I knew the feeling of that grab since it had happened before. And here it was happening again. Right now, this moment was all there was. I stood up with the familiar force of his pull, wanting to stumble forward, but I took a wide stance and resisted. It took just about all my strength. I pulled and pulled, and just when I felt like I was going to give, I noticed he was leaning my way instead of me leaning toward his. “No!!!!!,” I said.
With only a brief pause, he grabbed at me again; and again, I mustered my strength and yanked my hand away: “Get off!!!,” I declared. Then he just stood there and looked at me for about a minute. “I’m not going with you!,” I added. And then, after a few more moments, he slowly turned around and walked back inside.
I had won, but strangely, I didn’t feel like it. I watched him walk back inside, still pumped up and angry. But in a few minutes’ time, I didn’t feel so good. I felt out of line, like how you feel when you try and try to get something, and when you finally get it, you realize it wasn’t worth it. The screen door thudded closed. He’d gone back in. I walked around a little and then sat back down. I didn’t think about being sore anymore. I finished out the day without so much as a pause to think and went home and slept like a baby.
“Where are the Wellers?” I recall asking mom when we were done. “We took them to the assisted living community. You know he is moving in there at the end of this month.” I didn’t know it because I never bothered to think about it. “Just Weller is going?” I ask. “Grandmother Weller feels strong enough to stay here for a little while longer.”
This was just like her. Grandmother Weller had this thing about independence. She was bred that way. But mom and grandma were getting ready to sell this place because they had to be thinking about the future. And this made me think: “I overpowered Weller when he was 90. Imagine how tough he would have been when he was 20 or even 40!” Truly, I had nothing to brag about, but I was only looking to even the score. My mind kept coming back to this.
The Final Years: 1989-1991
About four months later, I was picked up from school and we were on our way to see great grandma and great grandpa with the promise of going skating and getting ice cream afterwards. I didn’t complain. I actually wanted to see Old Weller. I felt just about guilty. We walk in the door of the place to be greeted by the overpowering smell of urine. When my cousins arrived, there wasn’t a kid in the whole bunch that could keep from mentioning it in utter disgust, as it only reaffirmed the creepiness of all things “old.”
Leaving the little kids behind in the lobby with my mother, I walk in and there sits Old Weller. “Well, hello there.” he says to me, as I sit down on the edge of the bed. He then looks at me and says: “Are we ok?” I didn’t know how to respond. The shock of his lucidity was a lot to handle. “Yeah, we’re okay,” I finally replied.
There was an understanding there between us in the following silence. It was profound. Nothing else was said until mom walked into the room behind us with my aunt and the kids still outside. “Where is Edna? I miss her so much!” he says, and then he begins sobbing. In fact, he was inconsolable.
Something happened to me in that short timeframe. Old Weller wasn’t a ghoul anymore. He was a man at a far away point in life who was missing the only person in the world that mattered to him. The past and the mistakes thereof didn’t factor in. Only now mattered. No one could fail to relate to that. In all of my immaturity, I was touched at my very core.
After some time, I went outside and gathered up the cousins. They didn’t want to make the trip down the two halls to see him. “Come on, guys! Old Weller won’t be alive much longer! He is still our grandfather!” Reluctantly, they all made their way in to see him, sitting in his recliner with that patchwork quilt covering his legs that Grandmother Weller made some time in the 70s.
Old Weller's End
And my words were darn-near prophetic. That was the last time any of us saw Old Weller. He died a month later, but how he died was as crazy as the turmoil he caused while living.
Old Weller had a habit of wandering around and leaving the facility. The cops brought him back a number of times, but the staff had too much trouble keeping him there. They once tied him down with sheets, but he tore them and walked up three flights of stares and had to be brought back down. He was always fidgeting with things, and he died doing so. The last time he made it up onto the roof, he tried to rewire the air conditioner. His body was found several hours later.
The family came close to suing that assisted living center, but somehow, the plans got washed out with the coming turn of events and the funeral. Grandmother Weller was moved to a new facility after a month or so.
Everyone came, even the remote family. It was a full house at Finch’s Funeral Home. We are all holding together just fine until grandmother goes up to the casket. As her face turned red and she lost her composure, we all just gave her some space. “Oh, daddy,” I heard her say, followed by some soft-spoken, hushed sentiments. And then, I myself found it hard to keep from being a little choked up.
I walked into the next care facility about six months later. Grandmother Weller sees me and says: “David, why haven’t you returned any of my letters?” “It’s Joseph, your great grandson,” I reply. She just stares at me. I don’t think she remembered me until much later that visit. Turns out, David was some dude, an old heartthrob who got drafted before she met Frank.
And I was such an ass-hole. Grandmother Weller had this fear of us becoming smokers, so on one occasion, we cut up some sheets of notebook paper and put flour in them and blew the flour out around her to look like we were smoking. She went for it and said: “Look, Kit, your kids are smoking!” We laughed and laughed. But come on, now. We couldn’t be expected to grow up that fast! Grandmother Weller lived until 1991. She died mid-August with another full house at Finch’s.
Memories and the Conclusion
It’s amazing how the older we get, more and more of our lives become a regurgitated diet of memories. I’m proving that statement true with every keystroke, aren’t I?
Bad or good, it doesn’t matter. One generation’s bad memories are the next generation’s good ones, if not just a unique learning experience. And as I was preparing to recount these experiences, I asked my brother Eric the other day: “Do you remember when Old Weller threw us out of his house that day we were playing?” After a brief laugh, he replied: “Yes, I certainly do.” We recalled details of the experience and I shared that I am writing about it. The more we thought about them, the more memories we uncovered, good memories.
One consisted of a trip in their 1967 Dodge Dart to Wurstfest 1981. After flipping open that brown, bi-fold wallet with a Native American warrior wielding a spear, he got us turkey legs—and then a lesson on bigotry. I said: “Look at those Indians walking down the street! They look like Tonto! They are short and have such flat heads!” “Now, now. We mustn’t criticize the natives. They were here before us,” Old Weller chimes in (big news to a second-grader).
Of all the memories I can recall, the lesson is not to relive the past, but to keep it close to you. Remember those you love while you have them and impart their experiences to others. Let them live through you. Don’t let your precious coffin of memories get buried in the “dirt” from the daily grind. It matters. All of it matters, and others want to know and can learn from it. Don’t ever let them go.
|The Wellers, Thanksgiving, 1984|