I didn't want to go.
It was a sunny May Sunday and I had new LPs to listen to. Poems to write. Acne to pick. The things a tomboygirl does in her pre-teen years.
But Mom insisted.
"It's Mother's Day and we're going to see her."
Her meaning Mom's mom.
She was in a nursing home in another farm town, about an hours drive from us. But I didn't want to go. The place smelled like pee and old people. Besides. She didn't even remember me, and I barely spent any time at all around her growing up.
But we piled in the Plymouth, Dad driving Mom in the front, me sulking in the back.
Mom carried a store-bought card and a pound box of chocolates she had splurged on at Sullivan's Drugstore. Dad was immersed in his diatribe of agricultural expertise.
"And that rain didn't even make a dent. Look at that Marge. See them tassles? Hell they oughta be a foot taller ‘n that by now. Shoot fire. We'd better get a gully washer soon. I ‘member that year we got 18 inches in one month that year you remember when we lived out on the north road and Mr. McKammon got his finger caught in the combine? Hell nearly tore it off."
I stared at the rows and rows of corn making little green ripples in the window as we passed. I squinted my eyes so all I could see was a green blur. The flat land went on forever. As far as I was concerned anyway.
"Now take the Neimeyer's crop. Hell they ain't even got that last load sold and old man Niemeyer's still crowin' like he was the big cock a the walk."
I was relieved when we pulled into the white rock parking lot of the long low building.
The automatic doors swung open and it was like I remembered. Only now there was a hint of Clorox mixed with the pee and old people smell. Maybe somebody'd got on them about things.
Grandma was sitting up in bed. She was despondent, irritated. She fidgeted with her bone-skinny hands and looked out the window.
Mom laid down the card and chocolates on her bed. Grandma had no reaction.
When Mom--- who was no talker herself--- would start a conversation, Grandma would dismiss it. I saw Grandma's wet, bright eyes darting around the room, as if she were a trapped and confused animal, looking for an open window. But there were none.
Finally when Mom said something like, "Mom, we want you to have a nice Mother's Day," Grandma snapped her head around, stared at her and said, "Who are you? You're not my daughter. YOU'RE NOT MY DAUGHTER!"
Grandma yelled so much and got so worked up that an attendant lady came in and said she thought it was best that we leave.
Mom, me and Dad the diarrhea mouth never said a word all the way home.
Mom just stared out the window, watching the cornfields rush by.
In the ‘60s we didn't have a name for Grandma's problem. Giving it one wouldn't have made it any easier.
If Mom had had her rosary in her purse she would have been grasping it by now holding on for dear life, trying to understand that which is a mystery to us all.
But she kept the rosary in the little dresser drawer by her bed, to pray each night.
I'm sure she would hold it tightly that night and pray even harder, trying to accept. Knowing that only faith would get her through this as it had all the other times. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who..."
I think that when parts of the brain break, there's also a break in the heart. Of others. For what's forgotten by one sears a permanent memory in another.
Years later my Mom would endure electro-shock therapy, which dulled her senses and her own memory, helping her forget what had made her so deeply, deeply depressed.
But I know. I was there. For some of it, at least. And it's true.
Sometimes it's too painful to remember.
But sometimes it's just as painful to forget.