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Grandpa Tom and Fred Astaire

She loves Fred Astaire, Mary does. She knows his footwork, his stats, his signature. At a recent costume party we expected Fred to show and (s)he did not disappoint. Our family loves Mary for this quirky enthusiasm. We know a lot about a subject we didn't care about until Mary cared.

Stuart and I caravan through the mountains with two carloads of kids. We drive through the dark, the headlights on in the early morning hours. One by one we pray for comfort and grace for the difficult days ahead. A phone call the night before. "Surgery sometime tomorrow." Would we get there in time? We pile out of the car, meet Grandma in the hospital parking lot. The kids jostle to push the elevator buttons. "Faith, you can push the button to the third floor to see Grandpa. Charlie you can push the button on the way back down."

We find Grandpa Tom in his hospital pjs, his eyes light up when we squeeze into the room. "Oh! You didn't have to come! You're missing work. You shouldn't have come." But he is smiling. We wouldn't have missed this. Surgery is in a few hours and he is calm and cheerful. Grandma Carole is practical and smiling beside him and I take it all in. They don't know I watch them to learn how to walk the aged path the way they do.
A day later, after the old chest has been laid open, the heart repaired and the tubes snake in and out, we tiptoe in again. Grandpa welcomes us, we see the pain but he does not speak of it. "I'm a tough old Englishman" he breathes. The children smile when they see their giant card hanging by his bed, the one signed by nine grandchildren and one Fred Astaire. "We love you, Grandpa" they say; they pat his feet gently on the way out and leave him to do battle.

We speak of this on the ride home. Mary's Fred points the way with these words: Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young. How to teach this to these fresh-faced youngsters, their whole life a mystery before them? "Hey, guys, what have you seen this week that has impressed you?"

"Grandma and Grandpa are so cheerful, Mom."

"Grandma isn't worried. She is just doing what needs to be done and living her life."

"I know! I couldn't believe she went to her dance class last night!"

"They are interested in us even in the middle of this."

"Grandpa doesn't complain."

"Remember this, guys. This is an example that we need. In order for all of us to age well we need to learn to live this way now. It is easy to do these things in the difficult times if you have had a whole lifetime of practice."

I see their eyes, large and thoughtful, in the rearview mirror, as they think about this. When we get back to Grandma's, they hustle to empty the car, to set the table, to serve and I smile at these children who are already walking in their grandfather's footsteps.

We're looking forward to seeing you back on your feet, Grandpa Tom. We love you!

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent - that is to triumph over old age. Thomas Bailey Aldrich


LaughingLady said…
This is a beautiful post, Kate. (as always) I hope Grandpa's doing splendidly by now!!

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