I grew up in a military family, so I don't have childhood neighbors and friends. Except for "Aunt" Elinor and "Uncle" Bernie and their boys Bob and Jim. They had duty stations parallel to ours, so we hung out with them a lot during elementary and middle school. The grownups drank cocktails and played bridge, and us kids played Stadium Checkers and dug holes to China.
Fifty years later, both my parents and Uncle Bernie are gone. Aunt Elinor is 90 now, living in the house they bought in 1970, assisted during the day by a couple of caregivers. My sister was in California clearing out her storage unit and shipping the last of their stuff to their new home in Alaska, and I decided to fly down for a couple of days so she and I could spend a day and a night with Aunt Elinor.
Our mom died two years ago and for the last several years of her life she had moderate dementia, so we weren't sure what to expect of Aunt Elinor. We found that she's frail of body but sharp of mind and intellect. We talked at her table for ten hours on Friday and another three on Saturday. We'd been told Aunt Elinor usually went to bed at 9 pm, but she was still wide awake when we finally turned in at 11. She was so eager for conversation.
We suggested she join a book club, as she is an avid reader, preferring historical biographies. She said, "I was in two, but the other ladies drifted away or died." We suggested she join another book club and consider herself to be about 70. She said, "I don't drive, and I don't want to be a burden." We suggested she ask her caregivers to provide a ride or, once she is part of the group, ask another member. When it was time for us to leave, her weekend caregiver arrived. I watched the animation leave her face. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I'll research other opportunities available to her and send an email to Bob or Jim, and my sister will tell the caregivers.
Those hours were hard work but immensely rewarding. Aunt Elinor has known my sister and me since before we were born, serving as a second mother especially in our own mother's last years. Now it was our turn to be there for her.
The plane trip home took its usual two hours and I was greeted at the baggage terminal by my husband Art and my 10-year-old twin granddaughters, arrived that day for a weeklong visit. I shifted roles. Now I am Grandma who drives to the library and the bookstore, who reads aloud from "The 21 Balloons" as the girls draw, who serves up ribs and canned corn and canned applesauce and leftover spaghetti, who supervises baths and screen time.
How lucky I am to have the energy for one generation older one day, and two generations younger the next. To have the love for all of them. To be able to listen to both memories and dreams.