“I swear you wake up every morning in bed and think of ways to piss me off!” Grandpa chuckles as I sweep away the debris from around his ‘throne’.
“How did you know?” I ask as loud as I can, “How did you know that my sole purpose in life is to make yours hell?”
He replies with laughter that feels like machine gun fire in my eardrums. I think he laughs that loud because he’s pretty much deaf. He lost his hearing aid ages ago.
“I don’t need the bloody thing. I can make out just fine.”
I guess I respect that. Seems crazy to me, but then again, he’s always done crazy things. And who am I to argue with the king on the mountain?
I’m leaving Thrifty Foods, balancing a carton of eggs and enough homogenized milk to fill a bathtub when a woman I’ve never met says,
“Well, isn’t your grandfather the most popular guy?”
I laugh because I’ve left him in the store surrounded by people waiting patiently for their turn to say their hellos and shake his hand. It happened again in the parking lot at the post office. To say my grandfather is a “popular guy” is a massive understatement. Sometimes, when I’m driving him around to wherever he wants to go, I feel like I’m a celebrity bodyguard. Every stop we make has at least a friend or the son of somebody that worked for him at one time waiting for him. The level of respect that people show him is something from the past, a symbol of the power he once had.
When my parents told me we were moving from Alberta to BC to live with my grandfather, it was as if they had just told me we were moving to Disneyland, permanently. Grandpa’s house was like a castle to me, tucked away in an enchanted forest by the sea. The man himself was a 365 day a year Santa Claus, showering his grandchildren with gifts and spending money for sweets and records. My favourite memories on Mount Newton were the weekly and rather eccentric dinner parties that ended in crescendos of laughter, wine soaked table cloths and leftovers for days. When my parents told me we were moving to Grandpa’s, I marked down the days on the calendar like it was Christmas, in June.
At nearly 27 years of age, I am proud of my role as one of Sandy Ormiston’s caregivers. I never thought cleaning shit off a toilet seat could be so rewarding. And if someone had told me three years ago that this is where I would find joy, I would have thrown my Pabst in their face. You see, until recently, my grandfather and I have never really seen eye to eye. I am a free thinking artist with a disdain for authority while Grandpa is a right wing conservative who commands the respect of many people I dislike. As a young adult, I would come home to Mount Newton for a visit and he would start the greetings with “Well, have you applied to nursing school yet?” and “What the hell are you wearing?” He had little tolerance for “pot smoking hippies” and to say the very least, I was flying by the seat of my bell bottoms. I was often the butt of his jokes.
It became very clear during one visit that Grandpa was changing. He was in constant circles of verbal repetition. He wasn’t cooking. He had given up driving. I began to fear that if I was not present for the remaining years, I would miss the opportunity to repay him for everything he had done for my family and I. The decision to leave Vancouver after 6 years and come home to the farm was surprisingly easy. In fact, after discussing it with my aunt, it took only seconds.
The relationship I hold with Grandpa today is one of COMPLETE comedy and adoration. He knows he depends on me for things he can no longer provide for himself and he rewards me with compliments and jokes at his own expense. He tells me daily that I am growing more and more beautiful every moment. He jokes of his demise and how he might need my help to do it. He tells me secrets and makes me feel like I’m the only one who knows them (this of course being false, he has Alzheimers, he tells everybody secrets).
I am bound to him for he has shown me a generosity unmatched by anyone I have ever known. I proudly take on the challenges of a caregiver because without him, I would not be who I am today. I stand by this declining king on the mountain, to lovingly fold his laundry, to drive him wherever his memories wish to take him, to wait in hospitals while doctors track his deterioration. I am blessed beyond measure to be his confidant and trusted ally.