At 96, my Grandma Clara Yeager (far right) was pissed. A tough Irish broad who raised all 5 of her children during the Depression, she had broken her third hip and could no longer stay at home alone.
Dad and his siblings sent her to live at Woodbridge Nursing Home.
We visited her once a week. My sister and I sat on the end of Grandma’s twin bed watching Star Search while Grandma groused at Dad for putting her there in the first place.
She had a legendary sweet tooth. Fifty years of grandchildren still talk about that candy drawer in her house.
So, when Grandma established a Woodbridge candy drawer, we assumed she had come to terms with staying at the nursing home and the grousing would stop.
One day, a nurse took Dad out of the room for a private chat. My sister wasn’t there that day, and Grandma took the occasion to make a request.
“Listen,” she said, grabbing my hand tightly. “Next time you come, bring me a box of Brach’s Cherry Cordials. Here’s 3 dollars. For some goddamned reason, they won’t let me have them. Put the cherries in my sweater drawer at the bottom, the drawer above my candy drawer.”
Grandma rarely talked to me, much less made a direct request so I didn’t ask why. Soon my dad returned to the room and it was clear this was secret.
A few days later, I bought the cherry cordials at the drugstore across from my middle school.
That night, from the computer, I overheard a conversation between my parents
“…leaving the cherries all over the nursing home.”
“She’s sucking the chocolate off the cordial and spitting the cherry out. She leaves them all over the nursing home. The nurse said Mother refuses to comply. The home has offered napkins, containers, special times of day but still, she leaves the sucked on cherries on windowsills, in drawers, in the art room, on the piano, on the table in the cafeteria.”
“So no more chocolate cherries,” said my mom.
NOW it made sense, why she wanted me to put the chocolate covered cherries in her sweater drawer.
Do I help Grandma? Or do I follow the (eavesdropped) rules and refuse to buy Grandma her cherries?
At the time of Woodbridge, I was twelve, I wore thick glasses and headgear. HEADGEAR.
I preferred writing computer programs to interacting with humans and I was growing hair between my eyebrows.
My body was changing and I didn’t like it. I felt trapped. I had no control over the changes happening to me — and I had less control over my living situation. I felt like I couldn’t make my own decisions. I wanted my own space, I couldn’t have my own space.
I totally got it.
I decided to help.
It wasn’t her fault her body was changing and everyone told her what to do all the time. That was the worst. I knew from experience.
The next Thursday, I snuck the box into the bottom of her sweater drawer. I did this every Thursday for the next 2 months until she died. They never knew where she got the cherries.
Last fall, I toured Woodbridge Nursing Home with my mom. She’s moving into a nursing home this year under far different conditions (willingly! cheerfully!).
I couldn’t help but look in all the corners, on all the windowsills and shelves to see if they missed one – that maybe, just maybe, I’d see one quivering red cherry, sucked free from its chocolate cover.
Cherry cordial, candy of the revolution.