Sundays after Latvian school and church church, I sometimes help my great aunt negotiate the coffee table, where we load up on sandwiches and other snacks. She can get by without me, but things go easier if I move her chair and walker. Then I see her back to her apartment in the retiree home behind the church.
On the way back today, we stopped in at the church's weekly books-and-things sale so she could buy some cards. Another woman wanted to buy a vase, but all the vases were on the top top shelf, almost touching the ceiling.
"I could get it standing on a chair," said the cashier. "But I am past standing on chairs."
Other people said they, too, were not about to go climbing. I looked around the room and saw it was full of lovely ladies with gray hair. No, I couldn't imagine them standing on chairs, either.
Someone said to fetch the tallest man in church, but then someone else said he might have left.
"I can stand on chairs!" I said.
Everyone looked at me as if just noticing me and agreed. We pulled out a chair and I got up, boots and all, and took down the vase with everyone watching.
I have been realizing what it can mean to get old.
On our way out of the sale to the elevator, we passed another woman leaving the coffee table. There had been an exhibit of a Latvian artist's paintings, with many people in church contributing pieces they owned. Now that the display was over, this woman was carrying a couple paintings in her walker, and I asked her if she could manage.
She said she was fine, and I admired the painting that had struck me earlier. On the one side was a warm and misty tableau, a table full of food and family. The vision faded into the painting's darker half, where and old woman sat in a thick shawl and empty kitchen, smiling at her daydream.
"I predicted my own future when I bought this painting in the sixties," said the woman with the walker. "Dreaming of better days."
What can one say to that?
My great aunt is a wonderful woman in her eighties. She invites me over for tea and shortbread cookies, and I often take her up on it, mostly to hear her wonderful stories about her life and thoughts and family.
While I was there today, I took the shrink-wrap off a literary magazine and helped her tape up a package. I fetched the dishes and cleaned up her kitchen a bit on my way out. She gives me mail to take out, since it is so much easier for me. Last time I was there, she had a fall. Though she was not really hurt, she couldn't get up herself, so I had to fetch some men from church to help lift her. It was scary for all of us, I think.
She acts as if I give her a lot and she can give me only a little, and that is not true at all. Each visit is like reading another chapter or two of a fascinating book -- which makes sense especially if you know my great aunt is a writer, still writing to this day. But it is harder for her to write now, since just living requires so much care and time.
It is good when great-aunts have their grand-nieces around, and when grandmothers have their sons and daughters and grandchildren, and when everyone has a chance to take cookies and tea together.