The family all sat gathered around the long, rectangular-shaped table. It was modestly decorated with a white paper tablecloth and a colorful attempt at a New Year’s centerpiece–some purple, blue, and green streamers surrounding a party hat. The matriarch of the family was seated at the center with her guests surrounding her. To her left, her oldest daughter and son-in-law, to her right, her son and his wife, and across from her sat her youngest daughter and son-in-law. The rest of the table was filled with grandkids.
The family carried on in quiet chit-chat as the old lady’s children took turns showing her affection, the occasional rubbing of her back, a small pat on her hand. The old lady seemed unmoved by their quiet gestures, taking turns staring at a spot on her plate of food and occasionally straight ahead of her, although it was not clear at what she was looking. She grimaced most of the meal and said little other than the unintelligible gibberish that left her mouth.
In a sudden display of alertness, the crazy old lady pulled out her dentures and slammed them down rather dramatically on the table. Then as if nothing strange had happened, she continued to eat her meal, slurping down her red Jell-O.
“Umm…does anyone else think it’s strange that Grandma just took her teeth out to eat her dinner?” asked a teenaged boy on the right side of the table.
His father glared at him in a way to let him know he better not say another word.
A pretty blonde girl leaned back in her chair looking behind the row of adults and made eye contact with her cousin at the other side of the table. She mouthed, “She’s crazy” and rolled her eyes.
“So, Mom,” began her son. “What is your favorite holiday memory?”
Without missing a beat, the crazy old woman who had said little the whole afternoon snapped, “Thanksgiving 2009!”
“Oh, really, Mom? Tell us about that Thanksgiving. I must’ve been just a baby” said the daughter across from her. Her big eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“I got my appendix out. First great night’s sleep I had in four years. No one bothered me, and it was glorious!” the crazy old woman replied with a snort.
The sparkle in her daughter’s eyes seemed to fade a bit.
“Oh, Mom, I’m sure you have other fun holiday memories,” encouraged her other daughter with a squeeze of her hand and a gentleness in her voice.
“Fun? Ha! Sure, Hannah Grace, if you think Christmas was fun for me when you peed all over your grandmother’s lap and ruined her outfit!”
“I’m sure she was no more than two when that happened, Mom,” her son defensively stated.
“Okay, Caleb. Your turn. You think my favorite holiday memory should be when you decided you wanted to be a Chippendale, huh? When you stripped-down naked and jumped in front of your grandma with a ‘ta-da’! Thank God your aunt had her inhaler!
The teenagers began to whisper to each other.
“What’s a Chippendale? What’s she talking about?”
“I don’t know. Some cartoon chipmunks, I think.”
“Chloe, do you have anything to add?” asked the crazy old bat.
Chloe didn’t say a word, afraid of what old memory her mother would dredge up from her bitter soul.
The family continued on quietly with their meal.
“Grandpa must’ve been a saint to put up with her,” whispered the blonde teenaged girl. “Either a saint or just crazy like her.”
“You say you’re sorry right now!” ordered the crazy woman.
“I thought she couldn’t hear wel–“
“Say you’re sorry right now for disrespecting your grandfather, or he will come visit you in the night and bite your toes!”
“I–I’m sorry, Grandpa,” stammered the girl, not quite sure where to look as she delivered her apology to her late grandfather.
“Hmmph!” snuffed the crazy bat.
The matriarch’s children and children-in-law shifted uncomfortably in their chairs as they finished their meals. They tried to continue on in polite conversation amidst the tension.
Finally, the eldest said, “Well, Mom, I think we’d better go. It’s getting late.” He got up and kissed her on the cheek. “Is there anything you need us to bring the next time we visit?”
The crazy old lady shook her head ‘no’.
Both of her daughters got up and hugged her, stroked her hair while kissing her goodbye, the goodbye’s especially painful for them. Their spouses and children followed suit and gave the old woman the expected hugs and kisses before leaving. Many “I love you’s” left the mouths of the family to which the old woman barely nodded her head while finding that spot in front of her to fix her gaze.
As the rest of the family began to make their way to the nursing home door, the three children stayed behind next to their mother’s wheel chair. Caleb grabbed the handles and began to push her.
“Elizabeth can take me the rest of the way,” the crazy woman directed toward a nurse in the hallway.
“We don’t mind, Mom. We’d love to take you to your room.”
“Elizabeth will take me.”
A woman around the age of the crazy bat’s children gingerly walked toward the wheelchair. “You’re ready to go to your room, Mrs. Davis?”
“Yes, Elizabeth, thank you.”
The three children, slightly hurt but also used to this behavior, each gave their mother one final kiss, whispered another ‘goodbye’ and walked back toward the front door.
Elizabeth continued wheeling the old woman down the hall to her room on the right.
As she helped the old woman out of her chair and onto the side of her bed, Elizabeth thought she noticed the old woman’s eyes were moist, but before she could really examine, the crazy old lady complained, “Why do you all keep it so cold? It’s bad enough that we’re here–why do you have to try to freeze us to death, too?
Elizabeth quickly moved toward the door and adjusted the thermostat.
“That should be better, Mrs. Davis. Is there anything else you need before I go?”
“No. I like you, Elizabeth,” she stated matter-of-factly. “You know Elizabeth is my youngest’s middle name.”
“Yes, Ma’am. You’ve told me before.”
“She’s a good girl. All three of them are good. They drive me crazy, but they’re good.”
“Yes, Ma’am. You have a wonderful family.”
“Well, get going!” the crazy old bat snapped. “I don’t want to have a slumber party in here!”
Elizabeth gave a half smile before turning and leaving.
The crazy old bat rubbed her feet while shifting the dentures in her mouth. For a moment, her mouth creeped into a smile, and then, just as quickly as it came, it was gone.
“Darn kids,” she muttered.