I was fifteen when I met my future husband Robert. That same year, my maternal grandmother passed away. With my other set of grandparents living away in Texas, I found myself aching for that familiar smell of powder, a warm home with freshly baked cookies, and an ear that was never too busy to stop and listen. Enter Dolores. She was Robert's grandmother who lived just down the road, and she would change my life for the better the instant I met her.
The first thing I noticed about her was her bright pink lipstick. A decade later, when she accepted the fact that she needed to use a cane, she would request that it be hot pink to match her makeup. Her white hair was coiffed into a perm, her hips shook like a bowl full of jelly, and she was just the most jovial, kind-hearted, welcoming presence I had ever encountered. I fell into her warm hug and just breathed her in. I'm eternally thankful I fell in love with her grandson, but even if I hadn't, I would have paid her routine visits for the rest of my life just to sit with her and be around her light.
Of course, Dolores didn't get through life alone. Her husband, Lewis, was always by her side. A plumber by trade, he recruited Robert to join him in the family business after college and the two made quite a pair. Robert would get to their house bright and early in his work blues, Dolores would make them scrambled eggs and toast, and they'd hit the road together for a day of hard, honest work. I would come by in the afternoons to chit-chat with her and pass the time after work got out.
During our newlywed years, when we were still finding ourselves and our footing, I would visit her, too. It was during that time that she taught me how to cross-stitch. Even though she was over 80 and her hands were a little shaky, she'd make the trek solo to the nearby hobby store, pick out patterns she thought I'd like, along with plenty of thread, and we'd sit on her worn, floral couch together and make pillowcases, table runners, and baby bibs for the one-day children she just knew I'd have.
When that season of life did come, I'd bring my babies over to see her in the afternoons. A young mom, I didn't know how to fill my days, though it always seemed as though I never had enough time. Lewis was still riding around in the work truck, crawling under houses and fixing pipes with Robert even though he was decades past retirement age. We'd be sitting there together in the living room, our cross-stitch on our laps and the babies devouring ice cream sandwiches and Klondike bars, when the boys came in late in the evening. Before even taking off his muddy work boots, Lewis would stoop down to Dolores in the kitchen, give her a big smooch and say, "How's it going, mama?"
They'd make pecan pies in the fall and banana pudding all year round. When I marveled at how she found the energy and motivation to cook after all these years, she'd just reply with a smile, "Lewis and I do it together. We get along, day by day."
One night, she got up in the middle of her sleep to get a Coke in a glass bottle and a pack of Nabs from the fridge. In her sleepy state, Dolores slipped on the kitchen linoleum. She broke her shoulder and had to stay in a rehab facility for a while. It was supposed to be a temporary placement, but while there, she developed an acute blood infection. Months of tests, trials, surgeries, prayers, and tears later, it was determined that she would need advanced nursing care and supervision for the remainder of her life.
She was moved to the best assisted-living community around, where she quickly found her footing. There was bingo on Mondays, a great staff ratio, excellent meals three times a day, and spacious living quarters. Home was just a place and this was her new one, and it didn't take her long to become acclimated. Still, while she could do without the comforts she had grown used to in her house, there was one major piece missing: Lewis.
Still able to live independently, he remained at home for just over a year. Yet, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, mowing and sleeping just isn't the same without the love of your life nearby. This past weekend, he moved into a townhome within her same complex. He doesn't receive the same level of medical attention that she requires, but he can walk to her. We saw them after he moved in, and on his sparse dresser were three picture frames. One held a picture from their engagement, Dolores in her wide smile and Lewis in his Army cap. The other was a picture of their son, Glenn, who would go on to raise the finest man I know. The third was a picture of them at their 65th wedding anniversary, with her white crown of hair and his thin-wired spectacles.
I'm only 31 and still learning so much about love. I don't know how to compromise very well. I hold grudges for far too long. I am quick to speak and slow to listen. Yet, I'm learning every day what it takes to make something work forever. Dolores and Lewis taught me it starts with the simple. A pie in the oven at four in the afternoon that you made together. A tiny home on a busy street filled to the brim with a lifetime of memories. Taking a walk in a new place, side by side. Every step a miracle, every day a blessing.