HAVE YOU EVER noticed that as it begins to dawn on us that we have more yesterdays than we probably have tomorrows, we’re more likely to look back and consider the way we came?
Oh, sure, there are lots of social/psychological/developmental reasons for it, I’m sure — few of which are really any fun — but many of us tend to be more willing to look back at the people and events that made us who we are.
That changed us.
For me, one of those people has to be my grandmother.
She raised me. Certainly my grandfather and mother had major hands in that undertaking, but they both worked full time to keep the proverbial ship afloat, so it was my grandmother who was home all day dealing with the little boy.
My grandmother was “Mrs. Boyd.” In those days, everybody was Mrs. or Mr. Somebody — that’s just how it was.
Many people who had known each other for years used Mr. or Mrs. (unless they were enmeshed in an extended, quasi-personal conversation, out of the sight and/or hearing of others, in which case someone might resort to the use of a first name).
It was the polite form of address.
Mrs. Boyd was apparently renowned throughout the surrounding neighborhoods for her baking ability because every time any church or school-related event came to the fore, neighbors came to the door: “Mrs. Boyd, would you please …?”
And she did, anything from three to six delectable desserts.
Which wasn’t exactly a bad deal for the grandson who was lurking all over the kitchen.
Mrs. Boyd was the penultimate domestic engineer.
It had been her life, as she successfully raised four children of her own, and she took considerable pride in it.
Every day was about cooking, dishes, laundry, dusting (daily), shopping, errands, mail, housecleaning, bills, money and the ever-changing reality of a little boy.
Somehow, in the midst of all of that, she always had time for me (although she was more than able to suggest, in a voice and tone that I can only equate to Thor, that I should go “… play outside”).
And everyday she made me the same lunch: Spam sandwiches (I agree, that probably is diagnostically significant, but Spam wasn’t bad in those days. It was just … Spam. I still like it), a few chips and maybe a pickle.
And maybe some of that delectable whatever.
All of this manic domestic engineering was even more amazing in view of the fact that she was riddled with arthritis — bad arthritis, bad enough that even she would have to sit down for a few minutes, now and then.
But pretty soon, she’d be back up and back at it, saying, “You can’t stop. You have to keep going or you won’t be able to.”
That changed me, I’ve learned.
It wasn’t just a message about persevering in the face of arthritis; it was a message about persevering — period.
And I heard her, on a much deeper level than I ever would have imagined.
I will carry on and I will continue and I will do what needs to be done — sometimes, admittedly, to a ludicrous extent — but I will.
I learned that from Mrs. Boyd.
She was gentle, loving, patient and extraordinarily kind.
She was also evidently only slightly less formidable than the 8th Armored Division.
I only saw her genuinely angry once (thank God).
That was the time when the apple-of-her-eye third-grader (he said shyly) was wrongfully accused of misbehavior at school, which resulted in undeserved “detention,” which resulted in a humiliating act of nature (there is such a thing as too much information — trust me).
I left the school against direct orders.
I got home and told my story.
She soothed me, comforted me, cleaned me up and gave me a Spam sandwich. Then she said she was going to the school and would be back soon.
All she said was, “Everything will be fine tomorrow.”
I was scared.
When tomorrow came, she just said the same thing again: “Everything will be fine.”
I don’t know what she did, what she said, to whom she might have said it, how many bodies she might have left in her wake or how much scorched earth resulted.
I only know that everything was fine.
It was as if it had all never happened.
I was impressed.
And I was loved. And I was safe.
And we had some secrets, she and I: I knew some of hers and she knew a lot of mine, but they remained ours.
It was part of our “deal.”
It was … special.
And life went on and life was full of life and life did what it always does.
A million years later, when I was away at college and my mother had become the caregiver for her mother, who had descended into what I now know was Alzheimer’s, things would sometimes go awry.
My grandmother wouldn’t know where she was or who her daughter was and would become fearful and desperate.
My mother would call me, and I could get on the phone and say, “Hi, Mom!”
And things would be better.
It never didn’t work.
She always knew who I was, called me by name (“Markie”) and asked questions that made sense.
And she would relax and the fear would go away.
Because some things — some ties — are just that strong.
She amazed me then, and she amazes me now. I could write a book full of “Mrs. Boyd Stories” and all the things she taught me. But I won’t.
Here’s what I will do: I will carry on and I will continue and I will do what needs to be done.
Until, like her, it’s time for me to go do something else.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].