Sunday, April 23, 2006
Catching Oranges and Cutting Flowers
The irises are in bloom at my grandmother’s house, as are the roses, the crocuses, the oranges, lemons, grapefruits and a variety of flowering cacti. She has a “catcher,” or fruit picker for the fruit – a narrow, plastic basket with curved metal prongs that sits at the end of a long wooden handle – and taught M how to use it yesterday when we visited for lunch. M had a wonderful time doing the “catching,” moving the tool in and out of the leaves and laden branches to get the prongs caught on the fruit so she could pull and loosen the fruit away from its tight hold onto the tree. She squealed in delight when the fruit fell into the basket. She laughed even more when the fruit missed the basket altogether and came down to the ground, narrowly missing her.
Before that, M and my grandmother walked beneath the old trees and pretended they were in a jungle chasing bears. They waved their sticks at the flowering brush around them, living in an imaginative world for a while. At age eighty-nine my grandmother can’t walk like she used to, having to be extra careful back there. Recently she said she was bent over, trying to avoid low-hanging lemon tree limbs and bumped her head against the trunk of the tree, not realizing how far she’d managed to move. While the two cavorted in the shadows, I watched to make sure Mama Nana didn’t fall.
I also took pictures of the cactus plants, the names of which I don’t know. We took pictures of M with flowers she picked and arranged into a small, woven basket with my grandmother’s help. M sat on the grass, a leg to the side, like a model. I don’t know where she learned to sit like that but the pose reminded me of my mother. We spent a long time in the backyard, doing nothing, really, beneath grey skies, in chilled air.
My grandfather was inside, fuming over recent trouble he shared with me over lunch. His driver’s license has been suspended pending a driver’s test – I’m not all that confident he’ll pass. The two drive the freeways still. They go to the Valley to visit my grandmother’s sister – they drive to Orange County to visit my aunt – they drive to Los Angeles to visit another aunt of mine. They drive a lot of places – that used to be their entertainment. Long drives to the desert, the mountains, and Tijuana. Once they drove as far as Central Mexico to visit family.
Losing his license, my grandmother said, will be like death to them.
My grandfather wasn’t worried however. “I’ve been driving for sixty years! I’ve never had an accident and in my opinion, I’m an excellent driver.”
He has no idea that we all bite our fists when we watch them leave our houses. He drives slowly, just like he walks. My mother, in her last year, had been so worried about the way he drove that she threatened me with my life if I ever let him take my kids anywhere. That was six years ago – Papa Raul hasn’t exactly improved with age.
I don’t know what to do for them – I don’t know if there is a taxi service that will be as accessible as a car at the ready. I know my sister and I will have to be more accommodating as our aunts live too far away. We’ll have to research for alternatives. The reality is sad, but necessary. I’ve heard too many stories of elderly people getting into car accidents due to poor reflexes and poor vision. I’ve heard the horror stories. They’ll have to adapt. Unfortunately, change isn’t one of their strong traits. My grandmother still refuses to get air conditioning because she believes her house will get too cold. So to this day, they suffer in their Pasadena house, cooled only by electric fans.
My grandmother shuffled around her kitchen, gathering sweets for our ride home as if we were going by horse, the way she used to travel when she was a young girl. When we were through with our hug, we looked into one another’s eyes and thanked each other for a perfect afternoon. We enjoyed the moments, the flowers, the food, and being with M.
As I drove away, they waved to me from the corner, appearing small and frail. I touched the grapefruits in the bag - yellow, blotched with dirt from the rain, smooth skin, large and bittersweet.