Ogre in the Basement
The day that Grandma Steel came to live with us was an exciting day for the whole family. Dad went to pick her up at the airport, and we all continued to prepare the basement spare bedroom for her arrival.
When they pulled into the driveway, we all ran out to greet her and tell her we were happy that she would be staying with us. Her excitement however, was not on the same level as ours was. The look on her face told us that she was not happy to be coming to our house to live in the basement. We tried to overlook her harshness and helped bring her suitcases in to get her settled.
One of the first things she said to Mom was, “Just let me be for a while, it has been a long trip for me.”
We did just that and even brought her a plate of food for supper with a big piece of chocolate pie for her to enjoy for desert. She seemed fairly thankful for it and we didn’t disturb her any more for the rest of the night.
“What is wrong with Grandma?” I asked the next morning at breakfast. “She does not seem very happy to be here. I remember her as a happy fun person, not a grouch.”
“I know,” said Dad. “It will take time for her to get used to this change, and we need to be patient with her. Since Dad died, she has not been herself.”
“Well.” Mom said. “We will help her as much as we can, but around here we stay pretty busy with work and things the kids are involved with. I hope she can be patient with us too. We want all of us to be comfortable around each other.”
“We will work on it and try to make things as pleasant as we can,” Dad piped in. “I know that her being here with family is better than her living in that big old house all alone.”
“Dad?” I asked. ”Can I ask Joey’s Mom if he can come over this afternoon? It is going to be nice outside, and we will be quiet too. We can play outside so we won’t bother Grandma.”
“Ok,” Dad said.
That afternoon, my friend came over to spend some time with me. We mostly played outside since the weather was nice, and we were not too loud when we came into the house. Joey spent about three hours with me and I only had to go down to the basement one time. My basketball was down in the family room where I had left it last. So, Joey and I quietly went down the steps, and we were looking around for the basketball. Grandma was just coming from the bathroom to go back to her room when she asked “What do you boys want?”
“We are just looking for my basketball so we can go shoot some hoops.” I said.
“Well hurry up and find it, I am going to lie down to take a little nap, and I don’t need to hear a bunch of racket,” Grandma said with a sour look on her face.
We found the ball and raced upstairs to get out of her way. I stopped long enough to tell Mom that Grandma didn’t really want us down there and that she was getting ready to take a nap. Mom just looked at me and we went on outside to play.
When Dad got home Mom was telling him what I said. I could hear the dislike in her voice. Dad seemed to just brush it off.
That evening after my friend went home my older sister was playing her music that she liked in her bedroom. It wasn’t too loud, but Dad asked her to turn it down a little so he could hear the television better. She did turn it down a little. Just about that time we heard a loud knock on the basement door. Then we heard it again.
“What is that noise?” asked Dad. “Where did that come from?”
“Turn down that awful music,” yelled Grandma from the basement. “I can’t hear myself think down here.”
Dad hollered down the basement stairs to Grandma. “Ok, Mom, we are sorry about that.”
He had my sister turn the music down so low that she could hardly hear it at all. She just decided to turn it off and read instead.
Time went on, and almost every day Grandma was mad or upset about something that we were doing. I overheard Mom and Dad discussing it several times. Everyone was bending over backward to try to please her. But none of our efforts was making much of a difference.
One day Mom fixed a special dinner. She asked Grandma to come upstairs to join us in the dining room which she never did before. She always wanted us to bring her supper so that she could eat it in her room alone. There were times when she would forget what time it was and even forgot where she put things. It seemed like she was getting more and more confused all of the time. She refused to come up and join us, so again we took supper to her.
Our family room was also in the basement. Since Grandma came to live with us we spent very little time down there. We usually stayed upstairs and away from her. When anyone came to visit us, like family, they would also mostly stay upstairs maybe going down just long enough to say hello and then leave. Everyone was noticing how Grandma had changed. Our memories of her were happy ones. We would make a trip to see her once or twice a year and stay a little while to visit. Usually she was a happy person and made us feel welcome when we were with her. Now things were a lot different and we were not sure how to handle it sometimes.
After about three months had passed, my sister had begun to call her an ogre. We even told our friends about her and said there was an ogre living in our basement. We were afraid to do the wrong thing or make too much noise. Life at home was not the same as it used to be. It was affecting every one of us.
Mom was at her wits end. She and Dad found themselves arguing about her and even trying to get my uncle to let Grandma come and live with him. But due to their circumstances, they were unable to have her in their home. No one wanted her, not even us.
One day Dad took Grandma to the doctor for a checkup. While he was there he explained to the doctor about some of the things that were happening to her. The diagnoses that the doctor described to Dad was that she had the beginning stages of what he called Alzheimer’s disease. He said she would become more forgetful and more irritable which did not sound good to us at all.
A little hope came when one of my Dad’s sisters, Aunt Mary, said she would come and help us as much as she could. She lived about a hundred miles away, and she would live with us to see what she could do. No one wanted Grandma to go to a nursing home or somewhere that she didn’t want to go just because she had problems.
Aunt Mary did come to stay with us for quite a while and she help so much. Mom and Aunt Mary had always been close and together they worked things out as far as keeping an eye on her, getting her to take her medications, taking care of daily living needs and getting the whole family involved in the process.
One day Mom and Aunt Mary had some errands to run and they left my sister and me in charge of things for a couple of hours. We checked on grandma several times. Most of the time she was napping on her bed in her room. One time I went down by myself to check on her, and she was sitting up in her chair in the corner of the bedroom. I walked in to see if she needed anything, and she looked just like she used to look when we went to visit her. She had a smile on her face and she called me by name.
“Hello,” she said. “Do you need anything, Kevin?”
“No I was just coming down to see if there was anything you needed,” I told her.
“Oh I am doing fine,” she said. “ How are you?”
I could not believe my eyes. Grandma was back. I stayed and talked with her for a long time. We talked about when I was little and when she lived in her big old house. She did begin to slip a little once in a while, but not like she had been. When Mom and Aunt Mary returned from their errands, I talked to them about what had happened. Mom said the doctor told them that she would sometimes seem ok and other times she would be forgetful and even mean.
That time I spent with Grandma was one I would always remember. I knew that somewhere deep inside under all of the problems she was having, was the old Grandma that everyone remembered and loved.
She never had to leave our house, but nine months after she came to live with us she caught pneumonia and she became so frail that she had to go into a nursing home. After that one special time that we spent together my sister and I never referred to her as the ogre that lived in the basement again.