling salaciously, first making eye contact with her, then looking directly at Alex Trebek on the TV mounted above and beyond her bed, and back at her again–doing it twice so she’d get my drift. “Did Grandpa ever suspect the two of you?”
She gazed at me a long time and winked.
Jeopardy Productions, Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons