Fifty-Six Grandparents

Fifty-Six Grandparents

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

Fifty-Six Grandparents

You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for others — something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.

~Albert Schweitzer

There was my mother, standing in a fuzzy pink bunny costume, holding a basket of eggs. This can’t be happening, I thought to myself. Being ten was hard enough.

I had begged to stay home that day, complaining I’d caught some rare disease and needed to stay in bed. My mother, who’s a nurse, looked me over and sent me to school anyway. It was the day our fourth-grade class was taking a field trip to sing to the residents of a nearby convalescent home.

When we got there, I stood at the front door with my entire fourth-grade class, secretly wishing for that rare disease. I’d fall to the ground, be rushed away, and spared the humiliation of anyone ever knowing that I spent every day after school there — me and my mother, the Easter Bunny.

“Hi, Shelly!” The residents waved and smiled as we entered.

“Do you know them?” Angela asked, disgusted.

“No!” I replied. “They’re just old and confused. They probably think I’m someone else. Besides, my name’s Machille, not Shelly,” I reminded her sarcastically.

The men and women who lived in the convalescent home were lined up outside their rooms. Most of them sat in wheelchairs, some stood behind walkers, and some had been wheeled out in their beds.

My mother had explained to me many times that these were special people. Now that they were older and needed a nurse’s care for different reasons, they lived here with each other. I thought of it more like a “grandparents’ pound” — forgotten grandparents. I saw who had visitors and who didn’t.

Our class started singing, and I studied my shoelaces. If I looked up, I might make eye contact with one of them. Everything was going well until Mrs. Deist, our teacher, handed me four tulips that we were supposed to give to the residents. I quickly went to the back of the line. My mother didn’t say a word to me; she just went along her way — hopping.

Last year, she had made a red bunny costume for me and we hopped down the halls together, laughing and singing. It had been a lot of fun. But I’m too old for that now, I thought.

I shuffled behind my class and gave my tulips to other classmates. They didn’t ask any questions, just took the flowers.

“What are you little brats doing here?” Hattie May barked out, snatching a tulip from Jacob’s hand.

Hattie May had been here for years. She had a disease that made her forget things and sometimes made her grumpy. She always liked me, though. Sometimes she called me Susie, but I didn’t mind. My mom told me her daughter’s name is Susie. I’ve seen Susie before — she’s my mom’s age, but Hattie’s disease doesn’t understand time.

Jacob’s face turned bright red. The class giggled and pointed. My teacher did her best to keep us moving, knowing that Hattie May didn’t mean any harm. I heard someone whisper, “Crazy old lady.” The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach got worse. I smiled at Hattie May as we passed, and she smiled at me.

“Shelly, how about a game of Fish?” Lou grinned, grabbing my arm.

My class and teacher turned and stared. I pulled my arm away and whispered to Lou, “Later, okay?”

I didn’t look up; I just waited for the feet in front of me to start moving again. But they didn’t move. I studied the tile floor, thinking how cold the floor seemed with the bright lights reflecting off of it. Now I felt like I was officially the “freak show.”

“Machille, do you know these people?” Mrs. Deist asked me.

“Um… I… kinda…” I mumbled.

“Well, then, you should lead the way,” she smiled and handed me a bunch of tulips.

Could it get any worse? I thought. As I moved to the front of the line, I could hear the rest of the class muttering under their breath. I know they were all talking about me, probably saying things like, “Well, she doesn’t have any other friends; why shouldn’t she hang out with a bunch of old people?”

I pulled up my chin and looked straight ahead. In front of me were rows of familiar and loving faces. They all smiled big, warm, real smiles. I couldn’t help but smile back. I stepped forward and handed a tulip to Rose, a white-haired woman standing behind her walker.

“How’s the hip feel today, Rose?” I asked with a grin.

“Okay, Shelly. Thanks for asking,” Rose answered and squeezed my hand.

I suddenly forgot that the class was watching me. I continued down the hall, waved to Frank, and gave Mr. Blusso a high-five. When I was out of tulips, I turned back to Mrs. Deist, who handed me five more. Other kids had stopped and were talking with the patients. I saw Angela laughing as Frank showed her a card trick. Jacob was covering Mr. Blusso’s legs with a blanket. Mrs. Deist put her arm around me and pulled me close.

“My mother was in a convalescent home for five years before she passed away. I wish she’d had someone like you to look in on her when I couldn’t be there. You’re very special, Machille,” Mrs. Deist winked.

My mother picked that moment to hop over and thank us all for coming by. I proudly took her by the hand and introduced her to my class.

“This is my mom, Geneva. She works here, and every day she takes care of all these special people.” I stood tall and straight as I delivered the information. The whole class began to clap.

“Wow. My mom would never put on a bunny costume. Your mom is cool,” Tom said, slapping me on the back.

“Hey, do you think I could come by sometime with you after school? I really like that guy Lou, and he promised to teach me how to play gin rummy,” Jacob asked.

“Me, too, Machille?” Angela chimed in.

My mother spoke before I could and explained about a program where kids can volunteer after school and on the weekends. The patients cheered at the idea, and my class seemed very excited, too.

That day, I realized how happy it made me to make other people smile and feel good. I should never be ashamed of that. I also learned how lucky I am. I have fifty-six grandparents.

~Machille Legoullon

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