Waving Backwards

Finally, I twisted my hand around, curling my fingers into the palm of my hand, waving backwards at my grandmother.

Bowls littered the kitchen table in varying degrees of fullness. Some had nothing but dough left over by the careful scraping of spoons, others were overflowing, a thin layer of saran wrap protecting the rich triple-chocolate cookie dough. My hands glistened with super-refined baking sugar as I rolled small balls of dough between my fingertips, plopping them down on crinkling wax paper on the cookie sheets in perfect spheres.

My grandmother sat across from me, her eyes squinting at the dough in her fingers as her hands trembled slightly, poking the dough around in the bowl of sugar, “Sweetie,” she says, “Did you hear about that terrible thing that happened at that church in Seattle?”

I smiled over at her, raising my eyebrows questioningly, “No, Nana. What happened?”

“Well,” she began, drawing in a deep breath, her voice struggling with the words, “Apparently some man walked right into that church with a gun and shot a bunch of people. It was terrible!”

“Really?” I replied, rolling dough in my fingertips, “That’s awful. Where’d you hear about that?”

“It was on the news.” She said, pursing her lips and shaking her head, her translucent skin making an effort to pull across her face, “You don’t go to that church, do you, sweetie?” She looked up at me, her eyes wide with the fear that her granddaughter could possibly be attending a church that would have the audacity to host a shooting.

“No, Nana. I don’t go there… That church is in Seattle. I’d have to drive 2 hours to get there.”

She smiled, “Well, Good. That’s good. Don’t go there, Lindsey. People get shot there.” She plopped her dough on the cookie sheet and rested one sugar-covered hand on my forearm and squeezed lightly. For a ninety year old woman, she still had a pretty firm grip.

***

The last notes of the off-key rendition of the birthday song reverberated off the walls in the kitchen and I leaned over and blew out the 23 candles on my birthday cake—“22 plus 1 to grow on,” my mother said.

As my grandfather cut the cake I began opening presents. One of the brightly-wrapped packages squished in my hands as I pulled it towards me. Tearing off the sparkling pink paper, I revealed a large package of pocket-packs of Kleenex. I smiled, biting back a laugh, and looked at my grandmother, “Thanks, Nana. These will come in handy.”

She smiled tenderly, pulling a single tissue out of the cuff of her sleeve and swiping it across her nose, “You can never have enough Kleenex.” She stuffed the used tissue back up her sleeve. At the end of the night, she’d retire to her bedroom and remove her shirt to put on her pajamas. Upon pulling the sleeves off, a hundred tissues would slip out of the confines of her sleeves and fall around her, sprinkling the ground like a dusting of snow.

***

“Betty!” My grandfather called from across the kitchen, “Lindsey’s not going to get in her little car and drive all the way to Seattle to attend some church. There’s plenty of churches around here she could go to get shot in!”

“Louie! Bite your tongue! I’m going to have to write you a letter!” Nana pursed her lips hard, her blue eyes setting in a firm scowl as she stared ahead of her. Her old bones were too stiff for her to turn around in her seat to glare at her husband.

“You do that, Betty. I’ll read it and throw it away like I do all your letters.” He chuckled as he opened the oven, pulling out one tray of steaming cookies and replacing it with a tray of dough.

“She’s glaring pretty hard at you, PopPop.” I laughed, rolling another glob of dough in the super-refined sugar.

“Tell me something new, Linds,” was his teasing reply.

“Aloicious!” Nana sputtered.

***

She wheeled her deep green cart over to her recliner and eased herself down, using the remote on her seat to lift the leg of the recliner up, attempting to put her feet above her heart the way her daughter, the physical therapist, recommended. “You know,” she said, “When I met your PopPop, I couldn’t stand him. We met on a train. We were both coming off of leave and heading back to base. That was when I was in the Navy,” she smiled, her eyes growing distant with memory, “I had a book with me when he sat down. I was determined to not talk to him. I was just going to read my book. But he wouldn’t leave me alone, so I finally put my book down and started talking to him. We talked through the whole train ride.”

I sipped my glass of water as I listened. I could recite the story in my head, word for word. I had heard it so many times it felt like a memory of my very own. My grandmother in her navy uniform, trying to ignore my grandfather’s attempts at conversation. My grandfather’s hat cocked to the side on his head. “He was always so cocky,” Nana would say.

“And we got married not long after that. That was in 1946. We’ve been married 61 years you know.” Nana’s mouth stretched into a smile, her eyes glowing as she looked up at the wall above the TV at her wedding photo.

“Yeah…” PopPop sighed, “61 years married to the wrong woman.” He snickered as he looked over at my grandmother teasingly.

“You can see he’s tried real hard to get away, too.” Nana smirked.

***

“My favorite picture of you is on the fridge.” Nana says.

“Oh yeah? Which one is that?” I reply, knowing exactly which one it was.

“You’re sitting on the floor. You can’t be more than a year and a half old. You’re sitting there and you’re waving at me backwards. You always used to wave backwards as a little girl. I think it was because that’s how you saw other people waving at you. Their fingers curling into their palms at you, so you thought that’s what you should see of your own little hand when you waved. I loved it when you’d wave at me.”

***

The oven switch clicked as I turned the dial to the ‘Off’ position. Walking across the kitchen, I began transferring the last tray of cookies onto the cooling racks. In under three hours we had made over 80 dozen cookies—date cookies, triple chocolate mistakes, chocolate chip cookies, and Alaska bars. I lifted a still-warm mistake off the rack and bit into it, the taste sending vivid pictures of my childhood flashing through my mind. Closing my eyes as I took the second bite of cookie, I allowed myself a moment to remember the first time I had made the cookies, the dough covering my fingers and smudging across my cheeks as Nana patiently attempted to show me how to roll the dough without covering myself in it.

“Lindsey,” My Nana’s frail voice cut into the memory. I opened my eyes and walked around the table so she could see my face,

“Yeah, Nana?”

“Did you hear about that terrible shooting in that church in Seattle?”

My lips twitched slightly as I patted her hand, “Yeah, Nana. I heard something about that. Why don’t you tell me all about it?” I sat myself down in the chair next to her and crossed my arms, leaning into my elbows.

***

“What’s trump again?” Nana asked, rearranging the cards in her hand.

“Hearts, Betty. Hearts are trump this hand.” PopPop laid down the ace of clubs.

I followed by laying down a ten of hearts.

“Damn it. I can’t get a trick.” PopPop muttered.

“I’m sorry, Louie. What was trump? I just can’t remember!”

“Hearts, Betty.”

“Oh.” Nana played a ten of clubs.

My aunt Peg put the king of clubs down and collected the cards, “Woohoo! Nice trick, Linds.”

I pursed my lips, suppressing a half smile, and played the ace of diamonds.

Nana squinted at her cards and played a nine of spades.

“You don’t have any hearts, Mom?” Peg asked.

“I thought Lindsey led diamonds?” Nana asked, furrowing her brow.

“She did. But hearts are trump.”

“Oh! Right. Sorry!” Nana retrieved her spade and threw down a heart.

***

When PopPop began his radiation treatment for stomach cancer, he was helped every day by three blonde women, close enough in looks to be sisters. They’d laugh at his old jokes and help him climb up onto the table and prepare for his treatments. They called themselves Louie’s Angels. During his third week of treatment, they had a picture taken with my PopPop, all smiling around him. Upon bringing it home, Nana looked at the photo and tugged on my mother’s sleeve. She bent down and Nana whispered in her ear, “You be sure to tell those women I taught hand to hand combat in the Navy.” Her eyes crinkled in a light smile and my mother burst out laughing.

***

I loaded the cookies into large Tupperware containers, separating the layers with a sheet of saran wrap. As I loaded them up and labeled each container with a piece of masking tape, Nana watched me and reorganized her cookie recipes, “You know,” she started, “Those Triple Chocolate Mistakes are called that because I invented them by accident.”

Nodding my head, I blew my bangs out of my face and pressed the lid tightly onto one of the containers, “Tell me about it, Nana.”

She leaned back in her chair, crossing her hands in front of her as she settled into her story, “Well, I was trying to make some chocolate cookies. I had just added the water and melted chocolate when the phone rang. It was your uncle, Bob. We would always talk forever…” She paused for a moment, her eyes glazing over as thoughts of her dead son flooded her mind. Recollecting herself, she looked around, “Oh, yes. I got off the phone and I had forgotten that I’d added the water, so I added it again.”

She paused, sighing, “Lindsey, could you get me some more water?”

“No problem, Nana.” I took her glass from the coaster on the table and went to the fridge to refill the water.

“Obviously,” she continued, “The dough was too soupy for cookies. So I just started adding things. I threw in some chocolate chips and a package of brownie mix and a package of German chocolate cake mix and stirred it all together. When they came out of the oven, they were the best cookies I’d ever tasted. They’re a favorite now. I make them every year.”

She closed her eyes for a moment and nodded her head,
“I think you’ve heard that story before, sweetie.” She opened her eyes, her eyes coy.

“That’s okay, Nana. I love to hear you tell it.”

***

I dropped off a few bags of groceries and put them away in the kitchen while PopPop fumbled around his desk for his checkbook to pay me back for the food.

“Lindsey, come here a second.” I walked over to Nana in her chair and she looked around, digging through the tissues in her sweater pocket. When she pulled her hand up, her fingers clutched a crisp 20 dollar bill folded into quarters. Her eyes darting around the room in search of PopPop again, she slid the bill across to my hand and I took it, pushing it deep into my pocket.

“Thanks, Nana.” I smiled and leaned down, kissing her cheek as she hugged me lightly, patting my hand,

“You can always use a little gas money. Don’t tell PopPop.”

I laughed, “Our secret.”

***

On their way to radiation, my grandfather had my mom stop at the bank, “I need 500 dollars in twenties.” PopPop said.

“Okay, Dad.”

PopPop shook his head, “I’ve got to get money out all the time. Every time the girls come over, Nana slips ‘em 20 or 40 dollars. They’re missing out on a real opportunity. If they stopped by every day just for a quick hello they’d never have to work again!”

My mom’s laugh bubbled out, throwing her head back.
“What? She thinks I don’t know? What does she suppose I think she does with that money? She hasn’t left the house except to go to YOUR house or a doctor’s appointment in over 3 years. She rolls herself up to me every few weeks and says ‘Louie, I need some money’ and I give her a couple hundred in twenties.” He shrugged his shoulders, “It makes her happy.”

***

They insisted I take a couple of containers of cookies home with me for Mom, Dad and my sister, so I loaded some up and put them in a grocery bag. Collecting my purse and my keys, I kissed Nana on the cheek as she pulled herself up and took the breaks off of her walker, “I’ll be at the window.” I nodded.

I gave PopPop a hug on my way out and watched as he went over to the living room window and opened the curtains for Nana.

Pulling into the street and stopping at the corner, I turned on the dome light in my car and looked back at my Nana, sitting on the seat of her walker and waving at my car. I did the Nana-Wave-Thing, first waving my whole arm up and down like the wing of a bird, and then slowing it down. Finally, I twisted my hand around, curling my fingers into the palm of my hand, waving backwards at my grandmother.

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