Thursday Morning Dutch

Posted by jdg | Thursday, March 09, 2006 |

For the last three days we've been sitting in my parents' living room in Kalamazoo, Michigan, watching Juniper realize that she loves carpeting. At one point she turned to me while climbing their plush-carpeted stairs, and I swear the look she gave me said, "Jeez, Dutch, what is this stuff? It's fucking great!"

This has been coupled with her sudden realization that walking around is way better than crawling, particularly when falling merely involves her butt landing on a full inch of tightly-woven eighties' shag. I presume that when we return to our hardwood floors in San Francisco, she will once again find her way around our apartment like a Californian on ice skates clutching the boards of a rink.

It has been a strange juxtaposition, going from the bustle of Manhattan to sitting in this living room with the same pictures on the wall that were here when I was a kid, listening to my grandmother tell stories about my dad as a kid fastening a "frank-en-fur-ter" to a string and using it to get the family dog to pull him around in a wagon. Frank-en-fur-ter? Such a grandma word, like afghan. Or davenport. Or calling a creek a crick.

Every time I come home I am shocked by the way things change. Stores and restaurants that I once loved have closed, while the outer rings of town are filled with big box superstores and new neighborhoods where all the homes look exactly the same. My grandmother had Christmas presents waiting; I unwrapped a box of Little Debbie "Banana Twins." She described recently visiting a friend in the nursing home, how as she walked down the hall all these arms reached out for her from each room she passed, hoping for someone to touch. She described going in to touch the hand of one woman who reached out for her, and how the woman simply would not let go, keeping a steely grip on my frail grandmother's wrist, forcing her to pry the fingers away one by one. I looked at my last grandmother and saw an even older lady living in the skin of the old lady I had grown up loving as grandma, and turned my eyes away and let that old mental picture win out as I spoke to her softly about small things. I sometimes catch myself staring at my parents on visits like this, wondering who the old people are inhabiting this home that itself has not changed, my father's hair falling out and graying, the stress of my mother's terrible job written across her face. I see Juniper staring at them and smiling, these are the grandparents she'll know.

When you live so far away these things do not creep up slowly like they do in your own mirror. They hit you hard, almost as hard as it is for them to see the baby they last saw four months ago suddenly talking and feeding herself and walking gleefully across the room that their own son learned to walk across twenty-eight years ago.