My grandfather was a broad-faced, taciturn electrician who referred to me and my sisters as “the Indians” and yelled when we blocked the TV during Red Sox games, even threatening violence if it happened when Carl Yastrzemski was at bat. Everyone called him Spike.
He came down with phlebitis when I was 12, after he and my grandmother had sold the small house in Westerly, R.I., and moved into an even smaller upstairs apartment that, because of his condition, he would never leave using his own two legs. That summer I traveled from our house in suburban Baltimore to care for him while my grandmother worked to make ends meet.
My job was simple: keep him company and keep hot towels tightly wrapped around his grossly swollen, vein-hardened legs. Instead, I read magazines and books in the backyard, ate all the sweets and pickles in the pantry, watched soap operas and our President tell everyone he’s not a crook. We had scrambled eggs and toast for lunch almost daily, whether he liked it or not. The hot towels hurt my hands, so I sometimes settled for warm. The medication on the counter occasionally didn’t get administered on time if my new friends from the beach called.
If he was up to it, I’d help him into the tiny living room to watch Bob Barker and “The Price is Right.” During the commercials, he’d say to me, “Annie, one of these days I want to be on that show.” It was the only time in those six weeks that I remember him ever initiating a conversation, other than to call out from his darkened bedroom for his pills when the pain was too much.
One day he asked me to call the operator for an ambulance. I didn’t know the house address, so the paramedics kept driving past the place. Then they dropped him on the stretcher going down the stairs and he yelled out in fear and pain. I couldn’t stop sobbing, even after my grandmother got there.
He was still in the hospital, dealing with advanced colon cancer, when I returned to start seventh grade. I was sitting in science class when I got a note to go home and within the hour we were heading north on I-95 for his funeral.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch this week’s final episodes of “The Price is Right" hosted by Barker. Knowing he and the show were still there for all these years had brought a disquieting comfort that now is gone. As gruff as he was, my grandfather never complained about my ill treatment, other than to ask my grandmother to please buy less eggs and more sandwich meats. And I never confronted my guilt at not taking my role as nursemaid more seriously and making my grandfather’s last months on earth more comfortable. That game show had helped ease both our pains.
I am really looking forward to digging in during my 5k trail run tomorrow morning. It’s been a very hard week here, so a very hard run seems only in order. I hope I ‘spike’ it for my grandfather.