"Mom, do I have to take her with me?" Jessica moaned through clenched teeth. "Every time she hears my keys jingle, she picks up her purse! I can't go anywhere without my grandmother!" Jessica had only been seven when her Grandma Shack moved in. At the time of the move, Grandma Shack wasn't feeble by any means. She wasn't sick. She wasn't really that old. There was just no point in her living alone. Nine years had passed, and she still wasn't that feeble or that old. And Jessica was right—she was always ready to go. But a sixteen-year-old with a new car doesn't want her grandmother riding shotgun everywhere she goes.
"Mom, how did she get to be sixty-eight and not get a driver's license?"
Jessica's mom knew this was hard on Jessica. Actually, it had been hard on the whole family. When her mother-in-law had come to live with them, Jo wanted to make her feel welcome. But she had her six children to consider. Three very active boys and three equally active girls seemed to occupy every available inch of their four-bedroom home. Adding on to their house wasn't an option, so Grandma Shack had to share a room with Jessica, who was the youngest. Now that the older girls were in college, Jessica had moved into their room. Jo knew that over the years, the living arrangement had worked out fine, but she now felt some relief knowing her youngest daughter finally had some privacy.
There was no denying that Grandma Shack wasn't easy to live with. She'd been quick to lay down some ground rules as she rooted out her place in the family nine years earlier. "There will be limited baby-sitting," this strong-willed, tiny Indian woman had said. Jo could still picture her standing there—all four feet, eleven inches tall with stick-straight white hair and hands on her hips. "I raised my children; now you raise yours. And I won't clean up after anyone but myself. I did my share of that also. I don't mind sharing a room, but when my soap operas are on in the afternoon, I like it quiet."
Jo remembered how she joked to her husband, Luke, that Grandma Shack just might make them sign a contract. Once the move was complete, a trunk, a white wicker rocker, a small TV, and twenty shoeboxes with important papers now occupied half of Jessica's pink-and-white ruffled, little-girl bedroom. On more than one occasion, Jo wondered what she had gotten her family into.
"Jessica, just take her with you one more time. I'll talk to your daddy about her. Maybe he can talk to her about letting us know ahead of time when she needs an errand run," Jo pleaded with Jessica.
"Oh, all right," said Jessica. "Maybe I won't see anyone I know!"
"Grandma, I'm ready. Do you still need to pick up some things?" Jessica called down the hallway. There was not even a hint of disrespect in her voice. Jo and Luke had been determined to raise their children to respect their elders, even if they weren't happy with them at the moment.
All the children knew Grandma had sacrificed so much to raise her family. Her life had not been easy. Jo often thought that Grandma's face was truly a road map of her life. Each line and wrinkle represented a story in the life of this sometimes aggravating little woman. A woman who struggled to raise six children after leaving an alcoholic, abusive husband. How did she endure so much? Losing a son in a motorcycle accident, sending the four remaining sons off one by one to fight a war, seeing that each child received a proper education—all the time wondering how to put food on the table. Thank you, God, that my life is easier than Grandma's was, Jo prayed.
Grandma Shack quickly grabbed her purse and followed her granddaughter out the door. Jessica looked back at her mom and rolled her dark brown eyes. Jo whispered a soft thank-you to her youngest daughter and thought that Jessica really had great patience for a sixteen-year-old. Years of sharing a room with a grandmother probably contributed to that.
As Grandma put her seat belt on, Jessica adjusted the mirror and began backing out of the long driveway. "Where do you need to go today, Grandma?" Jessica asked.
"Well, I need a little prune juice, and then I wanted to pick up a card for your daddy's birthday," came the reply. "You know, there was a time when I couldn't even afford a card for your daddy's birthday."
Oh no, thought Jessica, not another story of how she raised six children with no husband around to help and how she worked in the school cafeteria to support them all.
Jessica had heard those stories her whole life, and she really did sympathize with her, but did she have to hear them again today? Still she responded politely, "Yes, Grandma, I remember you telling me about those tough years. You really have some great stories. But why don't we talk about today."
Just then a car pulled out in front of Jessica. She slammed on her brakes, but there was no way she could stop soon enough. Jessica could hear the screeching of the tires and then the crunch of metal as the two cars collided.
Then she realized that even though she had hit the car, they were still moving. She reached up and put the car in park and it jolted to a stop. Jessica felt her head lunge forward, and her chin hit hard against the steering wheel.
"Jessica, are you OK?" Grandma Shack was yelling. Jessica felt something on her chin and realized it was blood, but she was OK.
"I'm fine, Grandma, what about you?"
"I think so. Just shaken up," she responded.
"Grandma, I can't open my door. I'm getting scared," Jessica cried.
"You're OK. I already hear a police car. Just hang on a minute." Grandma reassured her. Grandma was right. Jessica could hear a siren getting louder and louder.
"Grandma, I'm praying that God will help us get out of this wreck. And when we do, I promise I'll listen to any story you want to tell me about the old days."
The doctors and nurses were so nice at the emergency room. Jessica's teeth had gone through her lip as she hit the steering wheel, and that required several stitches. X-rays were taken and closely reviewed. Jessica and Grandma had pulled some muscles, but no bones were broken.
Friends and family poured into their house all that evening, expressing concern and love. Grandma Shack and Jessica sat side by side, telling their story together. Jessica would begin with what road they were on and how scared she was when she looked up and saw the car pull out in front of them. Grandma would finish the story, telling about Jessica's prayer and promise to listen to her stories. Everyone laughed as Grandma held Jessica's hand and told her she planned to hold her to that promise.
Later that night, after all the visitors left, Grandma and Jessica found that they were more than exhausted. They were also pretty sore. Jessica got her pajamas on and peeked into her old room where Grandma Shack had already climbed into the twin bed she had slept in for the last nine years. She looked over at this old woman who had shared her room for so many years. Funny, what a difference a day makes!
"Grandma, do you mind if I sleep in your room tonight?" Jessica asked.
"Of course not, Jessica. What's on your mind?" Grandma asked.
"I was just thinking how much I appreciate you and the sacrifices you made for your family. And how much you helped me today. Encouraging me to stay calm when I was really scared. There were probably lots of times when you were really scared and there was no one to help you. I just thought you might need me to sleep next to you tonight."
"I think that would be great," Grandma said. "I would love to have someone sleep near me tonight."
"Grandma, now that it's all over and we're OK," Jessica said in a sleepy voice, "I was just thinking how I can't wait to tell my grandchildren the story that we share together. It's a pretty good one, isn't it?"