Last night, while my father was screaming at the Cowboy's game and my grandmother, bundled in a pink comforter, was napping on the couch across from me, I decided to take advantage of my brother's new wi-fi and router and logged in to check my email.
Like me, a lot of my Facebook friends were only checking in and calling out holiday greetings across the miles from their cellphones, but I did see someone online and turned on my Yahoo chat to see if he was logged in. He contacted me before I could click on his name and asked if I'd had enough turkey and stuffing. I was drowsy and felt like a turkey myself and told him. We have an easygoing friendship. His English is probably better than mine (he was once an interpreter) and I'm charmed by his effortless use of our idioms and appreciation of our culture. God only knows what he finds charming about me but we have a lot to talk about.
At some point my grandmother stirred and in the dim light of the living room I saw her eyes twinkles awake and she sat up. She was covered in my dad's three cats who naturally gravitate to her probably because of the fresh chicken breast she's always cooking up for them and she looked tiny compared to the huge felines currently snoring in her lap. She made that pink comforter herself with down from a goose farm she used to work at where she was displaced worker another lifetime ago in Germany.
She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was talking to a friend online. She asked me where 'she' lived and I said, "He lives in Holland"...she thought about it for a moment and asked me where there was a Holland near us and I said, "Not in the US, Grandma. There's a Harlem in New York, but this is Holland, The Netherlands, in Europe." She got excited and marveled how we could now talk to people anywhere in the world on a box. I told her that this box was called a laptop and she stated, "Rock, stone, same thing." She knew it wasn't but was being cute which IS cute.
Then she asked that if my friend lived in Europe, maybe he knew my cousin Tomasz in Poland and I asked Frank to indulge her and he said he did and would tell him hello. She knew we were teasing her gently but she liked that indirectly she too was talking to Frank in Holland.
My grandmother is 85 now and has been slowing down for the past few years. She's often wondered aloud why all of her peers have 'kicked the bucket' and she's been 'left behind'. I remind her that we love having her around and maybe right now we need her more than God does and she just looks at me sideways. She comes from a time I've only read about in books and seen in movies. Right now 'my' time overwhelms her.
Recently when I came to visit she pulled my coat off me and sat me down and over a shared glass of wine, demanded I tell her what gay sex was. She said she saw something on TV and asked about it and no one would tell her. She wondered if it was because they thought she was a stupid old lady.
She may have only had a third-grade education but she was hardly stupid. She survived child abuse, a trip in a cattle car and barely missing being left at Oswiecim (Auscwitz) and then being a war refugee until she orchestrated taking up the Red Cross' offer to emigrate to another country. She chose the United States and THEN told my grandfather. She worked hard, raised a family and saved enough money to buy several houses. Not stupid.
So I sat there in my father's kitchen and explained and answered her questions while my dad and brother looked on in horror. They interrupted with frequent, "Did she just ask you what I thought she did?" and I said simply, "Yes" and kept going until her curiosity was satisfied. She told me I was the only one she knew would tell her. I finished the rest of the wine. It was.....interesting.
I think of the friends I talk to everyday who live in other countries. Most of them I'll never meet, although Frank is hellbent and determined to track me down on his next visit and I'll be there to meet him, but I can only dream about meeting most of them unless my book becomes a bestseller and series and I get to travel the world, which is a new dream and a worthy one.
But then I think of the little old lady sitting across from me who I've been avoiding for months because she asks me questions I can't or don't want to answer and I realize the bittersweet reality that her traveling days are behind her and there's only one trip she's really looking forward to, the one where she believes (and I do too) that she'll be reunited with all those who went on before her. Soon, the distance between us will be greater than any country and no box or phone or laptop will be able to bridge that so, for now, I can let some things go and keep her close 'til then.