My grandparents don’t do anything all day but sit at the kitchen table and wait for the neighbors to come and go, wait for someone to come down their dirt road into their yard, or wait for a phone call from someone in the family. To pass time, my grandma puts random bits of food on the deck so she can watch the chipmunks stuff their cheeks full and disappear. My grandpa talks and plays with Sally, the house cat. “Better be careful, that cat bites!” he always warns me. (The cat has never once bitten me.)
My grandpa has many gadgets he likes to show off. He has a T.V. remote that’s a foot long with inch-sized buttons. He also has a black box with one button on it that sits on the kitchen table in from of him. When you press the button it tells you the time and day. The gadgets help him because he has macular degeneration so he can’t see a thing. He can no longer fill out his own paper work and my grandma uses the excuse that she has bad handwriting to get out of it, leaving any paper work up to the rest of the family.
As my grandparents get older, they need more and more help. They live on a dead end road, which is about a half hour drive from me or anything they need. I love going to visit them, but it always ends up being an all day adventure. Helping them can be really inconvenient at times, and as a 21 year old in college I have other things I could be doing. Yet I believe in making time for my grandparents.
Their house is not made for the elderly. They have a flight of stairs that they have to walk up to get to the main floor of the house, and their bathroom has a tub instead of a walk-in shower. At some point it is not going to work for them. We have brought pictures of homes in Marquette where my mom, dad, sister, uncle, and cousins could help out and visit them more often. But my grandpa, the stubborn Finn that he is, refuses to move. He says he is “too old for that stuff.”
Neither of my grandparents should drive. My grandpa can’t see enough to be able to drive, which leaves the small amount of driving they do to my grandma. My grandma is a nervous driver, probably because my grandpa is always yelling at her to not press the brake pedal so hard. He claims she is going to wear it out. That leaves the rest of the family and my boyfriend to bring them to doctor’s appointments and to Marquette to get things they need for around the house.
On weekends when I get a call from my grandma or grandpa to go visit them, I always cancel my previous plans because I simply cannot say no to either of them. Before I hang up my grandma says “You can’t get here soon enough.” So, I drive 35 minutes to their house. My grandpa is often outside in the yard working on some kind of project that he physically can’t do, like sweeping the van off, or shoveling the deck. So my dad or boyfriend asks him if they can do it for him, “If you’d like to,” he replies. I walk into the house and my grandma has her purse in hand ready to go to Marquette. It’s never just a trip to visit at the house; it’s a trip so they can get out of the house. She hands me the keys with the key chain that has a middle figure on it that says, “My state bird.”
Every trip to Marquette is the same. We go to lunch at Hong Kong Buffett, then shopping at Wal-Mart, and on the way out of town we stop at Econo Foods. Sometimes we throw Target in there too. Keep in mind I live in Ishpeming. I drive to Gwinn which is about 30 miles, then to Marquette which is about 20 miles from Gwinn, but only 15 miles from Ishpeming. Back to Gwinn, and then finally back to Ishpeming. It’s a big 100 mile circle that takes up the whole day.
A week before last Christmas I called my grandparents and told them I was going out there to put the Christmas tree up. I got there and my grandma handed me a yellow fleece sweatshirt that has my name sewed on in black lettering and my name spelled wrong. It was spelled “Katelyn” instead of “Kaitlyn.” The shirt still had the price tag on, $1.25 from St. Vinnie’s. She told me it made her think of me so of course I took it and acted like I loved it. When I got there she asked to go to Marquette, which wasn’t in the plans. Of course I couldn’t say no. My grandpa stayed home.
My grandma said she needed things for our Christmas Eve dinner, and toys for my little cousins. We went to the usual places and got a few food items, but then she decided they might go bad week before Christmas, even though I’m sure the cookies she was looking at had been on the store shelf for at least a couple of weeks. She said, “Well maybe we can come back next week too.” So of course I said “Sure.” By the time we got back from Marquette it was too late to put the tree up. So the next week I woke up early and went through the same process all over again.
I am treating my grandparents how I hope to be treated some day when I am older. Helping them, as terrible as it is sometimes, always gives me a good memory that I will never forget. I also feel that going to see them and helping them makes them a lot happier. Seeing how happy they are to see me makes me feel good and makes me realize how much I mean to them. Spending time with them is truly special and I will always make time for them in my life.
Editor’s Note: Kaitlyn Ketola is an Education major. She has submitted a shorter version of this essay to “This I Believe” on NPR.