88: Surely You Know My Grandfather

88: Surely You Know My Grandfather

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Surely You Know My Grandfather

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.

~Rosa Parks

My grandfather had been dead for twenty years by the time I needed to use his hospital. Most of the doctors he worked with had long since retired or passed away. I’m not even sure if his photograph still hung in any of the main hallways. But none of that stopped my mother from informing everybody about our family’s legacy and general importance. After all, she was used to special treatment. My own birth had been overseen by the Chief of Staff in a private suite, and every rule had been broken to give her what she demanded. Apparently unaware that our celebrity status had expired, my mother greeted all of my nurses with, “This is Dr. Young’s granddaughter.”

Grandfather was an incredible man. Born and raised in rural Louisiana, he finished high school early, and went on to play football for Texas A&M. As a twenty-year-old college graduate, he was anxious to attend medical school, but was too young to apply. So, he did what any man would do in that situation — he played professional football for the Washington Redskins. He eventually became an OB/ GYN, and after a stint in a small town to help a new hospital get its footing, he moved his family to Phoenix.

He kept himself busy practicing medicine, as well as serving as Chief of Staff and on the board of directors at one of the Valley’s major hospitals, which my family still privately calls our own. His spare time was spent at Freemason meetings, where he held a respectable ranking. He was news fodder for the local media, which featured him frequently in a range of articles that covered his work for the hospital, as well as an entire piece dedicated to his large feet.

But life is more than a résumé, and my grandfather did not succeed at everything. He suffered from severe depression during a time when treatment involved shock therapy and numbing amounts of alcohol. His retirement was spent slumped in a recliner, remote in hand, and a never-ending game of football on the television five feet in front of him.

My family rarely mentioned him after his death. I didn’t think of him often, until my mother began accosting nurses with his name.

The nurses would always smile brightly, nodding and writing on the whiteboard in front of my bed in big bubble letters with smiley faces. The really good ones would exclaim and press their hands to their hearts. My mother was decades out of date, but she maintained her resolve to find someone, anyone, who recognized his name.

On the day I was discharged, I had a new nurse. She was old, so old that I can only hope she was working due to love instead of need. I had to prove my ability to walk the hallway before I could earn my discharge papers, and she was there to serve as my witness. We set out for a record-setting walk, as I insisted on hobbling a step ahead of the elderly nurse so she wouldn’t have to bear any of my weight.

My mother was waiting for us in my room, arriving just in time for one last bombardment. I shook my head, waiting for the professional eye roll the other nurses had mastered. But this nurse pushed back her hunched shoulders, folded her arms, and said, “Well, what do you know. I worked with Dr. Young.” I thought Mom might explode with excitement.

The nurse sat next to me on my bed, poured herself a cup of water, and shared every memory she had of my grandfather. These weren’t like the stories in the newspaper clippings I kept in my closet, or the staged moments that happened in the family photo album. She told me the stories we wanted to hear, the little details that explained why I don’t like watermelon and use certain words. They were the stories I wish he could have told me himself.

“And one day, he had been sleeping in the bunks, when he burst out the door yelling for help. I was the only one there, so I rushed over, thinking there was some terrible emergency, and he told me I had to help him find his ring. He wore this very large, fancy ring….”

“It was a Freemason ring,” my mother interrupted, her smile about to expand off her face.

“Yes, it was beautiful, and he had somehow lost it. We tore that room apart looking for it. He was such a large man and always walked proudly, so he looked very funny crawling around that dirty floor on all fours. I ended up finding the ring on the table next to his bunk. Imagine that! He was so relieved, and he couldn’t stop thanking me.”

I think she mistook my face’s reaction to her story. Patting my hand, she stood, saying, “Well, I’d say you are fine to go home. You didn’t need my help at all.”

I still regret the lump in my throat that prevented me from speaking as she walked away. I wanted to tell her what her memories meant to me. I wanted to tell her that I had been walking by myself since yesterday anyway. I really wanted to tell her that I thought my grandfather was out there somewhere, thanking her still, for remembering him. I know Mother was.

~Michelle Civalier

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