I didn’t notice them at first. I was too focused on power-walking to the Taco John’s counter. My stomach was growling, and the only thing that could appease the growling beast was some greasy Mexican food.
I ordered my lunch – a cheese quesadilla and some potato oles – and found a table near the storefront. Being a curious and slightly paranoid person, I always do a full sweep with my eyes of my surroundings whenever I’m in a public place. It was when I did this that I noticed them.
They were seated at a booth right along the path I took to reach the cash register. An older woman with curly white hair sat on one side of the booth, her back slightly hunched, while two young girls sat on the other side. Both girls had jet black hair. The oldest was probably about 12 years old, and the other girl was about 10.
The two girls stood up from their booth and walked their trays over to the garbage container placed next to the front door. After dispensing their trash, the girls turned back around and looked at their still-seated companion. The older woman grabbed her cane that was lying next to her and slid out from the booth. The girls pivoted on their feet and walked out the door. Once outside, they talked and danced – spinning around and flailing their limbs – as they waited for the older woman to join them.
I continued to watch the trio as they made their way to a station wagon parked about 20 feet away. After about five minutes of sitting in the vehicle, the older woman began to back out from the parking spot, a process that took an additional five minutes to complete.
I felt a lump form in my throat as I watched the station wagon pull out of the parking lot. My fingers wiped away some pre-tears that had materialized on my eyes.
The image of the two girls and the older woman reminded me of all of the lunches I had shared with my grandmother when I was a child. Instead of Taco John’s, my grandma and I would always go to Village Inn, where my mom worked as a waitress for a good part of my childhood. We would take a cab – my grandmother never learned to drive – to Target, I would pick out a toy, we would walk over to VIllage Inn and eat lunch, and then we would take a cab home.
I can’t remember exactly how many times we did this routine, but I would guess we did it at least twice a week for about three years. One particular memory I have involves me, with a bowl cut-styled hair and a tomboy outfit, playing with a Tonka trunk at the restaurant. My grandmother sat on the opposite side of the table, her long, slender fingers wrapped around her coffee cup. Nothing life-changing happened during this lunch, but, 20 years later, I still remember how I felt that day – happy, safe, loved.
That’s how I felt every day I spent with my grandmother, at least the days I can remember. I would always run to my grandmother whenever I felt sad or mad or lost or confused. I even did this after she had had a stroke that left her unable to walk and talk. I would curl up on her lap as she sat in her recliner and I would feel instantly relieved. To me, there was no safer place than in her arms.
My earthly relationship with my grandmother ended when I was 15 years old, when she died of old age. In the week before my grandmother’s death, my aunt and I slept in the hospital’s intensive care unit’s family waiting room for four nights. We “slept” on uncomfortable chairs that could be converted into even more uncomfortable cots. Looking back, I’m not sure if we spent those days waiting to take her home or waiting to say goodbye.
I decided on the fifth day at the hospital to take a break and go to a movie with my friends. We went to see “The Guardian,” an action-adventure film about the U.S. Coast Guards, at our local mall movie theater. I returned home from the theater and found my aunt sitting on the love seat in our dining room. She didn’t need to say anything. I knew she wouldn’t have left the hospital if my grandmother was still there.
I hated myself for not being there. I thought, “You were too busy watching a mediocre movie to be there with the woman who taught you to read and write – the woman who sat in your backyard and watched you play at recess, making sure no one picked on you. She was the person who went on daily walks around the block with you, laughing as you went out of your way to step on a extra-crunchy-looking leaf. She spent every day with you, since the moment you took your first breath, and you chose to not be with her when she was taking her last.”
Like many teenagers, I decided to take out my anger online. I began an instant messaging conversation with one of my friends who had been at the movie theater with me. After listening to me vent for about a half hour, my friend said something that has stuck with me for the past decade. He reminded me that while I was watching a movie called, “The Guardian,” my grandmother, the woman who protected me and educated me and made me the person I was – and am – today, died. My guardian died while I was watching “The Guardian.”
The thing is: my grandmother didn’t really stop being my guardian when she died. I still feel her protection and support during times when I feel depressed or anxious or confused or hopeless. My grandmother, my guardian, is still with me when I need her, just like she was when she was living. Just like she was when I was watching that older woman with her granddaughters at Taco John’s last week.
She’s here with me now, as I write this post on National Grandparents Day. She’s with me, and I thank God – whom she taught me about – that my grandmother, my guardian, will always be with me whenever I need her.