Friday, June 10, 2011

My Strange Believe-It-Or-Not Story - Part Three

My side-trip to Missouri had turned out to be bizarre. I entered into a time-warp in Waynesville, Missouri, and the entire community where I came of age at Fort Leonard Wood had vanished. I then headed to Joplin to visit my 92-year-old grandfather. I had called him to arrange a dinner at the restaurant of his choice. At least this visit wouldn't be strange.


Actually, it began exactly as I expected it to. When I arrived at the nursing home, my grandfather was dressed in a sport coat and bow-tie. This is how I remembered him, dressed up to go to work for the night shift at the Topeka Daily Capitol. He looked frail, but he walked unassisted with a cane. All those years of walking to and from work had paid off for him. And he wore a smile, which is another part of my memory of him. He was cheerful and positive and was always ready with a joke.

I asked him what kind of food he liked. I assumed Joplin could accommodate any preference. "I want to get a hamburger at Wendy's," he said.

"It's OK, Grandpa," I said. "We can eat anywhere you like, anything you want. You and I have never had dinner out together before and I'd like it to be special."

"I want to go to Wendy's," he insisted.

It was a little strange. Given what was available, I don't know why he was adamant about a fast-food hamburger, but he must have had his reasons. Wendy's it would be.

At Wendy's we arranged our burgers and fries on our plastic trays and dug in. I asked him about the nursing home, and he told me they were taking good care of him.

My grandmother had died the year before at the age of 93. I have fond memories of her. I thought she was the most loving, big-hearted grandmother in the world. I asked him, "Grandpa, do you miss Grandma?"

"Oh God no," he said. He took another bite of his burger and continued. "I was so glad to be done with that bitch."

I was so stunned I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to know why he felt that way. It was too much information. I was so bewildered by his outburst that I have no memory of bringing him back to the home and saying goodbye. I don't remember driving out of Joplin, but I know I was headed for Oklahoma on my way to Tempe, Arizona.

Alone in the car, my thoughts took a philosophical turn. Some of these conclusions remain important to me to this day.
  • You may have expectations, but be ready to be surprised by what actually happens next.
  • You never know what's going on behind closed doors. I had visited my grandparents many times, but I realized I didn't have a clue about their relationship.
  • You travel your life journey mostly alone. You can have intimate relationships, but the totality of your experience of being alive is known only to you.
  • Aging and dying is hard, a lot more challenging than young people realize.
That was the last time I saw Grandpa. He died not long after my visit.

When I arrived at the Arizona State campus and saw the chaos of my son's dorm room, these lessons reaffirmed themselves. I had to admit that I didn't know what my son's college life experience was like. I didn't have a clue. I turned the car over to him, gave him a hug and caught a plane back to Virginia, to what I believed was my happy, normal life.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Photo courtesy of Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers)


Meredith Bell said...

These are 3 amazing stories, Denny. This last one will stay with me the longest because of the abrupt, sharp contrast in the perceptions about your grandmother that you and your grandfather had.

It's always startling when we get a piece of information that causes us to totally reframe our thinking about a person or situation.

Your conclusions are important truths that we all need to carry in our minds each day.

Miriam S Pia said...

I have read all 3 of these in one sitting. I am also a writer. You would be welcome to join my troupe of writer friends at LinkedIn or Facebook.

I think the forest in the 2nd story was on purpose. I guess its just the order of the events which were confusing: if you had experienced that first, you would not have been so surprised...but then the place that hadn't changed at all would have been even weirder.

I don't blame you for just going mentally blank after discovering that your grandfather had been unhappily married for an indefinite period of time before his wife died "even though they didn't get divorced". All I can say about that, is that i have read that a lot of the most successful marriages weren't that great to begin with so the people in them don't suffer from disillusionment nor do they come down from cloud 9. Usually, they are not miserable from it...but they're just like "I guess its us and its just alright"...that is creepy though. Its fortunate you remember anything between that and arriving at your son's place in Arizona. "They used the Vulcan mind wipe on you."