There was a time I thought myself to be invincible and that I would live forever. It’s funny how that point of view has changed as the years have slipped by.
I’m not THAT old. I’m only 41. However, with last year’s head injury, the aches I feel in my body after a day of honest labor, and all of the medication I’m on, it’s not difficult to understand why I contemplate mortality.
If you’re like me, you envision death surrounded by your closest friends and family, passing peacefully, knowing that you’ve made a positive difference in the world. It doesn’t really have to be that grand a difference. Knowing that I’ve influenced just one life can, at least, give my existence some meaning.
I haven’t thought about my great grandparents in a while: Abigail and Benjamin Franklin Crone. They lived in a small house behind my maternal grandparents. Whenever I see that house, I imagine, briefly, they’re inside in their favorite chair taking a nap.
Grandpa Crone had a small blacksmith setup and I used to play with his tools and not put them back. He was never too happy about that. He had the biggest ears I’d ever seen on a man, yet he was deaf. He was also plagued by cataracts and was considered legally blind. To recognize me, he would pull me close and eyeball me for a minute before recognition set in. He loved to chew tobacco. A spittoon was never far away.
I remember watching television with him as images of astronauts performing effortless acrobatics in the zero gravity environment of Skylab danced on the television. As we watched he would strain his eyes at the screen and point, “You see them wires?”
He continued, “Man ain’t never been on the moon. Why, the moon’s the size of a basketball. You can see it for yourself. If man was on the moon, you could see him sittin’ right there.”
Grandma Crone was sweet and soft. She always made me feel special. She also had a unique talent for communicating with and putting up with Grandpa. While talking to me, he would complain that she was being too loud and waking him from his nap. A few minutes later she would ask him a question and he would tell her, “Damn it, woman! I can’t hear you. You know I’m deaf.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
I don’t remember very much else about them. However, I once asked Grandma about her childhood. She shared a heartbreaking story:
I was about eleven or twelve. We lived out in the country. Mom and Dad had to take the wagon into town for supplies. Back then, it took more than a day to travel to town and back.
They left me in charge of my little brother. He was about four years old. I’d put him down in the house for a nap.
I went about doing my daily chores. After a while, I got tired and sat on a pile of hay in the barn. Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep.
When I awoke, I heard something terrible. I ran out of the barn to find that the house was on fire. I couldn’t get to my little brother. He died in the fire. I was so sad. All I could do was cry and watch the house burn. When my parents returned the next day to find the house in ashes, I had to tell them that he was dead.
Even though they were a part of my life throughout my childhood, I didn’t keep in touch after I moved to Tennessee as an adult. I regret that now. I wish I had been closer, more inquisitive. I wish I had something to tell my grandchildren about them.
The details are a bit hazy, but there came a time when they both had to be put in a nursing home. They were kept apart for their last years. It was my understanding that they shared rooms with someone of the same gender because the men and women were housed separately.
I was told they were brought together occasionally. I don’t think they spoke, but merely held hands or enjoyed knowing the other was in the room.
It got to the point that Grandpa could not longer speak, see, or hear. He would make hand gestures to his mouth indicating he wanted a chew of tobacco.
Grandma was suffering from dementia. She would frequently forget names and faces.
One day, the family went to visit Grandma Crone. She asked, “He’s gone, isn’t he?”. Somehow, through her mental fog, she knew that her love had passed before anyone told her. She wasn’t lonely for very long as she soon went to join Grandpa. I imagine they found one another once again.
Each time I think of them, I can’t help but think of that damn Kathy Mattea song that was released right around the time they passed away. I’ve included it below to torture the reader.
I can’t bear to think of Jaime and me ever being separated whether through age, sickness, or death. Sometimes my intuition tells me I’m not long for this world, but my heart wants to live forever. My heart knows that’s how long it will take to show my love how much she means to me. I hope we have many more years together. There is so much I need to share with her, but I’m still learning how.