In her house

“Where have your curls gone?” She asks my son as he bounds into the living room.

He answers her patiently as he pulls plastic dinosaurs out of a cupboard: “Nowhere!”

My mom and I exchange a look and begin breathing through our mouths as we quietly open up window screens, airing out the hot, stuffy house my Nana has lived in for more than 50 years. Mom checks the commode tucked into a corner of the kitchen: it’s full. While she pulls on disposable plastic gloves to begin the task of emptying and cleaning it, I spray air freshener around the main floor rooms. We pretend like this isn’t happening.

“How are you feeling today, Nana?” I ask. Her feet and ankles are swollen, the skin, tight and shiny, strains against the fabric of her sweatpants.

“Oh, not so good,” she answers, watching my youngest dump pennies out of a copper pot. “Don’t let him put those in his mouth,” she worries. Then, to my oldest: “Where have your curls gone?”

I pull a footstool over as my mom whisks by with the commode, headed for the bathroom upstairs. “Here, Nana, lets get your feet up.”  I help her swing her feet up onto the stool, knowing it will do little good to bring the swelling down, but making the effort anyway.

As I step back she eyes my pregnant body.  “When’s this one due?” she asks, as she does every week.

“2 more weeks, Nana. Almost there now.”

“Oh!” She looks surprised. “You’ll be having the baby here, then.”

“We live here now, Nana.  We moved back.  We live over on Maitland.”

“Oh. Not too far from me, then.”

I smile and nod.

My aunt arrives then. “Hi, Mama, how’re you feeling today?” She makes a face at me, over the smell. I shrug.  Into the kitchen she goes with bags of groceries, stocking the fridge with fresh food and throwing out anything that’s gone bad.  Aedan begins pestering her for toys and donuts, following her around the kitchen.

I sit and tell Nana about how sunny it is outside, about the tulips blooming in her garden, about the new royal baby just born. She watches Colm playing on the floor, and I wonder if she’s listening to me. I trail off into silence. I’m never sure what to say anymore, so instead we just watch the baby together.

Mom comes downstairs, the commode cleaner now. In the kitchen, while preparing the week’s meals, she and my aunt talk quietly about Nana’s doctors appointments, about news from the support worker who comes in through the weeks, about the need to get her on a waiting list for a home, soon. That last is a difficult subject, one that we’re all afraid to broach with Nana.

“What’s all that chit-chat in there?” Nana calls out, irritated.

“No chit-chat, Mom.  Sorry.” They both come into the living room. My aunt sits down on the floor to play with my kids, while my mom picks up a hairbrush.

“Let me brush your hair for you,” she says. Dutifully, wordlessly, my nana leans forward in the chair she rarely gets out of, while my mom runs the brush over Nana’s still-thick, white hair.

“There,” Mom says.  “You look beautiful.” Nana falls back into the chair.

I look down at my kids, remembering a younger woman who used to walk with my sister and me “up East” to shop at the Sally Ann, who used to ride the bus over to our house and take us to the park. A woman who, at 17, crossed an ocean alone with two small children, to meet the family of her soldier husband, who was still stationed in England.  She loved reading, and theatre, and following the royal family. She taught me to knit.

The wall clock chimes. “I’m hungry.  Is it lunch time yet?” My aunt sighs, gets up and goes into the kitchen to get a hot lunch ready for her mother. I get the boys started on picking up their toys.  Nana eyes my belly once again.

“When’s this one due?” she asks.

“Just 2 weeks to go, Nana.” I smile.

“You’ll have it here, then?”

“Yes, Nana. We live here now, on Maitland.” I get the kids’ into their shoes, my keys in hand.

“Oh. Not far from me then.”

“No, Nana,” I say.  “We’ll come visit again next week.”

I lean down to kiss her soft, wrinkled cheek. I tell her I love her, and she tells me to take care of myself and of my boys. I wonder how much longer she’ll be in this house, caught in a paradox of living alone, completely dependant on her kids.

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4 thoughts on “In her house”

  1. Tara, you have captured our Sunday visits to a tee! Reading this gives me a different perspective on our visits. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at the tasks at hand, I look at it as something we can do to help her through what must be the most frightening journey she has ever taken. It can't be easy for her so any way we can help, makes me feel like we've done something for her, even though we are helpless for her state of mind. Thank you for this. I shall keep this and try to read it every time I'm feeling like everything we do is in vain.

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  2. Mom, I'm so glad this piece helped you to see how important your work is. I am continually amazed by all that you and Aunt Ronny and everyone else does to help her stay in her home as long as possible.

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  3. So amazing! And on top of that, she was going from a city in England to rural northern Ontario. It must have been such a huge culture shock!

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