From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Surrogate Grandmother

The giving of love is an education in itself.

Eleanor Roosevelt

All the way to the nursing home, I could hear Pam complaining.

“I don’t like this idea. I hate being around old people, and I think nursing homes are gross.”

I had suggested to my teen Girl-Scout troop that each girl adopt an elderly lady in the nursing home as a grandmother. I thought it would be good for the girls to learn about the elderly and the hardships they have with ill health and loneliness. It would teach them, I hoped, to have compassion for others. Most of the girls thought it was a good idea, except for Pam.

If anyone needs to learn about compassion, it’s Pam, I thought. She was an only child and very spoiled. She seemed to care about nothing but her looks, clothes and boys.

“Phew! It stinks in here.”

“Shhh,” I told Pam. “It’s not the most pleasant smell, I know. Just be grateful you’re not in here all the time, like they are.”

I turned away to talk to the administrator. After a few minutes, I went to the main sitting room to check on the girls. They had all found an elderly woman and seemed to be getting along fine. All except Pam. She was nowhere to be seen.

I started down the long hallway in time to see Pam enter a room. I stopped beside the door.

“Hello.” The weak shaky voice had come from a small hump lying in a narrow bed. “I’m Hannah.”

“Hi. I’m Pamela.”

“My, you’re a pretty girl, Pamela. I’ve never had anyone as pretty as you to visit me before.”


I could tell Pam was very pleased over this comment.

“Really.” The bright, little eyes looked Pam over. “You’re not one of those feisty girls, are you?”

“Feisty?” Pam couldn’t keep from smiling at the way Hannah had said the word. Like it was something bad.

“Yes. Feisty. In my day, bad girls were called feisty.”

“They were?” Pam couldn’t hide her surprise. “When was that, Hannah? Would you mind if I ask how old you are?”

Grinning wide and showing her toothless gums, Hannah proudly said, “I’m 104.”

“A hundred and four?” Pam’s mouth gaped opened. “You’re really 104?”

Hannah chuckled. “I bet you didn’t think anyone could live that long, right? Well, you drag that chair over here and sit a spell. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone to visit with.”

“Don’t you have any family?” Pam asked.

“Oh no. They’re all dead and gone. I’m the last member of my family left.”

I walked in and introduced myself to Hannah and reminded Pam why we were there.

Pam looked at me and whispered. “She’s 104!”

I explained to Hannah about the girls wanting to adopt an elderly lady as their grandmother.

A little reluctantly, Pam asked Hannah if she could adopt her.

Hannah smiled her big, toothless grin. “I would be right proud to be your grandma.”

I took the girls to visit their surrogate grandmothers every week. I don’t know who was enjoying it more, the girls or the grandmothers. At first, Pam was quiet, but over the weeks, I could see a change in her.

“She’s amazing!” Pam told the other girls. “Do you know, she can remember when there was trouble with Indians! Some of the things we study about in American history—she witnessed.”

“You’ve come to really love her in these last few months, haven’t you?” Pam’s best friend asked.

“You know, I really have. She’s the most interesting person I know. And the stories she tells! She’s so interested in everything that’s going on. She’s crippled with arthritis and completely bedridden, but she never complains.”

I could see the affection between Pam and Hannah grow with each visit. Pam would brush Hannah’s long white hair while listening to stories about the way Hannah and other young ladies in her day dressed and wore their hair. In turn, Pam told Hannah all her thoughts and fears, and Hannah would share her wisdom, born of long experience, with Pam. They laughed together often.

Pam brought little gifts that made Hannah’s eyes light up. Hannah’s favorite was the milk-chocolate drops that Pam sneaked in. Smiling, Hannah would let them melt in her mouth.

On our way to visit one day, I noticed Pam was carrying a big bouquet of lilacs.

“Those are beautiful, Pam.”

“I’m taking them to Hannah. They’re her favorite flower.”

When we arrived, Pam rushed into Hannah’s room. “Hannah?”

I heard her call out Hannah’s name and went into the room. The bed was made up with white, starched sheets as though no one had ever been in it.

“Can I help you?” One of the attendants walked into the room.

“Yes, we’re looking for Hannah,” I told her.

“Oh dear, didn’t anyone tell you? Hannah passed away last night.”

“Passed away?” Pam whispered.

“Yes, her heart stopped. She went very peacefully.”

“Pam, I’m sorry.” I put my arm around her.

Throwing the lilacs on the floor, Pam turned to me. “It’s all your fault!” she yelled. “I didn’t want to adopt an old person. Then, I met Hannah. I loved her, and now she’s gone. It’s not fair.”

I put my arms around her and let her cry. She had never lost anyone before.

“Hannah wanted you to have this.” The attendant held an old, worn Bible out to Pam. With it was a note, addressed to: My Granddaughter, Pamela. The note simply said, “Love never dies.”

I attended Hannah’s funeral with Pam. She never said a word through the whole service. She just held Hannah’s Bible.

I wasn’t surprised that Pam started skipping our scout meetings on the days we visited the nursing home. I didn’t know what to say to her. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea after all, I thought.

A few months later, at one of our regular meetings, Pam asked, “Can I go back to the nursing home with the rest of you next week?”

“Of course you can, but are you sure you want to?”

Pam smiled and said, “Yes. No one can ever take Hannah’s place, but I know there are other grandmothers, just as wonderful, waiting to be adopted.”

“Yes, I bet there are. What a good idea, Pam.”

She had learned and in doing so, she had reminded me: Love is always a good idea.

Pat Curtis

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