Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Story: The Right Hand

The Right Hand
57th in The Story Series

During the last of her years, my maternal grandmother lived with my parents. She stayed active, doing housework and going for short walks around the yard. When one of the "grands" as she called her grandchildren, would comment on her staying so busy, she would often quote "When I go, I want to go with my boots on." I'm not sure where she came up with that phrase, as she was born and lived most of her life in Pennsylvania, so she obviously did not mean cowboy boots. Perhaps she meant some sort of work boots, or simply nothing in particular, rather just liking the sense it gave her of doing anything to be useful. My grandmother had seen a lot of heartache during her lifetime, but she didn't speak about it often. She read her Bible and she kept busy.

My grandmother, or Grandmother Alice as we called her, could beat just about anyone in Scrabble, even as she entered her 90's. Scrabble is not a game I particularly like, and John even less, but every time we went for a visit to my parents one of us was expected to play with her. Usually it was me. Grandmother Alice had her own set of rules as she got older. She had once been given a Scrabble Dictionary as a Christmas gift and took to using it during the game in her last years. When one of us would say "Grammom, that's cheating!", she would look at us and say "Then why would there be a Dictionary if you weren't supposed to use it? And when do you need it? - during the game!" Her memory was starting to become less reliant, and my mother would make regular trips into the kitchen during the day because Grandmother Alice would often now put pots of food or water on the stove, turn on the burner and then forget they were there.

Then, in April 1991, she experienced a series of small strokes, which dramatically changed her, and my parent's, lives. She could not talk and she was bed bound. Mom and Dad were her primary care takers and they were able to get home health nurses to come to the house and assist. I made a few trips to West Columbia from Charleston to spend time with my grandmother so my mother could get out of the house. The first time I saw her, I remember being somewhat shocked, she was so thin and did not look at all like the Grandmother Alice I had known all my life. During my visits, she would be restless and mumbling and nothing I said or did made any difference. I felt a bit frustrated and helpless as I watched her lying there.

The bedroom was right next to the living room, and the piano was right next to the wall which separated the two rooms. I sat down with a hymnbook and looked through to find some hymns which I knew were her favorites. Now, in reality, I could not play the piano. I had taken lessons in high school, but the only part I could honestly read those many years later were the notes on the Grand Staff lines, the part played by the right hand. And that was because I sang soprano in the church choir. So I would sit and play with my right hand. Thankfully, that was where the melody was, so even if I just picked out the notes, the tune was recognizable. I would sing along if I were familiar enough with the notes, other times, it was a piano "solo". When I would do this, my grandmother would grow quieter, and her eyes would close and she rested. Sometimes, giving up in frustration with my right handed stumbling performance, I would go back into her room and sing to her. That worked almost as well, but she did love the piano.

My grandmother passed away 6 months after her first stroke, 21 Oct. 1991. She was 94 years old at her death. Often I have missed her and for quite a while I would expect to see her when I would visit my parents. I was thankful that the little bit of solace I was able to share was because I could use my right hand; even though it wasn't perfect, it gave her enjoyment and peace.

(To read another story about my grandmother's love for the piano, click here.)

Come see my latest postcards I've received on Postcards Buffet!


  1. well, I didn't know you could play piano mom! *and* for some reason I always thought you enjoyed scrabble, I guess because you guys always talked about Grandma Alice playing it! I have learned two new things today!

  2. I remember playing Scrabble with her and had just 2 tiles left and took a chance and spelled ait. She just looked at me and said well that was a nice try but that's not a word and I just won. I said look it up Grandmom! I was holding my breath and she looked it up and then said Judith Marie, I don't know how you pulled it off but it's a word and I guess you won. I knew she was trying to appear exasperated because she used my whole name but I could see the twinkle in her eyes. I miss her a lot!

  3. Love your story.
    My grandmother passed away in 1984 at the age of 97. She was 4 ft 10 and weighed 87 lbs. Yet she was a force to be reckoned with till the end.



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