• Elizabeth Bartasius

Grandmother: But One Mere Glance

She has always been my buoy, a safe harbor to anchor. I know exactly where to find her: Reading the newspaper in the rust-colored, swivel chair, barefoot, wearing khakis she bought at Evelyn & Arthur. A light cashmere sweater drapes over the arm of her chair in case the A/C gives her chills. On the stand beside her is a book she reads between watching the news and reading the paper. A pair of binoculars rests next to her books, ready for her peer out at the Florida water birds, which she loves. And, her purse is within arms reach because the women in our family keep their purses at the ready, clutching them like security blankets.

Where is my purse? She’d say when we’d help her into the car for a drive.

Or, when we’d walk into her favorite restaurant for a salmon dinner, one of us would link our arm around hers to steady her, while the other of us would be right behind carrying the purse. If she asked for it, we’d hold up the bag, to prove it was right there.

I don’t know why it is so important to keep that purse by her side. Is she afraid of someone stealing the Lord and Taylor card? Not having access to the right medication at exactly the right time? Or is the purse the only “room of her own” that she and the generations of women in my family have been given, as husbands and children dominate and suck up so much space in every other room. Perhaps the purse is the one private sanctuary to which my grandmother clings to, guarding with her life. One private sanctuary tucked in a Coach bag.

When I take her on drives, I can count on her to reach into her pocketbook and pull out wads of twenty-dollar bills for us to buy a chocolate shake. Her purse sits at her feet in the car, at her feet at dinner and at her feet while she lounges in her armchair watching the evening news. A loyal puppy, her purse never leaves, unless Granny does. And Granny barely leaves her favorite chair these days.

She has so many more comfortable lounge spots, for instance, a big beautiful yellow corduroy couch (that I secretly hope she’ll leave me in her will); she never sits on the couch. After 20 years, it still looks brand new. Just like the rest of her house. Granny is clean, impeccable and minimalist. The only thing I’ve seen her collect is my 42 years has been photos, a handful of books and National Geographic magazines. She has always been a reader, a wanderlust. Yet she is no longer traveling because her legs give out, her body is heavy, and she can’t hear. But, she can see.

From her chair, she can see her purse tucked by her side, and grab the familiar pair of binoculars lying within arms reach.

The binoculars give her access to sail boats and kayakers and spying on the fishermen who think they can cast their nets in the cover on her backyard. The binoculars let her enjoy the tall elegance of an egret, the calculated aggressive dive of a pelican, the Great Blue Heron fanning their wings. She watches them from inside, from the chair, observing the world, taking it in, bringing them to her while she stays comfy, poised, well fed. I envy her aging life. I envy how she is cared for, with no worries but to simply read and observe, unencumbered. I hope this will be how my old age plays out. For I am a wander too. And wanderers must always wander. At 91, when sitting is safer, the binoculars indulge the wanderlust whose middle-aged children have hid the keys to the car and when air travel is no loner an option for a woman on timed medication who needs assistance in the john.

*At the time of writing, Granny was alive and well. In January 2018, at the age of 92, my Grandmother decided her reservation had been called. We will never be the same.