November 29th, 1968
Pilot Mound, Manitoba
Betty is nine years old.
Grandma Marjory opens the door to the plain house even as I walk up the chipped concrete slabs that straggle up to the steps in a crooked line.
“Hi, Grandma,” I call, wanting her to know it’s me. She’s mostly blind so I don’t know how she knew someone was coming. Maybe Grandpa Raleigh was watching at a window.
“Hello, Betty,” she says. “Come in.”
My grandma is tall and thin. Thin as in really, really thin. She’s not like Mom who is soft when you hug her or like my other grandma who has strong arms that hold you tightly. Grandma Marjory’s face is gaunt. Her cheekbones protrude from under her eyes. Her skin is paperwhite and oddly translucent. She is pale and tired-out, what adults call “frail.” Funny that even saying the word “frail” makes you feel sad. You have to work up energy to get the f and the r perched at the front of your mouth and then your mouth slumps for the ail. Frail. That’s my grandma. And blind too.
She reaches for my coat and stabs at the armholes with a hanger. I help by directing my coat sleeves to the end of the hanger.
“Thanks,” I say easily, not wanting her to feel bad that she’s blind. It isn’t her fault. It’s Macular Degeneration, a couple of complicated words that have made her life difficult in the past few years. “It started as a black spot in the middle,” I’ve heard her say. Imagine that—staring straight at two black spots all day, knowing they’re going to get bigger and nothing you can do will stop them from taking over every single view. The sink full of dishes. The school across the street. The sun setting through the few trees on west side of Pilot Mound. It’s all going down a black hole.
As I suspected, Grandpa Raleigh sits in the corner by the living room window, close to an ugly, brown enamel stove. He’s stout and seems more so, sunk low in the chair. His pants don’t quite cover the white socks on his ankles, pulled up as they are against his legs. His jowls are blotchy red and his bright white hair stands up on end. He looks nothing like the pictures of him as a young man. He was handsome then with kind eyes. But now thick eyebrows shade his eyes. His face covered with a thousand lines. A beer rests between his feet on the linoleum floor.
“Hi, Grandpa,” I say, mustering up cheerfulness.
“Hi, Betty,” he murmurs back.
Grandpa is tricky so I leave him be and follow Grandma into the kitchen. Mom says I’ve nothing to worry about, Grandpa is just grumpy, but I don’t chance it. He’s certainly not like my other grandpa who spoils me and my brothers rotten, tells funny stories, and gardens all summer. This grandpa is better left to himself and his beer.