Monday, February 11, 2008

Lost Video Tape - My Grandmother's Words

My aunt gave me a video tape recently. She told me that it was of my grandmother. Apparently in her last years, the nursing home she resided in decided (wisely) to interview their residents. The video tape was the result. My grandmother has been gone for a long time now. The tape was dated 1990.

With a fake fireplace in the middle of the screen, the interviewer sat across from my grandmother. She was very hard of hearing by this time, often having to ask that the question be repeated. And the audio wasn't great. It was hard to understand her responses. In fact, I plan to go through slowly, so that I can transcribe the interview.

She talked about coming over in a covered wagon. She had eleven siblings. She talked about the games she played with her brothers and sisters. She looked down at her weathered hands when she talked about a brother, who was named after a relative who died tragically. The brother died when he drown at the age of two. But when the interviewer asked more questions about what they did in their spare time, she emphasized that they worked. They didn't have a lot of time to play.

Then at the end of the interview, she was asked an important question. "Mae, is there some message you'd like to leave for the little ones? Is there something you'd like to say for posterity?" It was at this point that I asked my son to listen. He'd been playing a video game.

"Brian...Listen to this." I said. "It's my grandmother and she's about to tell us something." I said.

Mae looked up and down and then said, "Don't ever lie and don't steal."

Oh, I thought. OK...that was kind of basic, but good advice.

My son started to go back to his game. But then the interviewer asked again, "Is there anything you'd like to tell your children or grandchildren?"

"Listen Brian. Listen." I said.

He looked at me. "Mom, why are you sitting like that?" he asked.

Unbeknownst to me, I was sitting on the edge of my seat.

Grandma Mae looked a bit bewildered, as if the interviewer had asked a silly question.

"Any message you'd like to leave your children?" she asked again.

"Well..." Grandma started. "I hope they don't live this long. It's too hard."

And that was it. My husband and son went back to whatever they were doing. It was me who was left with that thought. I wanted to cry. That night, I couldn't sleep. I remembered taking my toddler daughter to visit her great grandmother. Did I visit enough? Why didn't I ever pick her up and take her to my house or to the park? I never even thought of that. She was obviously lonely. But I would never have known that. She was always so positive. I would have never in a million years dreamed she'd say those words.

I talked with my husband about it. He had no answers. My parents are now reaching the age my grandmother was in that tape. As I sat in church yesterday, still contemplating my grandmother's words, something occured to me. She no longer had a purpose. She'd outlived her friends and most of her family. She and my grandfather lived in their own home until they were in their early 90's. And then, like many her age, she went to live in a nursing home.

The words, "I hope they don't live this long. It's too hard," were a reflection of a loss of purpose. Sad, isn't it. I think that even at my age, which is less than half of hers at the time of that taping, I can begin to adopt a philosophy of purpose. It's a mindset really- a way of looking at life. Making a difference isn't about your age. It doesn't stop at 70 or 80 or 90. There is a purpose to all of our lives. And perhaps we need to reach up to that generation, just as we reach down to the generation which came after us. Together we form an unbreakable chain. What is your place in the chain?

Write Now ~Karen


bunnygirl said...

My maternal grandmother's attitude was much the same way. Mobility issues were a big factor. If you can't get around easily, you quickly run out of ways to occupy yourself even if you love to read or listen to the radio like my grandmother did.

I think we'll be luckier than our grandparents, though. We'll probably be able to hang out in virtual reality worlds until we lose all concept of what's real, what body parts hurt, and whether anyone came to visit you today.

I think you're right about the pain of outliving your peers, though. My grandmother outlived her husband, all eight of her siblings and one of her kids. It must be incredibly sad to have no one near who remembers your youth.

It's never too early in our lives to start thinking of how we'll cope with our old age!

Peace to both our grandmothers.

Jennifer said...

Wow, this is a great post. You need to write this story-form for some publication. That is an odd answer and so, sort of sad. It makes sense to develop a purpose early on so those aren't the words we say.

Lillie Ammann said...

Your grandmother's comment is so sad, but unfortunately, true of too many people who reach an advanced age. As you say, a sense of purpose is all-important.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

It's interesting to hear the three of you comment on this. Bunny- When I think back on my grandma, I remember her as being so positive. I don't remember her ever saying anything like this. She also became hard of hearing and her vision had failed, so I imagine that her world became very small. I tell my kids all the time that if I am ever unable, they just have to read to me, or at least put in a "book on tape."

I hadn't thought of that Jennifer. I wonder where I would send it though. Any ideas?

Lillie- I actually know a woman (my writing mentor) who is in a retirement home. She teaches writing to the other residents. How very cool is that? Very cool!


Jennifer said...

I was thinking Grand Magazine
or maybe Reader's Digest or maybe a social work pub or care provider pub, nursing pub, there are lots of options for a good piece like this.

Although, I'd sort of slant it where you're headed anyhow - with a "How can we change this" sort of feel or what you need to know if you work with elderly, etc... Many good pieces could come out of this. It's a great base story.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

Thanks for the suggestions Jennifer! You rock. ~Karen

SzélsőFa said...

What a great post, Karen.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

Thank you.