Friday, February 05, 2010


When I visit my 90+ year-old parents day after day, the conversations sometimes meander strangely.

Take today, for example:

ME: I am training for a 5K race in May, so today I ran some 90-second sprints on the treadmill. I thought I would die.

GRANDMA: Don’t say “die” in front of people our age. (She laughed.)

My father was sitting in his chair with his finger up his nose. My mother looked at him, then at me, and arched her eyebrows critically.

ME: Is he digging for gold?

GRANDPA: (quickly putting his hand down) Mom is always going after something in her nose, too.

GRANDMA: At least I use a kleenex. I have crusts.

ME: I suppose Dad’s afraid you’ll have another nosebleed. [She’s had some serious nosebleeds because of her blood thinners.]

GRANDMA: The air is dry in here. I never had nosebleeds when I was young. I had earaches. Once when I was little, I had the measles and my ear hurt, so my father blew cigar smoke in my ear.

ME: He blew cigar smoke in your ear? What was that supposed to do?

GRANDMA: I don’t know, but it did feel better. I had woken up in the middle of the night with an earache, so my father got up, lit a cigar, put me on his lap, and blew smoke in my ear. It helped.

ME: Maybe it just made you feel better to sit in his lap.

GRANDMA: That was the only time I remember sitting on his lap. We children didn’t ever sit in my father’s lap. He was kind of distant.

GRANDPA: Well, at our house, we had red liniment. Sometimes we would drink it, and other times we would rub it on our joints if our knees or hands hurt.

ME: You drank and rubbed the same stuff? Really??

GRANDPA: Yes, it was out of the same bottle. Red liniment.

ME: How did it taste?

GRANDPA: Awful. We got it from the peddler who came around and sold things. He had a horse and a cart. And he talked rough.

GRANDMA: We had that red liniment, too, but our peddler drove a car.

GRANDPA: No, I remember he had a horse and a cart.

GRANDMA: Well, I’m a lot younger than you so our peddlers had cars. The Watkins peddler and the Rawleigh peddler.

ME: What did they sell?

GRANDMA: (shrugging) Everything. Medicine. Spices. Kitchen things. Things for the house.

ME: Did your peddler talk rough, too?

GRANDMA: Not that I remember.

GRANDPA: Not like Bob Dietz. Our hired man. I had to talk to him about his language. I hired him to work for us, but he used such rough language. I had to tell him that he couldn’t be around my family if he used rough language. I never heard him swear again after that. He stopped just like that.

ME: You must have scared him.

GRANDPA: He needed work. He wanted to work for me. I picked him up along the road in Carlisle—he was from Wisconsin, I think.

GRANDMA: It was during the War. Men needed work.

ME: Well, it was good of you to protect us kids from bad language.

GRANDPA: We got a letter from him a few years later. He met a nice girl and he said she changed his life. He became a minister.

GRANDMA: Yes, that girl changed his life. He became a teacher.

ME: I’m confused. Did he become a teacher or a minister?

GRANDMA: A teacher.

GRANDPA: (silence)

ME: Well, Dad, you probably turned his life around when you told him to stop swearing.

GRANDPA: No, I think it was that girl he married. (Straining to look out his window to see the parking lot.) The snow plow was through here this morning . . .

Sometimes we talk about what happened today. Sometimes we talk about what happened yesterday. Sometimes we talk about what happened 85 years ago. There’s always some conversational road to ramble down.


Anonymous said...

Bob Dietz became a teacher and then later a school principal - I remember this story well. Mom is right! ejb

2to4aday said...

ejb: Mom will be pleased to know that she is right, and I'm sure she will remind Dad of it every chance she gets. And he'll just pretend he doesn't know what she's talking about. They'll be married 69 years in June, bless their hearts! :-)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Double dare you to blog our Thursday conversation--I am still laughing. Grandma Nettie

Messy@ Bungalow'56 said...

We talk to our Nana (90yrs) almost three to four times a day. She has us on speed dial. This made several family members laugh. Really reminded us of when Nana and Papa would be arguing about something. Just thought I'd let you know I'm adding you to my blogroll. I truly enjoy your writing.

Cindy said...

You are so very fortunate. I LOVE talking with elders...they are delightful!

2to4aday said...

DrH: Some days when I am visiting my folks, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Laughing is definitely the best way to go, I've found.

Grandma Nettie: If we both hadn't been there as witnesses to the conversation you're referring to, I'm sure people wouldn't have believed it happened. Stay tuned . . . maybe I'll write about it this week.

Messy: Speed dial!! Please don't tell my dad about that. But thanks so much for your kind words!

Cindy: Some days, "fortunate" isn't the way I'd describe it, but you're right. I am lucky that my parents are still able to communicate as well as they do. I feel sad for people whose parents suffer from Alzheimers or dementia. And thanks for reading!