SUNY Jefferson

A Bushel and a Peck

Lauren Gay
A Bushel and a Peck

               Late into 2014, I had a very brief grunge phase. Nothing too serious, just some new flannel shirts and combat boots, and a general disinterest in the world around me. It was a strong contrast against the delicate appearance I’d kept up my entire life and as close to a rebellious phase as I could get.
               I’d picked these clothes out myself from a genuine clothing store that I visited of my own volition. It was a big step in my life; a turning point in my history of hating shopping as an activity. It took 16 years for me to develop into one of the many frequent shoppers in my family, but I was excited by the change I’d begun to see in myself, even if my style started out a little experimental.
               Mid-November of that year, I was putting some of these clothes in my dresser when my mom walked into the room. She had just gotten off the phone with Aunt Bev; they’d been talking almost every evening for the last month, planning out our Thanksgiving trip to Buffalo and our arrangements for visiting Grandma Rupp.
               I leaned back against my dresser as my mom sat down on my bed. The tip of her nose was red, which means that she had been crying, or at least trying not to cry. I didn’t make much of it; I figured she was stressed over all the activity during the last month, or perhaps she’d gotten into an emotional conversation with Aunt Bev. My lack of concern was probably a side effect of the grunge phase.
               “I just want you to know,” she said, clasping her hands, “when we visit Grandma Rupp tomorrow, she’s going to look older.”
               I nodded, still unconcerned. Of course she was going to look older. People in hospitals always look older.
               “I just don’t want you to be too surprised. We can still talk and visit with her; she’s just going to look a little different. I don’t want that to bother you.”
               “It won’t. I’ll be fine,” I said.
               Mom smiled at me, got up to kiss my forehead, and left the room. Something about that conversation unsettled me. I still couldn’t bring myself to feel concerned, but her words kept me on my guard during the trip ahead of us.
               About a month prior, I’d just gotten home from school when my mom told me that Grandma Rupp had spent the previous night lying on her garage floor. No one ever knew the full story behind why. My aunt believed that she fell while taking out the trash. Grandma Rupp insisted that she lay on the floor because she wasn’t feeling well, and fell asleep just like that for about 12 hours. Regardless, Aunt Bev found her the next morning and rushed her to the hospital, with my mom following to visit a few days later. I was told that she had pneumonia from lying in the cold for so long, and that she would be in the hospital for the next few weeks. That was believable enough for me. I made her a “Get Well Soon” card and assumed that, at the very worst, she would be sent to a nursing home after she got over her pneumonia.
               I can’t recall a single time when Grandma Rupp was sick. Sure, she was in terrible condition while I knew her, constantly using nearby furniture, appliances, and my head to lean on just to walk a few feet. But she was never sick; she spent most of her life as a single mom, raising two daughters while working in retail. She didn’t have time to be sick.
               Walking into her hospital room, she definitely looked sick. For a moment, I didn’t recognize her. She was just another patient, another old woman lying in a room surrounded by flowers and small gifts. This was not Grandma Rupp, not the woman who used to take me shopping for new clothes, or snore excessively on the couch while I watched cartoons in her living room. She was lying in front of the television set, her mouth wide open and her white hair sticking to her forehead. I remember her more clearly having curly blonde hair, though she had stopped dyeing it when I was in elementary school.
               I don’t remember if she spoke to my parents and me when we visited her on that day. I do remember that I was wearing acid-wash jeggings and black combat boots, which I stared down at until Grandma Rupp opened her eyes. I watched her, taking in how small and frail she looked in her hospital bed. When I was younger, she was towering. Not necessarily tall, but big and powerful in a way that frightened me, as if one day all the stubborn determination that kept her standing would vanish, and she’d come toppling down. I suppose I was looking at the result of that.
               Every few moments, her eyes would flutter open, and she’d slowly turn her head to observe us. Sometimes she would show some small sign of recognition, while others she would only stare at us blankly before slipping back into unconsciousness. Every moment she opened her eyes seemed to be a new day.
               We sat like that for a while, smiling and waving to her when her eyes were opened, sitting in silence when they were closed. Eventually, when Grandma Rupp turned to look at us again, she began to shake. She was crying, her eyes glassy and her lips trembling. I’d never once seen this big, powerful woman cry.
               “I want to go home,” she said. “I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.”
               My mom reached her hands out toward my grandma at the same time as my dad reached his toward me. He told me that we should go explore the hospital, and I jumped out of my seat at the suggestion so I wouldn’t have to watch the two of them cry.
               It was dark by the time we left the hospital. Mom began crying as soon as the elevator doors closed, and didn’t stop until much later in the evening. I knew that the next few days would be exhausting and painful for her, while my dad and I will spend our time in emotionless silence, which is something that we do to look like we have everything under control.
               As a kid, I used to cry constantly; even more so than kids typically do. I hated the attention that crying created, but despite all my efforts at willing my tears back into my eyes, my overemotional tendencies would send them streaming down my face. I remember sitting on Grandma Rupp’s lap in the mid-summer heat, crying over being told I had to get out of the kiddie pool. I was getting tears and snot all over my green one-piece, and probably on Grandma Rupp’s shirt as well, but she didn’t seem to mind. She held onto me, her feet swaying in the kiddie pool, singing Frankie Valli’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” until I calmed down.
               Grandma Rupp had a lot of songs that she would sing to me, even as I grew too old to be sung to. Around Christmas, she used to sing the first verse of “Suzy Snowflake” whenever I mentioned how excited I was for the holidays. For years I believed that this was a song she made up, until last winter when I heard it play over the loudspeaker at work and nearly burst into tears.
               Her favorite was Doris Day’s “A Bushel and a Peck,” which I never understood the meaning of, but I knew that I liked the sound of the word “bushel.” I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor while she sang this to me from her seat on the couch, trying so hard to understand the lyrics, but never piecing together the meaning of anything other than the “I love you.”
               I spent the next several days replaying these memories, storing away every detail so that I could look back on them fondly as I grew older. I cycled through my wardrobe of the black leggings and tattered graphic tees that I loved, because I thought they would make me feel tough and dismissive.
               The Friday after Thanksgiving, my parents and I went to visit Uncle Gary and Aunt Nancy at their new house in Buffalo. I hadn’t seen them in years, only speaking with them through thank-you letters for the checks they sent on my birthday. But considering their generosity in sending me money each year, I gathered that they were pretty friendly.
               I sat between my parents on their nice beige couch, listening as Uncle Gary described the history behind every piece of furniture they acquired for the house. Once he was finished, the conversation quickly shifted to the topic of Grandma Rupp.
               “So, how’s your mom doing? Did you see her today?” he asked.
               “Not today, we might visit her tomorrow before we go home.” My mom hesitated as she added, “They said she has maybe four weeks.”
               I immediately assumed that this meant she’d only be spending four more weeks in the hospital, because Grandma Rupp only had pneumonia, and was not going to die.
               Uncle Gary leaned back against the television stand. “God, I’m so sorry to hear that. With the cancer and all, though, she’s been holding on a long time.”
               I felt a deep, painful chill run down the course of my spine, because absolutely no one told me that Grandma Rupp had cancer.
               “I know, she’s always been strong like that. My sister and I think that she’s known since before she was taken to the hospital,” my mom said, as casually as if I weren’t sitting right next to her. “She refused the surgery to have it removed. They’ll be taking her to a nursing home soon, so she can be somewhere more comfortable.”
               Absolutely no one told me that Grandma Rupp was going to die. She had pneumonia. I made her a “Get Well Soon” card, because I honestly though that she was going to get well soon. Here was this man, a person who’s never even met my grandma, that just happened to have been told that she was going to die before I was. I was livid, and there was nothing I could do about it. My grandma was dying, and there was nothing I could do about it.
               There was no discussion beyond that, no apology from my parents or confrontation from me regarding Grandma Rupp. I spent the rest of the evening in dead silence, sitting motionless on the couch while my parents and Uncle Gary traded stories about more relatives I hardly knew.
               Late into our visit, my mom got a call from the hospital. She came running into tell us that they were moving Grandma Rupp to the nursing home in a few minutes, and just like that we were in the car, speeding to the hospital to see her before she was gone. I spent the entire drive wrestling with the idea that this could be the last time that I see my grandma.
               This wasn’t a new thought for me. Grandma Rupp spent most of her life in terrible condition, and I spent most of my life worrying over how she was doing. Every time that we left her house, every time that she waved to me from her front door, I wondered if that would be the last time I saw her. I could never be certain, but the thought was always there.
               Exiting the car, walking through the hospital’s corridor, riding the elevator up to the third floor, I knew that this would be the last time. The elevator doors parted, and we sped past the Christmas tree in the corner of the empty lounge. I walked by that Christmas tree several times before as we visited Grandma Rupp, but I never took it in until that moment; it was plainly decorated without any presents or garland surrounding it, but it stood bright in the cold, empty third floor of the hospital. It was a symbol of joy and celebration, and I felt it mocking every step I took toward my grandma.
               My mom reached my grandma’s room long before my dad and I, running on adrenaline and a need to see her mother one last time. As I finally stopped in the doorway, time slowed to a near halt.
               My dad was standing in the hallway a few paces behind me, while my mom had her back turned to me, frantically speaking to the nurse over whether she could ride in the ambulance alongside my grandma. From my spot in the doorway, I could see Grandma Rupp strapped down to a gurney, lying at a 45-degree angle. I’d never seen her so restrained, and the image of it made my heart drop down into my stomach. She was staring at the ceiling above her, breathing slowly, before she turned to look at me.
               We watched each other for several moments that seemed to pass like eternities, still and calm as opposed to the world around us. I was about to break the moment, back out and run crying down the hallway, when she slowly lifted her hand and gave me a gentle wave. I waved back, I think. I certainly hope I did. Everything beyond that moment blends into a flurry of movement and long car rides and tears, tears, tears.
               Grandma Rupp didn’t make it four weeks. It was only about a week and a half; I came home from school one day to find my mom literally running out the door, suitcase in hand. She texted me at five in the morning the next day to tell me that she loved me, one hour before Grandma Rupp died. As soon as my dad left for work that afternoon and I was alone in the house, I cried as loud and openly as any human could. I cried for all of it, every detail that I could remember, until I’d let out all the tears I kept inside over the last few weeks. I cried for the three weeks that never came, the lack of warning I received, the pointlessness of my “Get Well Soon” card. I cried for how strong she was, how determined and powerful, how she raised my mom to become such a wonderful, beautiful being. I cried for her songs and her laughter and her curly blonde hair, her helplessness as she watched me in the doorway, her brief little wave that I still see late at night when I can’t stop thinking about how much I miss her.