Apples & Autumn, a Grandma with dementia and more Love than is imaginable

A story of Apples & Autumn, a Grandma with dementia and more love than is imaginable…

This morning is cool with the winds of Autumn and the sweetness of harvest. As I entered my kitchen to make some coffee, I noticed that a morning sunbeam had landed on one of my favorite pieces of art…

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I call it “Apples”, but beyond that, I have no idea about this painting except that Barry and I bought it at an auction at the home of one of his beloved elderly cousins many years ago. I loved his cousin, Mary Bicho, a music teacher and all-around dynamo of life. This painting reminds me of my Grandmother, my Dad’s Mom… as do Apples and Autumn. I remembered a post that I wrote some years ago, a post about Apples and Autumn and my Grandma. I found it this morning and am re-posting it here. I hope you like it…

Bushels of Apples in the back of an old pick-up truck…

I used to not love Fall so much. When I was young, I dreaded the darker days and the structure of heading back to school. Or maybe I just loved Summer so much that Fall was always like the day after Christmas to me…

Fall meant cold toes and frosty fingers while walking to the bus stop early in the morning. Fall meant rain that we couldn’t play outside in. Fall meant waiting for the day that my parents turned on the heat… and Lord knows they waited ’til the last second.

But of all the memories this gal has stored in her head, the most remarkable and the most bittersweet and the most remembered came in the Fall. It was the Fall of 1965. I was in junior high, at a brand new school, and that was not all that and a bag of chips, to say the least. I had to ride the bus forever to get to school, and likewise, I rode that bus forever to get back home. Our bus stop was hundreds of miles (ok, maybe a half mile) from my house, so add that walk to my daily sojourn. I had tons of homework right from the outset… and, well… I had entered puberty. I had boys and clothes and The Beatles vs The Dave Clark Five on my mind. And oh, lest I forget, I had just moved to my new home in Rhode Island from the place I loved in New Hampshire. I’d call that a quadruple whammy for any adolescent girl.

On one day in that Fall to forget, my Mom and Dad announced that my grandparents from Michigan would be visiting. These were my Dad’s parents, and we had not seen them in 4 years. The last time I had visited my paternal grandparents was on our family trip from San Diego to New Hampshire. My Dad was in the Navy and relocating was something I kinda got used to. Until 1965, that is.

My grandparents from Michigan would be arriving the following Friday and staying for the weekend. I was thrilled. This is just what I needed. I counted the days, the minutes, the seconds. I still remember cutting through all the back yards of all the houses on the way home from the bus stop that Friday afternoon. (Some of those neighbors would eventually erect tall, sturdy fences to keep kids like me from cutting through their yards… nice.) But anyway, I ran through one cul-de-sac and one yard after another to make it home to see my grandparents. When I got home, the first thing I saw was my grandfather’s broken down pick-up truck in our driveway. How that truck made it from Michigan to Rhode Island, with my grandparents who had never left Michigan in it, I will never know.

But it was what was in the back of the pick-up truck that is emblazoned in my mind. Apples. Bushels of apples. 8 bushels, to be exact. I could smell the sweetness of those apples. I can still smell the sweetness of those apples. Old, broken bushel baskets filled with ripe, luscious apples. This contrast would come to mean more to me than I could ever have understood at the time.

My grandparents lived and worked on their farm in Michigan. My youthful visits to that farm were all about trekking from the house to the barn to gather eggs each morning. Riding on my grandfather’s old tractor. “Going to market” to deliver the fruits and vegetables that bounced around in the back of the truck. Picking strawberries, strawberries as big as your fist, in the fields that went on forever… right into the horizon. Sitting in the roadside fruit and vegetable stand with my grandmother, selling the luscious fruits of their labor to passers-by. My grandmother’s aprons and her big, big kitchen. And her smile. My grandmother had the widest smile of all smiles, a smile within her heart and across her sun-kissed face and gentle wrinkles. I thought this was the greatest life anyone could ever imagine…

But my Dad had a different idea of that farm. He would tell me later in my life that he agonized over how hard his parents, his Mom in particular, worked on their farm. My Dad would break his mother’s heart when he ran away from home at age 16 to join the Navy, only to be sent home again because he was too young. He would break her heart again when he turned 17. My dashing sailor Dad would spend New Year’s Eve 1950 in Boston, at age 22, where he would meet a lovely young Irish lassie from Brighton. They would marry that coming August, welcome their first child, a boy, in May 1951… and be quite surprised with me in October 1952. I was born in Michigan and my first home was my grandparents’ farm. Maybe I sensed the great love and joy my grandmother had for my Dad, my Mom and these little kids. I can’t explain it. Even though I did not see my grandparents all that often, their memories are so vivid and clear and perfect. So colorful. So tied to the earth. So tied to me. So loving. (I would have another brother in June 1955, who was also brought home to that farm.)

As I said, my family relocated a lot because of the Navy… but our move to Rhode Island was because my Dad had retired and was a working civilian for the first time in over 20 years. And this brings me back to the Fall of 1965 and the bushels of apples in the back of the pick-up truck…

I remember running into my house and seeing my grandmother sitting at our kitchen table. My Mom and Dad were there, too, and my grandfather was there. All sitting at the kitchen table. I ran to Grandma and threw my arms around her. She cupped my face in her strong hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, aren’t you a pretty little girl.” I looked back at Grandma and saw something I will never, ever forget. I saw that she did not know who I was. She held my face a long time, searching for something, I think. SOMETHING. When she let go, I looked to my parents and Grandpa. My Mom had tears in her eyes and even though I had never seen my Dad cry, I knew he was fighting, fighting, fighting back tears…

And then I knew why my grandparents who had never left Michigan drove all the way to Rhode Island with 8 bushels of apples in the back of their old pick-up truck.

We all sat at that kitchen table and talked and talked. Grandma talked of when she was a little girl, just like me she said. She remembered her mom and dad, hardworking immigrants from Yugoslavia… my great-grandfather was a miner and a farmer and had found work in Minnesota and Arizona and then Michigan. Grandma remembered her dogs from childhood. She loved dogs and was very enamored with our family dog, Chippy. Chippy sat at Grandma’s feet while she talked of things she knew. Grandpa was very quiet…

My Mom and Dad suggested that we all go for a drive, to see some of the beauty of New England in the Fall. I sat in the back seat of the car, behind my Dad, right next to Grandma. She held my hand. Every once-in-awhile, Grandma would look toward my Dad, think a moment and say, “What a nice man. Isn’t he a nice man…” It broke my heart. I was relieved that I could only see the back of my Dad’s head because I couldn’t imagine how he must have felt. One glimmer of remembrance happened on that little car trip, though, when Grandma pointed at my Mom and said, simply and lovingly, “Rita.” But Grandma’s voice was far away and her eyes returned quickly to childlike innocence. Delight. Holding my hand like I was a best friend who could tell her something.

Early that evening, as the sun was setting over the crimson and orange and sun-burst trees, my Dad helped Grandpa bring the bushels of apples into our garage. The sweetness of those apples in the old bushel baskets filled our garage. It was a glorious smell. It was sweet… Fall sweet. Grandma was looking at the bushels of apples as they came into our garage… and she said, so wonderfully innocent, “Let’s make apple pies.”

We did. My Mom and Dad and brothers. Grandpa watched. I think he was happy to see Grandma happy in our kitchen… as she set about her work. She remembered all about dough and roller pins and rolling and rolling with her strong arms. She remembered all about peeling, coring and slicing apples. She remembered all about punching little fork marks to seal the edges of the dough and how to make a little star design in the middle of the pie. Grandma talked, again, about her childhood and all about her beloved dogs. We baked pie after pie after pie on that miracle of a Friday night… cooling them on our windowsills.

But she never again remembered any of us.

That night of apples and apple pies and Grandma is one of the most special nights I have ever spent in my entire lifetime. I felt so much love coming from this lovely lady who had no idea who we were or where she was. I think love still flies from inside that mind being closed with dementia. Like wings. Like the sweet scent of apples in the Fall. I could feel it. I knew it…

Grandma and Grandpa would leave on Sunday morning. I hugged Grandma for a long, long time and waved good-bye with tears streaming from my eyes. I would never see her again. Grandma died 2 years later in a hospital in Michigan. She was 60 years old.

My Dad used to sit at his home office desk while I sat nearby at my sewing machine. We faced each other. We talked about all kinds of things over the whrrrrr of my sewing machine. We talked about school and boys and music and homework. We talked about Grandma and dementia and heartbreak and I could feel that he feared this disease. Feared it in himself. I will never forget the comfort of those talks and the love I felt from my Dad. He never had to worry about dementia. He suffered a heart attack at age 47. He died. My Dad died. I was 22 years old.

As Fall settles in each year, I remember that precious time with my Grandma. I remember the bushels of apples. I remember the apple pies. I remember the sweet scent of those apples and those apple pies cooling on our windowsills. I remember my Dad carrying in bushel after bushel into our little kitchen. I remember that happiness.

I remember the old, broken bushel baskets filled with ripe, luscious apples. The contrast. I learned that the ripe, luscious apples are what I remember best and most beautifully. But the old, broken bushel baskets are what brought the apples to me. Both have beauty. Both have meaning.

Yes, I now love the Fall. Fall tells stories of harvest. The powerful harvest of love. The story of bushels of apples in the back of an old pick-up truck…

Apples & Autumn, a Grandma with dementia and more Love than is imaginable was last modified: September 9th, 2014 by Sharon Couto
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Apples & Autumn, a Grandma with dementia and more Love than is imaginable was last modified: September 9th, 2014 by Sharon Couto