Apparently I find out what's on my mind by talking to strangers. The season has turned, and I've started running again, round the park at the top of the hill. This means that I run into strangers that, in earlier days of the world, I'd already be acquainted with - people who live less than a mile away and have for decades. Many of them have dogs, and dogs are a great conversational icebreaker because hey, someone present that you can just talk nonsense to and ask questions about.
That's how I ended up talking to Lenny, and telling him about my grandmothers. I didn't really identify with any of the grandfathers. One I never so much as met, and the family history strongly implies that this is a good thing: my mother's mother moved from Montana to California basically to get away from him. My father's father, I never formed any impression of. I'm told that he was very happy to see me: I was the only one of his grandchildren that he survived to see, and I have red hair like he did. Most of the pictures of him are black and white or from the age where the red hair was long gone. Grandfather #3, from when my maternal grandmother remarried, was a nice enough fellow. Might have been easier to form a connection with him if they hadn't moved to Florida together. But he's been dead for a bit over a decade now, and so Grammie is back in San Diego, hanging on.
I told Lenny about them spontaneously, about my worries, because they're both doing a bit poorly - in different ways, interestingly. My fears about mortality are strongly informed by my grandmothers. Grandma South was a schoolteacher for most of her days, and lives quietly on a fixed income. She is one of the few positive things still associated with Catholicism for me: she's devout, but critical. Had a "if you're not going to ordain women, don't baptize them" bumper sticker while she still drove. She's been going through various stages of deafness, accompanied by various cybernetic efforts to fix it (I love living in the future, where I can have a cyborg grandmother). Her sense of taste is nearly gone, and she's got a couple of dietary problems. Her eyesight isn't so good, but it's much better than her hearing. It's growing hard for her to walk, but she keeps at it; a skinny, slightly withered body now.
Grandma North was a nurse, an infectious-control nurse, which resulted in fairly specific hand-washing habits being passed along through that family. She was the matriarch of a San Francisco family: she and her husband, a policeman, raised ten children, and the youngest was, I think, in his early teens when he died. Five children stayed near San Francisco, and five spread out (Orange County, Washington DC, and Montreal). Physically, she's rather better off: sound hearing, walking pretty well, eating enthusiastically. However, she's probably diabetic, much puffier than Grandma South, and her mind - there's the problem, the trouble that's come up recently. It's a combination of dementia and a bad experience with anesthetic a year and change ago. She's just recently come around to having assistants come by every couple of days. Ironically, she's avoided diagnosis of some of her issues until now because she knows how to manipulate the hospital systems.
So both of them are showing what makes calamity of so long life. I fear it, of course. I fear my body becoming a trap. It already is, a little bit, and I'm not really thrilled about the prospect of it becoming more so. Of course, this is a very good reason to use my time well; it is a good reason to live life with less hesitancy and hand-wringing and hanging-back. Haven't I spent too much time with those already - haven't we all. It's part of the quest of life, I guess.
Inspired by my grandmothers, I will live well. I should write to them and ask them their advice on living well - they both have some experience at it.