The Walking Stick

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Chapter 4: Grandma's Idea

That evening Pearl went to bed early after having a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and a leftover Krispy Kreme. Susan let Pearl slide on her food choices and even allowed herself two scoops of ice cream before plopping down on the couch next to Grandma in front of the television.

“Can you please turn off the TV? I need to talk,” Susan said to Grandma in a voice that made her sound like a child needing her mother.

“Of course, Dumpling. I have been waiting on pins and needles today just waiting for you to come home and tell me the news about Pearl. But you have been as tight-lipped as a diary’s lock all afternoon. Tell me what’s going on,” Grandma said as she patted Susan’s knee.

The two of them stayed up well into the morning hours talking about Pearl, going over the literature Dr. Holt had given Susan, and discussing options on everything from school to learning Braille (a reading system of raised dots which represent characters that are read by the fingertips). They shared hot tea and plenty of tears and hugs.

Despite Grandma’s addiction to television over the last several years, Grandma was a wonderful support person to Susan. She had retired from her 35-year teaching job at a high school in Houston to move to Mansfield when Gerald died. Grandma’s husband James had passed roughly ten years ago from lung cancer. He had been smoking since he was a young teenager.

Grandma was a tough old bird. She was short and chubby but stood tall. She had wiry blonde-grayish hair that curled uncontrollably in the Texas humidity. She always wore bright red lipstick and had brown eyes like hot fudge. Being a teacher for so many years, Grandma had dealt with all kinds of folks, and she didn’t take much ugliness from anyone. Indeed, Grandma was blunt. She said what she meant and didn’t leave any room for miscommunication.

“I think we should go on a trip,” Grandma said as she tugged her slouching sock up her calf.

“A trip? Mom, you know I can’t take off any more work. My boss is already upset with me.” Susan was beginning to think her mom’s mind was turning to mush from all the TV she watched during the day.

“Not you, Susan. I was talking about Pearl. I think Pearl and I should take a trip. I’m going to take her camping.”

Susan could not remember the last time Grandma had gone camping. Had she ever gone camping? “Are you serious?” Susan asked.

“Yes. Nothing clears the mind more than fresh air and nature. Blue Eagle Park is just thirty minutes down the road. They have several campsites, even cabins you can rent. Margie Pickles told me all about it when I saw her at the grocery store last week. She was picking up some paper plates for her and Brent, as they were getting ready to go camping there again. She told me it was a slice of paradise - an escape from the world’s evils. Margie is always so dramatic,” Grandma said with a laugh. “She thinks every man that looks at her is either trying to steal her purse or pick her up. It is amazing that she has kept Brent as long as she has. Her last boyfriend left her after she told him she was uncomfortable with how often he wore the color black.”

Susan and Grandma laughed heartily. “Okay, Mom. Go ahead. I am sure Pearl won’t know what to think. She has not been camping since the weekend Gerald died. It might be good for her to be in the open space and have room to sort out her thoughts. I will be putting in extra hours this week at work since I missed two days last week, so the next couple of days would be a good time to go.” Susan was grateful for Grandma’s companionship and support. It had been a tough road transforming herself from a wife and full-time mother to a widow and full-time working mother. Grandma had helped Susan carry the load emotionally and physically from doing the laundry to listening to her daughter during sleepless nights. “Thanks, Mom,” Susan said with a serious tone. “Thanks for everything.”

“My pleasure, Darling. You are worth it. Get the makeup off your face and go to sleep.” Grandma waddled herself off the couch and headed to her room. She was excited about her camping trip with Pearl. She had not forged a close bond with Pearl since she moved in. Grandma hoped that a break from the daily routine would give her the chance to become a friend to her granddaughter. Grandma needed the perfect spot to tell Pearl she would be homeschooling her next year.

“Camping,” Pearl said as she wiped the morning eye boogers from her eyes, “with Grandma? Has she officially gone bonkers?”

“No. Pearl, she just wants to spend some quality time with you. That’s all,” Susan said with a smile.

“Quality time? Shopping for a new pair of jeans or sipping a latte at Starbucks qualifies as quality time. Going out in the woods with the mosquitoes and spiders is not my idea of quality time. There are no toilets in tents, Mom!” Pearl whined.

Susan had to laugh at her daughter’s theatrics. “I think you’ll live, Pearl. Please don’t spoil this for your grandmother. She is thrilled about this trip. Sure, it is a little on the quirky side compared to how we normally spend our time, but you have to admit nothing has been normal lately. Let’s just lighten up, relax, and enjoy something outside of our comfort zone for a change.”

“Mom, I have experienced a lot of things outside of my comfort zone! The last few days have been the most uncomfortable ever!” Pearl was too frustrated to be polite; moreover, she felt her mom did not understand how stressful the last several days had been for her both mentally and emotionally.

“Calm down, Pearl, everything will be just fine,” Susan replied in an unsympathetic voice.

“Easy for you to say. All you’re going to be doing is working in an air-conditioned office while I’ll be sweating like a pig in the heat.” Pearl was beginning to realize she had no choice in the matter, and she was going camping whether she wanted to or not.

“Actually, I will be busy after work helping you. I have a list of things I am going to do around the house to make things easier for you.” Susan was proud of herself that she thoroughly read the literature Dr. Holt had given her. She even called him this morning and discussed a few questions she had regarding things she could do to help Pearl.

“Like what? What ‘things’ are you going to do to the house?” Pearl asked in a mistrustful tone.

“Well, I spoke with Dr. Holt this morning, and I have done a lot of reading and researching on the Internet regarding RP. I have a few things, for sure, I am going to do while you are gone, and the rest are adjustments and lifestyle changes that we will all need to make to help you. For example, all of us need to pick up after ourselves, so things are not left on the ground. You can easily trip on shoes and clothes tossed on the floor. As your eyes get worse, this will become more and more important.”

Pearl immediately shifted her thinking to the little boy in the lobby of Dr. Holt’s office who slipped on the magazine that was left on the floor. Pearl knew she was having trouble tripping over and bumping into things. She had already started picking up her room on a regular basis for the last several months just for this reason.

“Okay,” Pearl said slowly. “What else?”

“Well, I am going to organize the kitchen while you are gone. Everything will have a set place from the grape jelly in the refrigerator to the peanut butter in the pantry. I am also going to throw away most of the clear glass containers and replace them with dark plastic containers. I know your depth perception is getting worse, and this will help you have fewer accidents in the kitchen.”

“What else?” Pearl said in a serious tone, eyebrows lifting high onto her forehead.

“Well, I think I will rearrange the furniture - push the large couch against the wall; things like that to give you more space. Also, since you are having trouble with light sensitivity, I am going to find some drapes for the living room windows. When the bright light is bothering you, all we have to do is close the drapes. I have wanted to do a little decorating anyway, and I cannot think of a better reason than this to get started.” Susan said all this so fast to finish up and gauge how Pearl was processing her desire to help.

“Okay,” Pearl said not knowing whether to be angry for having to openly change her lifestyle or thankful that someone was finally helping her with a struggle she had kept secret for so many months. “Okay. Thanks, Mom. The camping trip will be alright too. I’ll tell Grandma I want to go,” Pearl said as she rummaged through the pantry looking for mini bagels for breakfast. “You know, it will be nice to have this pantry organized,” Pearl said smartly.

“Yeah, I have a lot of work to do while you guys are gone.” Susan was grateful Pearl had responded in such a mature way. Knowing how emotional the last several days have been, Susan had no idea how Pearl was handling herself. She was proud of her daughter and her willingness not to fight the need to make adjustments.

“Good morning. How are you doing, Pumpkin?” Grandma asked while giving Pearl a great big hug. Grandma was in her housecoat and slippers. She had the most awful slippers. They were pea green with black polka dots that bobbled when she walked. She picked them up at a final clearance sale at Big Lots several years ago. They were not only pitifully ugly, but they were also worn out. Every once in awhile Pearl would find a black polka dot that had bravely escaped hiding underneath the couch; Pearl would put it out of its misery and place it in the trash.

“I’m alright, Grandma. Mom told me she told you everything about my eyes. That’s the pits, huh?” Pearl said casually while putting butter on her bagel.

“Yes, Pearl, that is the pits. I am so sorry, but I have something that is going to cheer you right up. We are going on a camping trip together - just the two of us. We are leaving this afternoon. I just know we are going to have fun together!”

Pearl could tell Grandma was excited about the trip. She pretended to be surprised and said, “Camping! Wow, that’s great! It has been a long time since I have been camping. How long are we going to stay? Where are we going? What time would you like to leave?”

Grandma was extra pleased with Pearl’s eagerness. She was not sure how a girl Pearl’s age would react to hanging out alone with an old lady for several days.

“Well, I thought we would drive up to Blue Eagle Park. It is about thirty minutes down the road. We can rent a cabin. It has cots so we won’t have to sleep on the floor. If we leave right before lunchtime, we can stop off at the Dairy Queen outside town for a sandwich. I’ve been craving a dipped cone and a soda with that crunchy ice they have. We will head out to the grocery store after lunch and pick up a few items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. Let’s see; today is Sunday. I think we should stay at the lake until Friday. What do you say, Pearl? Sound like a good plan to you?” Grandma looked at Pearl like a little child waiting for someone to tell her if her artwork was any good.

After seeing how much thought Grandma had put into this idea, Pearl couldn’t help but respond in an upbeat manner: “Sure, Grandma. That sounds great! I’ll go pack as soon as I finish breakfast.”

The morning went by quickly. Grandma made a grocery list, and Pearl packed a small suitcase while listening to some of her favorite CDs.

“All aboard,” Grandma shouted when it was time to go. “I’m getting hungry for that dipped cone. Let’s roll.”

The conversation was light at Dairy Queen. Grandma didn’t see the need for heavy conversation at the very start of the trip. There were plenty of days ahead to talk seriously. At the grocery store, Pearl and Grandma split the list to save time. After meeting at the check-out line, Grandma noticed Pearl’s cart contained a few items that were not on the list.

“Ding Dongs? That was not on the list,” Grandma said eyeing the cart to see what else Pearl picked up. “Twinkies? Pop Tarts?”

Pearl laughed. “Grandma, it’s a campout. You are supposed to get junk food on camping trips. Dad always filled the cart with junk food when we went camping. It’s tradition.” Pearl realized at that moment that the last time she was on a camping trip was when her father died. A pang of sadness pierced her chest, and for an instant Pearl thought she would cry.

Grandma sensed her granddaughter’s feelings and patted her back while saying, “Great! Great idea, Pearl. Junk food and camping do go well together. Let’s check out and hit the road!”

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