If Your Grandparents Turn 90, You Better Have Tissues Ready
My grandparents are pretty old now. It happened gradually, like it always does. Grandmother is 87, and two weeks ago, our family gathered at their home in Horseshoe Bay to celebrate Granddad’s 90th birthday. “Time marches on”, he said. He must have repeated the phrase half a dozen times. I think it’s a concept he thinks about a lot.
Something funny happens to me when I’m around my grandparents. I’m like a reporter when I visit them, inspecting and zooming in on everything–their movements, their routines, the way they turn a phrase. I take pictures all over their house– the wall in the laundry room that’s plastered with family photos, their bright orange couch that’s so ugly it’s awesome, the framed art in the kitchen from the days when grandmother loved to paint. I live so far from them, and I see them so rarely that I’m afraid things will be different the next time we visit. I know how lucky I am to be nearly 40 and still have my grandparents with me, not only doing well but still together too.
Often, just thinking about my grandparents will trigger a dull ache in my chest, so actually being in the same room with them is almost too much for my heart to bear. I’ll watch my grandmother throw a handful of diced potatoes into a pot of beef stew and marvel at her genius. I’ll follow my grandfather around like a schoolgirl, letting him show me things I’ve seen dozens of times. I’ll just stand there like a dope with a toothless smile, secretly biting the underside of my lip as I struggle not to cry, hoping he doesn’t notice that my sternum is about to crack under the weight of that much love.
We don’t have a big family, but even so, it’s extremely rare to have us together. But for this occasion we all showed up– my brother and his family, my aunt, uncle and cousin, my dad and his wife. My brother and his wife stayed at grandma and grandpa’s while the rest of us bunked in a rented house down the road. It was built into the hills and had a large screened-in porch overlooking fishing ponds and bluebonnets and miles of shady mesquite trees. I’ve decided that my happy place is a breezy porch and a hot cup of coffee, and all of my life’s decisions from here on out will be devoted to being there more often.
On Saturday morning we went hiking (Vin wore white jeans and walked straight into a cactus–city slicker), then gathered on the porch to play cornhole and drink moscow mules. Grandpa, of course, snubbed the trendy cocktail and enjoyed what he calls “The Family Drink”. The family drink is what Grandpa has every day after 4pm– vodka and caffeine-free diet coke. No one else in the family drinks this, but he likes to include us in his daily routines. He also slips pictures of us beneath the glass at his kitchen table so even when we can’t make it over for supper, we’re sitting with him anyway.
We’d had plans to make some healthy snacks out of ground turkey and zucchini, but when I turned to my aunt and said casually, “I’m in the mood for queso”, she jumped out of her porch chair and said, “I’ll drive you to the store!”. We melted down that familiar orange brick of Velveeta and poured in a can of Rotel tomatoes, and when I brought out the bowls of melty cheese and salty tortilla chips, my kinfolk stopped what they were doing and swarmed like vultures. If you grew up in Texas, you can identify with the scene.
There was a cake and impromptu speeches, and a few faces warmed by tears because I come from a family of saps, just like me. You can only get a few words in to honor my grandfather before he passes all the glory to his wife, batting away praise with a humble, “Everything I am… Susan did it.” Ninety years old, and the man still can’t take a compliment. We pressed him for a few more words, since a celebration like this calls for such things. ”I always wanted a family,” he said. “My cup runneth over.”
So does mine.
Texas-Style Chili con Queso (We just call it queso…)
1 brick of Velveeta cheese
2 cans Rotel-brand tomatoes with green chilis
You can also add ground beef or chorizo, or a spoon full of guacamole.
Get a pot, melt the cheese, stir with wooden spoon, add Rotel tomatoes. Serve with tortilla chips. You’ve now eaten every Texan’s kryptonite.