“Don’t sit there,” she commanded. “That’s the cat’s chair.” My grandmother’s words and shrill voice are still seared in my brain. I hated going to visit my grandmother. My mom knew this and she would still bring me every Saturday morning. This was the last thing I wanted to be doing at 8 am but she insisted that I would appreciate being able to see her later in life, whatever that meant. When she died was I just supposed to forget that she was nothing but a mean old woman who ruined my Saturdays? I don’t think so. Maybe my mother has great memories of her but mine are nothing like hers.
From as far back as I can remember I have gone to see my grandmother at the nursing home just across from the shopping plaza on Franklin Blvd. It seemed like a strange location based on the advertisements you would see in the paper and hear on the radio. “Your loved ones will experience total relaxation sitting in the green gardens along the pristine walkways.” This would be true if by walkways they meant the cracked sidewalk that ran along the 3 lane highway that cut through the busiest shopping area in town.
After my mother coaxed me out of the car with promises of ice cream and candy she would proceed to drag me across the parking lot towards the main entrance. If you looked along the building you could see the side doors with padlocks on the outside, more to keep people in than out. I wished they would keep me out, maybe I could do something so terrible that they would ban me from the building. Maybe knock over some chairs, run around yelling obscenities – steal an old person? Anything seemed better than this.
As the doors opened the outside air, which was filled with car exhaust and fast food fumes, was replaced with the nostril stinging smell of bleach and human waste. I never thought I would long for the carbon monoxide poisoning of Franklin Blvd. Then came the real Saturday morning treat, the blanketing depression that covered you as you looked around. Dozens of senior citizens staring out of windows, at televisions, or even at the plain white wall. The staff even seemed to be sucked into this happiness vacuum as they walked aimlessly from resident to resident at a snails pace and with less enthusiasm than a comatose clown.
What could I possibly gain from this experience? Why would I ever appreciate this later in life?