Today, February 22 is my grandfather’s birthday. He would have been 133 years old. When he came to live with us after grandmother died, my 7-year-old self thought he was ancient, especially when he told us about living through the turmoil of the assassination of President McKinley. I’m five years older now than he was when he came to live with us. When I was the same age as he was at McKinley’s death, the prospect of getting drafted to go fight in Vietnam roiled me and my friends. Does not seem so long ago to me now.
I’ve written elsewhere about the years he spent with us. I did not mention in that piece that we usually had cherry pie on his birthday, instead of cake. He liked the idea that he shared a birthday with George Washington. For my mother his daughter, Washington’s Birthday was also a milestone in the retreat of Winter. She told me that daylight usually lasts until 6 pm by that day in Connecticut. We ate supper, or at least dessert, later than that because I remember it usually was dark outside by the time we had our cherry pie.
I also didn’t mention another memory of the 10 years Grandpa lived with us. My brother James was born about a year after Grandpa came. They bonded very quickly. I can still see Grandpa working out in the yard, cutting the hedges or weeding with this little blond boy following him around and helping. Grandpa would have celebrated the birth of James’ first grandchild last year.
We didn’t mulch in those days, or use herbicides. We weeded. I know. It became my job after Grandpa got too old to do it. My mother had a row of irises that always felt a mile long when down on my hands and knees pulling weeds. Grandpa used a hoe. I could not do that now, much less get down on my hands and knees. I have a herniated disk in my lower back, and both my knees have no cartilage left. Last year the surgeon gave me gel shots that helped me keep up with Anne Mei when we walked around cities in Spain and France that summer. Those shots have worn off.
When I met with the orthopedist this month to schedule surgery on my knees, he took an x-ray of my hips because I said that I was having trouble putting on socks. My left hip has also deteriorated. It looks like the knots of tubers and roots in my mother’s irises that she would have me thin out. He said that my hip would probably start hurting more once the left knee was fixed.
I know how pain radiates. Many years ago my right knee started killing me when I played racquetball. The doctors could find nothing wrong with the knee, so they checked the hip. The x-ray of my right hip looked like the left hip does today. It was replaced in 1997. I found out about the herniated disk about five years ago when I complained to the surgeon who did that hip that it was killing me again.
People who have been following this blog from the beginning know that I’ve written many posts exploring different kinds of pain. I was trying to understand what Laura experienced during her illness. I also got into arguments with some readers who denied the reality of pain, claiming it was all in our heads.
Perverse as it may sound, I am curious about what will happen after my knee surgery. In the years before my first hip surgery I felt excruciating pain, even just sitting. Whatever discomfort I felt after the surgery was nothing compared to what preceded it. And then once I’d recovered I felt great. I came to realize how much the pain from my hip had contorted my whole body. My knees are not causing nearly as much pain now, if I don’t do too much walking or standing. I’ve been told, however, that recovery from a knee operation hurts much more than from hip surgery. We’ll see.
Regardless I do intend to eat lots of cherry pie during my recovery. My friend Gale says that she’s going to get me vegan ice cream since I’ve also become extremely lactose intolerant this past year. Ah, isn’t getting old grand! I want to age with as much grace as Grandpa.