When I was a child, we visited Granny Nichols every Sunday afternoon for an hour or two. The grown-ups would sit and talk while we children played, but first I had to stand in front of Granny as she ran her fingers over my face and felt the top of my head. Her fingers did for her what her eyes could not.
“I think you’ve grown some this week,” she’d tell me. “Tell me what you’re wearing. Is that the pink corduroy jacket your mama made for you?”
To a degree, Granny chose her blindness. She of course did not choose to have the cataracts that blinded her eyes, but she chose not to have surgery to remove them. Fearing the procedure, she asked her daughter Fleda if she minded taking care of her if she lost her sight. No amount of reassurance from the doctors or any one else could convince her that having the surgery was feasible, so she went blind and remained blind for the rest of her life. Looking back, I am aghast. I can’t imagine anything much worse than being blind, but as a child, I just accepted the fact that my grandmother was.
When Aunt Fleda needed to go somewhere, Granny came to stay with us. My job was to be her eyes in our house. I led her to the bathroom and waited patiently outside the door until she finished. I led her to the table for meals and placed her hand on her tea glass and her silverware. I helped her any way I could. I never minded at all. Actually I found it a pleasure. For one thing, she talked to me as if I were an adult and told me family stories I’d never heard before. Sometimes I brushed her long white hair as she talked. By speaking her mind and standing up for what she believed in, she left me quite a legacy and lived to be 88.
More and more these days it’s her face I see when I look into the mirror, and that pleases me.
My father, too, spoke his mind just as his mother did. Although quiet and unassuming, he spoke up when he had something of value to say. He didn’t believe in wasting words. As he aged, he became more and more outspoken. When he was 82, I took him to the doctor for his annual physical. The doctor pronounced him in good health and started to talk to him about his diet.
“What do you eat for breakfast, Mr. Nichols?”
“Well,” Daddy replied, “some days I have a little bacon and a boiled egg. Others, I eat grits and scrambled eggs.”
“Bacon’s not good for you. I want you to give that up starting today,” the doctor replied.
Daddy looked at him seriously and said, “Now, Doc, I’m 82 years old. I can’t possibly live too many more years. I’m going to eat what I want when I want it unless it hurts me right now.”
“Yes, sir,” the doctor replied.
Daddy lived to be 90 and essentially died of old age. He ate bacon the morning he died. He used to tell me that old age wasn’t bad at all if you considered the alternative and that old age actually has advantages.
“People stand back and open doors for you,” Daddy said. “Stores and restaurants give you discounts. You can go to bed when and if you want to, and get up whenever. It ain’t so bad, this getting old. It has its perks.”
While I’m not any where close to 90 yet, I am starting to see what Daddy meant. When older people offend younger people, the young ones say, “You just have to look over her. She’s old.” There’s no chance of offending your boss because you don’t have one anymore. No one can fire you because you don’t work. Chances are you might embarrass your children if you get too far out of hand, but they probably deserve it. You can enjoy the grandchildren and send them home when you get tired. I think I’ve finally figured things out. These are the good old days. I’m going to enjoy them while I can. Pass me a piece of bacon, will you?