Saturday, July 16, 2005

Toenail Penance

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time you may have noticed that I have referenced toenails more than is normal. I am a bit hung up on cutting mine, noticing other's, and taking care of old people's. And now, what I'm sure you have all been waiting for- the reason. And of course, it is driven by the only force that is able to override my logical (and occasionally illogical) reasoning....guilt. (And I'm not even Catholic!)

My Grandma got very sick while I was going to college in Missoula, Mt. Now, I did not take my college experience very seriously when I was attending- as proven by some of my classes..... History of Jazz, Geology 101 (Rocks for Jocks), Spanish, Sports in Cinema, etc. As you can probably surmise from this list, they did not actually support any kind of major what-so-ever. So, I moved back home to help take care of her and work on the ranch.

Grandma had diabetes and was trying to adjust to a diet that did not include sourdough waffles (which she made EVERY DAY for my Dad) and cookies to support all the hired hands and grandchildren. This did not make her happy. Part of my job included living with her so she would not be in the house alone. I woke up every morning, had breakfast with her and checked her blood sugar. I then would work for my Dad doing ranch things and 5 days a week I worked as a bartender at "Lively's Melrose Bar and Grill" in the nearest town (population 85 and 123 dogs).

I was young and a bit overzealous when it came to living up to the "wild and crazy bartender" legend. So, the jobs my Dad would give me depended on my degree of hangover. If I could fake it well enough through breakfast I would be saddled with normal tasks such as flood irrigating some fields or stacking hay. If not, I was given tasks like roofing the shed with corrugated metal roofing in 85 degree weather, pitching moss out of the ditch (wet pitchfork loads of wet moss are very, very heavy), and anything to do with smelling horrid smells or being in close proximity to loud machinery.

Needless to say, I was always very happy to have time to spend with Grandma instead the endless hours of toil for my father. She was a collector and historian whose entire house was filled with odds and ends that corresponded to her life and her history. She kept daily journals, photographed everything, had desk drawers full of slides, recorded weather and river water level readings for the USGS, and kept every letter or postcard anyone had ever sent her. Her goal was to organize all of this. We worked at this the last few years of her life. It was the most rewarding, interesting and inspiring few years I have ever spent.

During this time I felt like I was really doing something. How noble I was to live with her and help her when she was failing and old. Now that I am older I look back and have some MAJOR regrets.

  1. Sometimes I would get frustrated when I would catch her eating sweets. Now I wish I wouldn't have been such a bitchy little girl about it.
  2. She was developing incontinence and I would occasionally complain about all the laundry I had to do. She couldn't help it and I wonder why she didn't slap me or something.
  3. She also was slipping in the memory department, and I think because it scared me I would get snappy about her memory, too.
  4. And here it is.....the one thing that I can't forgive myself for. Her feet were snarly with thick toenails. They must have hurt because she always left her shoes unlaced or had them off. I hardly ever cut or filed her toenails. I should have soaked her feet and made her feel like a princess. Instead, I pretended as if the problem didn't exist.

I was listening to NPR the other day. There was a program about medical school students and anatomy classes involving cadavers. It was really interesting because it spoke of a bond that the students and their cadavers would have. The students would pick out things about the cadavers that stuck with them emotionally. One student described the amount of cancer in the body of his cadaver and realized that he had more appreciation for that man than anyone else that he knew - alive or dead.

The one that sent me into a fetal-position-guilt-induced-crying-jag was this. A young woman student pointed out the one thing about her cadaver that she could not get over. It was the fact that the cadaver's toenails were thick and long and looked like no one had taken care of them for a long time. She was so sad because she felt like this person died without having someone care for and love them fully.


So now, guess what? I guess I am doing my penance because I cut my neighbors toenails for them.

Richard and Winny are some elderly people that used to live directly across the street from me. Richard had fallen this winter and came over to sheepishly ask me if I would mind cutting his toenails because he was so sore. I jumped at the chance. While I was there Winny asked me to do hers also. It was emotional for me, actually. She is diabetic, and I swear, has the exact same feet as my Grandma.

I moved about a mile away this spring, and I still go over there every few weeks. I have taken to even soaking Winny's feet every time in the massaging/bubbling foot soaker thing. She says that anyone would pay good money to have me even touch their feet.

I don't want money. I want my Grandma to feel it.


At 7:20 PM, Anonymous megan said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post.
I'm fairly certain that you have underestimated yourself and all the delight you brought to your Grandmothers life. She knew you. Knew your gentle, goofy heart. Maybe she didn't want pampering. Maybe she wanted someone to treat her as though she was still a vibrant, capable woman. Maybe she wanted someone who would be impatient with her on occasion, so she could feel like a real person instead of someone no one dared to correct.
She loved you and knew how much you loved her, (no one who knows you would ever doubt that) and that is all that ever really matters....

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Olivia said...

Oh that was lovely, just beautifult to read. Thanks. Don't let your regrets/guilt continue to eat you up. You did a lot for your Grandma and then you took one of your regrets and did something so kind for someone else.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.