As a child I remember being slightly intimidated by my grandfather. An Iowan farmer, with big hands and big feet, over six feet tall, he had a voice that could be as stern as it could be gentle. He prized taking proper care of things—his clothing and tools, the land, his antique toy tractors that my siblings and I played with when we would visit. Even as children we knew to be careful around him—we wanted to care for things the way he cared for them.
He has always cared especially for my grandmother. She softened his stubborn roughness, and he knew it and was grateful for it. He called her a jewel and affirmed her character, her faith, her work ethic, her graciousness, her intelligence, her kindness, and her beauty.
He once told me the story of how when they were just starting off, young and in debt after purchasing their farm. He sent my grandmother to town to get her hair fixed at the salon as a special something for her despite their finances. He remembers how nice she looked and how many compliments she got.
From then on, he told her to make a habit of her hair appointments to treat herself for all her hard work. More than sixty five years into their marriage, those Friday mornings she goes to the salon are still sacred.
As an adult with children of my own, I recently returned to visit their home in Iowa. My boys played with the tractors, and Grandpa reminded them to be careful. But his voice has softened. He is no taller than my grandma now. His walker leaves paths in the carpet that my boys imagine are railroad tracks for their toy trains.
In the evenings, Grandma and Grandpa rock in their parallel chairs as we listen to their stories. He’ll call his wife a jewel and tells stories of how she cares for him. My grandma helps him button his pants and put on his shoes each day. She gets up to prepare his 9 o’clock pill, quiet and humble and full of love. Grandpa says getting older is like entering a second childhood. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” he says, truthfully.
One of the few times she leaves him is for her Friday morning hair appointments. He dozed in her chair while she was gone, waking to watch the sparrows and occasional cardinal eat birdseed on their deck. He relayed the animals’ antics to his great-grandchildren who pressed their faces to the window to see what’s going on outside. And then Grandma is back and she warms some soup for them.
Grandma has always taken good care of everyone including her husband, even in her old age. But she is tired, and he knows it. He recently made the hard decision to leave their home for an assisted living facility. He wants to care for her, just like she cares for him. So much will change in their new home, but so much will not. His love for her and hers for him will always be.
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