My 89 year old grandma on Thursday, after turning off the news and turning on 80s Classic Country music, opens her iPad to look on Facebook. She shows me a video of a little girl laughing, while she is telling me everyone is overreacting and everything is going to be ok. Then goes back to scrolling on social media, smiling and tapping her foot to Kenny Rogers.
Betty Smith has lived through quarantines, she said. When she was little, as she helped me from her walker put up a few groceries I’d brought her, she told me a story of a little boy in her school house growing up that had “gotten a meningitis.” She said no one had medicine back then. No hospitals or labs. It was not even a thing. “So honey, today, we are all gonna be fine.”
I was delivering groceries to her because my mother is out of town, and my Aunt Brenda who lives next door, her full time helper, is in the hospital recovering from back surgery. One of my sisters is a school teacher and having to juggle her 4th & 5th grade classroom meltdowns over the virus panics. The other sister has lung and immune system issues and has been ordered to stay home. We are a close family and knowing I’m the one in charge means the aging of us all is beginning to really show. All of this has led me to be nominated for checking on grandma and thank goodness I did.
I called her just to see how she was as I pulled into the garage of my home. The news buzzing on the XM radio, and the car dashboard news screen in all caps says COVID-19. Pop up alerts on my smartphone’s many apps, and a few pulses from my watch all had me a bit nervous about what was to come of all of us in the next few days, weeks, and months. What about my town, my state, my world. As I talked with grandma, asking how she was doing, I quickly realized she was just fine mainly because she kept saying “Babe, I’m doing just fine. I don’t need a thing”
I began to grill her more asking about all the things I knew she liked, “But do you need coffee? Do you need pimento cheese? Chicken salad? Oh, and what about any medicines?” she kept saying no, nope I’m fine, no I’m good. I began to relax and put down the garage door. Then Grandma added, “I’ve got plenty of coffee and creamer to last me til Monday when David Earl takes me to town and Walmarks.” With her comment, and the new sudden fears pushed out by the medias at my fingertips about the talks of the Coronavirus spreading, and hoarders taking all the world’s toilet paper, along with the biggest threat for the elderly – this sent me zooming right back out of the garage to the grocery. I decided I was going to grab her a few things and head to her house about 20 minutes away the next town over.
It took some real convincing over the phone to make her understand I was coming no matter what with supplies. I had to talk her into telling me a few things she might need regardless of her thoughts of having plenty. I asked her to think beyond Monday, and think beyond when mom gets home from her trip. I assured her, “I got this grandma, just give me your list.” Pulling into my parking spot, getting out my notes app ready to type fast she was quiet. After hesitating, and even a little stutter and pause she said, “Well I guess…” and began thinking…
- One roll of paper towels.
- A small can of decaf coffee, the green one.
- A large thing of my favorite creamer.
We all know how much she loves that french vanilla creamer, she mentions it all the time. No need for specifics in a time of crisis such as this, I think to myself smiling. Then there was silence again. “Is that it? That’s all she needed?” I thought to myself. So, after my own extra prodding, naming items like toilet paper, zip lock bags, and any freezer items, asking her to really think two weeks out from now, if the world really shuts completely down. “What do you need if you couldn’t get to Walmarks for two weeks?” She paused, and said, “Well… get me another thing of creamer, go on and get a tub of vanilla ice cream, and red grapes. If not too much money.” Satisfied, I repeat back to her as I walk into the grocery:
- A roll of paper towels.
- Can of decaf coffee, green one.
- 2 large things favorite creamer.
- A tub of vanilla ice cream.
- Red grapes.
She says “Yes, if not too much money. Green grapes are cheaper but I just don’t like those as much.” I added, “Me neither!” Hanging up the phone and pushing my cart, headed around the aisles of the store, among the other shoppers, there was a strange quietness – minus the Bon Jovi playing over the loudspeakers. We all seem to be in a silent panic, walking swiftly, like we were each keeping a big secret. Everyone is trying to not make eye contact as we each hurriedly grab supplies and pretend not to notice the bare shelves.
Grandma’s preparedness list looks so simple. I too likely should have chosen the decaf for my heightened sense of emotions. The pandemic has us all a bit freaked out yes, and for sure I should have gotten myself some ice cream too. As I push out the cart to my car glancing down on the items, I’m just now understanding that my grandma, living alone, elderly, on a fixed income, goes once a week to the grocery. She buys only what she needs. She likely did this her whole life, and living in a rural lower income farming community did this as a wife and mother too every week. As I’m remembering a few trips with her as a child.
Grandma cannot drive herself anymore, and in the chance of not being able to get to the store for 2 weeks, her list was so simple. In my first ever pandemic, trying to help her, and expecting to bring her a truck load of things when she finally understood my own call of urgency, all she needed were just 2 more things to my thoughts of more than 20 more wasted items. With her classic country music playing, iPad scrolling baby videos, and voice of reason it was exactly what I needed for my own list.
I can’t shake my thoughts as I drive back home from grandma’s house. If it’s the end of the world, and everything closes, and we can never get the supplies we need, her list grew only to vanilla ice cream and red grapes… if not too much money. I’m not sure where the world is headed with the virus, but to be honest I wasn’t sure where the world was headed a month ago without it as well. So whatever your preparedness list looks like today, I would certainly think about adding that ice cream.