© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen

Chapter 4: Grandma's Impact

Lila and Chauncey decided that they had no choice but to take Grandma Sullivan into their home, giving her the downstairs bedroom, which Ben had been using. The move was not accomplished the next week as Lila had planned; it took three weeks to get ready.

Lila decided to go get her mother on Saturday so that one of the boys could go along to help. They were not moving all the old furniture that was in Grandma’s house as they did not have enough room, and also because it was not in good condition. The children had all been contacted during the previous weeks, and all of them agreed that they should try to sell the old house and furniture as it was certain that Sarah Sullivan would never move back in.

Lila took Ben with her to go get Grandma. He did not like the trip from Michigan to Ohio, but he wanted to be as supportive of his parents as he could. He wanted Lila to let him drive part of the way, but as he was only fourteen, she put him off. “Just wait until you begin Driver’s Ed,” she promised. “Then, I’ll probably force you to drive every time I want to go anywhere.”

Lila and Ben were able to converse a little as they drove to Montezuma. In time, Ben managed to air his complaint about Grandma’s move into their home. “You know, I’m probably losing more than anyone else. See, I had to move into that middle bedroom upstairs so that Grandma can have my old room. Mom, that room has no windows. And, besides, Kerry and Robert have to go through my room to get to theirs so I have no privacy at all. It’s no fun being the so-called baby of the family, you know that?”

“I’m sorry it’s working out like this, Son,” consoled Lila. “If Robert or Kerry move out or get married or whatever, you can take the room they leave behind. I wish I could promise you more than that.”

“Why can’t somebody else take Grandma; why is it us?” whined Ben. “I haven’t seen her for over a year, I think, and she didn’t even know me then. This won’t be fun.”

Lila agreed, “It will be hard for all of us, Ben. With me working nights and your dad on nights, too, you boys will have your hands full sometimes. I can’t afford to hire someone to come in and cook for her and watch over her. It’s not fair of me to ask you young men to do this - - I just don’t have any answers.” She was about to cry, it appeared.

“It’s OK, Mom,” consoled her youngest. “Robert is good at cooking, and usually at least one of us is at home most of the time. We’ll make it. Something will work out, I hope, at least.”

When they arrived at Montezuma, Ruth and Paul, Lila’s oldest sister and youngest brother, were there, and Sarah was packed. Boxes were all around the living room, boxes which contained all the possessions which Sarah had collected over the years. Most of the items were quite old and would bring little at the auction they planned to have in a few weeks.

Grandma Sullivan had no idea what was actually going on as they packed her and the few belongings which would go with her into Lila’s station wagon.

“Where’s Robert?” asked Sarah. “He should be here now I would think.”

Ben spoke up in an attempt to answer his grandmother, “He couldn’t come, Grandma; I came instead.”

Lila tried to clear up Ben’s lack of understanding. “Ben, she means Grandpa, not Robert, your brother. She’s confused and doesn’t always realize that Grandpa’s dead.”

“Oh! Ok, I guess,” Ben raised his eyebrows in disbelief of this situation but said nothing more to Sarah. Clearly, young Ben could see lots of problems ahead, for him and for his brothers, not to mention his mother.

They got Sarah to their home and settled into the downstairs bedroom, which Ben had claimed up to a few days ago. She had to be told many times where to find the bathroom and how to get back to her bedroom.

Sarah Sullivan was not content sitting around. She had been a hard worker all her life and felt the need to be busy. They found her in the kitchen a lot, trying to wash any dishes she could find. There was no way to reason with her, to make her understand that the dishes would be done when there were more of them to do. Someone had to physically lead her back into the living room or to her bedroom. It was clear to all of the family that Grandma was going to be a lot of trouble. They all realized that she was not to blame, but they knew that problems lay ahead.

Robert and Kerry came in from doing their chores shortly after Lila and Ben arrived and got Grandma settled into her room. They tried to make friendly talk to her but quickly realized that she understood little, if anything, that they were trying to say.

As Robert strained the milk and put some into the pasteurizer, and as Kerry washed up, Lila and Chauncey had a chance to talk about the situation.

“Chauncey, while the boys are busy, let me tell you what Ruth and Paul said,” began Lila.

Chauncey looked up at her with concern as he rolled a cigarette paper full of Half And Half tobacco. “Yeah?” He was a man of few words, at least when doing serious business.

Lila continued, not realizing, yet not really caring, that Robert and Kerry were both hearing her as she spoke, “Ruth said she and Paul talked about it and called all the other kids. They decided to make me the legal guardian of Mom. I have a letter from them to take to the courthouse and to the Social Security. It declares me to be her guardian *[space]and gives me permission to sign her name on checks and to do her business.”

“Oh, yeah?” was the response from her husband. “How is the money to be used?”

“That’s it, Chauncey,” explained Lila. “They realize that Mom is going to be a great burden on us. They want me to have the social security checks for our needs as we take care of her.”

“So, what will you do with it? Buy her clothes and medicine, or what?”

“For one thing, I can now hire someone part time to take care of her while I work at night, maybe three or four hours a night, to keep her company and giver her her baths and see she gets her medicine at night,” explained Lila.

Kerry walked into the kitchen as Robert finished with the milk. “Did you hear that?”

“Yep, the Sullivans are taking care of their own,” answered Robert, “just as I figured they would. Makes me proud to in the family.”

“Maybe!” Ben’s entrance and the one-word response surprised Kerry and Robert.

“What do you mean ‘maybe’?”, asked Robert. “You’re part of the family, too, you know.”

“Right!” mocked Ben. “I’m the least member, getting booted out of my room and into the dungeon with no windows.”

“Oh! I’ve thought about that; it’s got to be hard for you,” said Robert. “I know I wouldn’t like a room with no windows, and it’s not really private, either, is it?”

“Oh, you noticed?” sneered Ben again. He walked away, clearly discouraged by the way the arrival of Grandma was affecting him and his life.

All Kerry and Robert could do was look at each other, wondering what could be done to make Ben’s lot easier.

It took a while for Lila to find someone to hire for three hours each weekday evening to get Grandma bathed and settled into bed. In the meantime, the boys were uneasy as they tried to shoulder the responsibility of watching over her. Lila arranged to get off work at ten o’clock each night, as a temporary solution. The boys watched over their grandmother until Lila got home to bath her and get her into bed. It was a burden for them, it cut into their plans for some evenings, it made Ben even more upset, but this was family, and they endeavored to make the best of the necessary inconvenience.

Robert had to miss some weekday church services for the two weeks that it took to find a neighbor whom Lila could hire. He spent more time in his bedroom, reading and thinking, thinking of the copper-haired Penny.

On the next Sunday night, he was at Lester Chapel, as one would expect. Amazing as it seems, the pastor arrived early to that service, along with his family and Penny. They had been invited to spend the Sunday with one of the church families so he did not have to make the double trip from Adrian to the church.

After the service, it was more natural for Robert and Penny to find themselves together, more natural than it had been two weeks earlier.

After some brief small talk, Penny announced, “I’m spending all next weekend with your aunt and uncle. I have Friday off at school so I will stay from Thursday, after prayer meeting until Sunday night. Then, I’ll go back to Adrian with the pastor. Thought you’d like to know.”

“For sure! Wow! That’s great news!” blurted Robert. He was already wondering if his mom would care to fix Sunday dinner for one more person. He wouldn’t say anything to Penny until he got Mom’s permission.

The two visited a while, until the pastor announced his need to be heading back to Adrian. Robert watched them drive away and didn’t notice his Aunt Beulah walking toward him.

“You hear the news, Robert?” Beulah asked loudly. She was the type who did everything loudly. “Penny’s going to be my girl for a few days. Maybe you should come over, too.”

“Maybe I should. I’ll give it some serious thought,” he answered.

`Since Lila didn’t get off until midnight, now that they had a lady taking care of Grandma, Robert decided to wait up rather than get to bed. Only one more day of work remained for the week; surely, he could get by on less sleep for one day. He felt the need of talking to his mother.

“You’re still up?” asked the surprised Lila. “Is there anything wrong?” Seeing the grin on Robert’s face, she answered her own question. “It doesn’t look like it, the way you’re all lit up. What’s going on?”

The usually timid Robert didn’t beat around the bush about what was on his mind. “Mom, would it be OK to have someone for dinner Sunday? The girl I told you about, the one at Lester Chapel, well, she’s spending the weekend with Bill and Beulah. I wondered if I could invite her to - -”

“I insist!” interrupted Lila. “I want to meet her. I can put on another plate between you and Ben.”

A voice interrupted her. Kerry had heard them talking and got up to find out what was so important. “You mean, between Robert and Kerry. It it’s a girl, she gets to sit beside the real man of the family; that’s me,” joked Kerry.

Lila announced, “So, it’s settled. You invite her, Robert, and I’ll put her plate between you and Kerry.” With that, they all went to bed in good spirits, looking forward to meeting Robert’s special friend on Sunday.

As one would expect, Robert was at Lester Chapel for the Thursday night service, and early, as usual. He still did not have the nerve to suggest that he and Penny could sit together in church. After all, church is for worship, not for distractions. Sitting with her would probably cause some distraction, at least for a while. Besides, he didn’t know if he would be welcome to sit with her anyhow; he had never asked her.

They visited after church and arranged to take Penny to his home to meet his family on Saturday. That way, it would not be so awkward on Sunday.

The family all knew before Saturday that they should try to be around home in the mid afternoon. Even Ben seemed less moody when he heard that Robert had a new girlfriend whom they would all meet on Saturday.

“I want to explain something before we get to my home,” began Robert as he opened the car door for Penny on Saturday. He had gone to Bill and Beulah’s to see Penny. They decided to just drive around a while. He wanted her to see where he worked and where he was taking a college class. Really, he just wanted to be with her. He felt he needed to tell her what to expect from his grandmother. “My grandma just moved in with us a few weeks ago.”

“That’s wonderful,” the exuberant Penny exclaimed. “I like older people. They have so much to share which I can learn from.”

“Not this time,” countered Robert. “The reason she is with us is that she can’t be alone at all any more. She has some type of artery problem in her head. She’s not sensible at all any more. She doesn’t even know my name or even my mom’s name. She usually forgets that Grandpa died eight years ago.”

With an understanding look, Penny acknowledged, “I have worked in hospitals and nursing homes. I’ve seen this type of behavior before so I won’t be shocked or offended by your grandmother. I’m sure she is sweet even if not really alert any more. Don’t be worried about how it will affect me,” advised Penny. “I’m considering getting training as a registered nurse after I get my teaching degree.”

“A little more information about this remarkable young lady,” thought Robert. “She’s amazing! A teacher and a nurse, both in the same person. I don’t deserve someone so talented.”

Meeting Robert’s parents and two brothers did not phase the exuberant Penny at all; nothing ever seemed to intimidate her. She was bubbly, laughing and joking a lot, really enjoying the hour in their home. She asked Robert about the piano so he coaxed his mother to play a couple of songs. She played a polka and a song that she called Now Is The Hour.

When she had finished that one, Penny said, “Oh, that last one is a church song, isn’t it? I like that one a lot.”

Lila responded, “No, we heard it a lot at some of the wedding receptions we’ve gone to the last few years for members of the Lewis family. It’s always the last song of the night, and the bride and groom dance in the center of the floor while other serious couples dance around them. The words are something like ‘Now is the hour, when we must say good bye’.”

Robert interrupted, “Mom, I think it is used in churches, too, but with different words. That’s where Penny heard the melody.”

Penny picked up the conversation, “Right. The words of the church song, if I can remember, are ‘Search me, Oh Lord, and know my heart today. Try me, Oh Savior; know my thoughts, I pray.’ I really don’t remember all the words, but it has been encouraging for me to pray that way at times.”

During this conversation, no one had noticed Grandma Sullivan until she began waving her hands and crying. Although crying, she had a big smile on her wrinkled old face. She would have been singing, no doubt, but she no longer knew how.

“Look at Grandma!” Robert said. “It looks like she thinks she is in church. Maybe she knew that song, too.”

Lila took over, “She was a good Christian and raised all of us in church. Some of us have left the training she and Grandpa gave us, but we can’t forget how we lived when we were young.” Discreetly wiping her eyes, she went on, “I know she no longer has her right mind, but I’m sure she is headed for God’s Heaven; I just know it!”

Again, Robert was so pleased with this element of his heritage being displayed in the presence of the young lady he was becoming fond of. Penny’s understanding smile made her so attractive, even more so when she got up and walked over to Sarah Sullivan and bowed down to give her a kiss on the wrinkled forehead.

It was a great afternoon! That was Robert’s judgment of the occasion of the meeting between Penny and his family. Everyone seemed pleased. Even Chauncey, who appeared for only about ten minutes, seemed entranced by her spirit, her jolly disposition and her quickness to become friendly. Ben watched from a distance, not actually entering into many of the activities. Clearly, he was impressed with the girl whom Robert had chosen.

As Robert was about to leave with Penny, Lila spoke, “Do you have any favorite foods I can fix for tomorrow? I mean, Robert said he had invited you for lunch so I want it to be special for you.”

“Anything! I enjoy eating. I’m sure your country-style cooking will suit me fine,” answered Penny with her hands and her eyes speaking along with her lips.

Grandma somehow sensed that Penny was about to leave with Robert. She arose from the chair with some difficulty and approached Penny. She tried to say something, but it did not make sense. Then, she gave Penny the best bear hug that an old lady of her condition could possibly give. “I want to pray for you, Ruth,” Grandma said. “And, I’ll sing it, too. Will you?”

Although this did not make any sense to anyone present, and although she called Penny by the wrong name, everyone realized that Grandma was somehow expressing great feeling for the petite young lady at Robert’s side.

“I’ll pray for you tonight, Grandma,” said Penny, not at all bothered by Grandma’s communication problems. Looking at the rest of the people in the room, she added, “I’ll pray for all of you, too. You seem to be such a happy family. I’ll ask God to give you the one thing which could make you even happier, and that is His Presence in your lives.” Looking at Robert, she went on, “Well, I’m ready, driver. I can’t come back again if I don’t leave, so let’s go.”

As they went out the front door, Penny spoke again, “I’ll see you all tomorrow, God willing. Bye-bye.”

Grandma was still up. She walked to the door and watched as Robert opened the car door for Penny. She watched as they drove off, then said, “I like him. He’s a good girl.”

“Yeah, we all like . . . him,” remarked Ben with mockery showing on his face, “Him?” Clearly, Ben’s youthfulness did not allow for the errors of the senile. He went out to sit in the lawn chair, wishing something good would happen in his life. His self pity was becoming more and more directed at Grandma. If she hadn’t moved in, he would still have his own bedroom instead of the semi-private dungeon upstairs.

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