Grandma got Grandpa out of bed and helped him to the kitchen for breakfast. After his meal, she led him to his armchair in the living room where he would rest while she cleaned the dishes. Every so often, she would check to see if he needed anything.
This was their daily routine after Grandpa’s latest stroke. Although once a very active man, his severely damaged left arm, difficulty walking and slurred speech now kept him housebound. For nearly a year he hadn’t even been to church or to visit family.
Grandpa filled his hours with television. He watched the news and game shows while Grandma went about her day. They made a pact—he was not to leave his chair or his bed without her assistance.
“If you fell and I threw my back out trying to help you, who would take care of us?” Grandma would ask him. She was adamant about their taking care of themselves and living independently. The Brooklyn brownstone had been their first home and held wonderful memories. They weren’t ready to leave it behind anytime soon.
Immigrants from Ireland, they met and married in America. Grandma was friendly, outgoing and unselfish; Grandpa was reserved, a man devoted to his family. But he wasn’t big on giving gifts. While he wouldn’t think twice about giving my grandma the shirt off his back, he subscribed to the belief that if you treated your wife well throughout the year, presents weren’t necessary; so he rarely purchased gifts for her.
This had been a sore point in the early days of their marriage. But as years passed, Grandma realized what a good man he was. And, after all, anything she wanted she was free to buy herself.
It was a cold, gray February morning, a typical winter day in New York. As always, Grandma walked Grandpa to his chair.
“I’m going to take a shower now.” She handed him the television remote. “If you need anything, I’ll be back in a little while.”
After her shower, she glanced towards the back of Grandpa’s recliner but noticed that his cane was not leaning in its usual spot. Sensing something odd, she walked toward the recliner. He was gone. The closet door stood open, and his hat and overcoat were missing. Fear ran down her spine.
Grandma threw a coat over her bathrobe and ran outside. He couldn’t have gotten far; he could barely walk on his own.
Desperately, she scanned the block in both directions. Small mounds of snow and ice coated the sidewalks. Walking safely would be difficult for people who were steady on their feet, much less someone in Grandpa’s condition.
Where could he be? Why would he leave the house all by himself?
Wringing her hands, she hardly felt the frigid air as she watched traffic rush by. She recalled overhearing him tell one of their grandchildren recently that he felt he was a “burden.” Until this last year, he had been strong and healthy; now he couldn’t even perform the simplest of tasks.
As she stood alone on the street corner, guilt flooded her.
Just then, Grandpa walked around the bend of the corner. Head bowed, eyes focused on the sidewalk, he took small, cautious steps. His overcoat barely draped the shoulder of his bad arm; his cane and a package filled his good arm.
Desperate to reach him, Grandma raced down the block. Relieved to see that he was okay, she started to scold.
“I only left you alone for a short while. What did you need so badly that couldn’t wait? I was so worried about you! What on earth was so important?”
Confused and curious, she reached for the brown bag. Before Grandpa had a chance to explain, she pulled out a heart-shaped box.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Grandpa explained. “I thought you might like a box of chocolates.”
A gift? All this worry for . . . Candy?
“I haven’t bought you a gift in a long, long time.” His stroke-impaired words warmed the winter wind.
Tears flooded Grandma’s eyes as she hugged his arm to her chest and led Grandpa back home.
She shook her head slowly.
It just goes to show, she thought, it’s never too late for romance.
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