I can still see Grandma Trudy in the kitchen, praying and reading from her special Bible the size of a turkey. She prayed so loud most bugs were coming out of the house, not going in.
Good for us, said Grandpa, bad for us too. I mean, we gotta go in there some time too. Plus we’re getting eaten alive with all these goddamn bugs.
This was the night of their big fight. The night Grandma Trudy threw the Bible at her husband for daring to suggest God could be found in the emptiness around the farm. Grandpa rubbed his head where he got whacked by the King James version. Just above his left or right ear. I saw some of this from the crack of the bedroom door. It was around midnight and the wind had picked up. A howling owl, I thought and now rethink.
This was the night after Great-Uncle Frank’s funeral, five weeks after my grandpa’s beloved brother fell over from who-knows-what while throwing bales onto the John Deere’s front-end loader. Within two weeks he was flat on his ass in a coma. The doctor said, Something popped in his brain and he’s probably not coming back, so don’t hold your breath. A stroke, probably.
I went to the hospital and watched my Great-Uncle Frank struggling to breathe. Behind us in the hall, Grandma Trudy prayed with Edith and Murray. Not praying for Frank’s health or a miracle, but for God to have mercy, pity on his poor soul.
Come now, come now in our time of need, take this soul, take our offering, come now, come now, please, Jesus, she whispers, we just honour you … Jesus, we just love you….
Wejus Jesus prayers, Grandpa said. They’re always the worst.
Then he put a big hairy hand on Frank’s and leaned over the bed. Frank, he said, if you gotta go, then go, I’ll catch up to you later.
But Frank just lay there, his breath short and frantic.
The doctor finally put him on a respirator to help him get air into his lungs. Grandpa threw out the dead flowers as they filled the room. The church people led in by Grandma in twos and threes to hold hands and pray around Great-Uncle Frank, the silences between inhalations filled with the hum of the little pump keeping him alive. Grandpa Albert waited outside the room for the church people to clear out before drifting in.
So much sadness, so much sadness makes a man…, Grandpa trailed off, clearing his throat and running a gnarled hand over the white sheets.
Then, briefly and quite unexpectedly, a miracle.
Great-Uncle Frank came out of it.
It was a Sunday. The hospital called after church. So we hopped into the half-ton and roared right back into town, the dust marking our excitement. Grandpa Albert ran, ran up the steps of the old two-storey hospital and I had never seen him do this before. Never.
He runs like a wadded-up rabbit, I said to Grandma Trudy as she locked the truck door.
Don’t talk crazy to me, she snapped. She wasn’t happy, no matter the minor miracle.
When we got to Great-Uncle Frank’s room I could see Grandpa Albert huddled over the bed, baseball cap in his hand, smiling and talking and pretending everything was normal again.
Great-Uncle Frank looked around, his eyes frantically moving around to see the corners of the room.
What was keeping me going, Al?
They got you on a respirator. Does all the breathing for you.
Who makes the compressor?
Grandpa fumbled with his glasses, then leaned over to read the top of the machine at the back of the bed.
Ingersoll-Rand, he said.
Damn, mumbled Great-Uncle Frank. Those things run forever. I got one in the barn.
Yup, said Grandpa Albert. They do the job, all right.
And then he said, Look, Al, if they tell you I’m practically dead and gone, I don’t want no Ingersoll-Rand keeping me going. Turn the damn thing off.
Edith won’t like it.
Yup, I know.
Trudy’s got the church people coming in here too.
Just get me the doctor and I’ll tell him myself. Goddamn Ingersoll-Rand is made in Sweden, isn’t it? asked Frank.
Nope. US of A, I believe.
Jesus, get the doctor, get him fast.
Grandpa Albert left him, trying to find the one doctor on staff at the hospital.
I held Great-Uncle Frank’s hand. It was very big. And warm in the middle.
He finally said, Where’s my boy? Where?
You mean me?
And then he closed his eyes and that was it.
Days passed. The compressor kept pumping air into him. Perfectly.
The doctor asked Edith, So, what do you want to do?
Is he …?
Yes, he said, clicking on his pen. Yes.
Grandma Trudy said, Edith, do the right thing, Edith, just let the machine do its job and let mother nature run its course. Edith, we cannot interfere with God’s Plan. It is written. Edith. No.
And so we waited. The church people kept a vigil, day in and day out, mumbled like numbed ghosts around Frank’s bed, the pump humming under their Wejus Jesus prayers.
Grandpa Albert paced outside the room, his pants drooping on him more and more until he switched from a belt to red-andwhite suspenders.
Church people from other counties started coming, all of them praying, Take this man, take him Lord, and we just praise you for it. Take him, he’s all yours.
Grandpa Albert’s shirt now spilled out of his pants, a mad sailor’s fart. His face got pointy and lumpy, eyes two peas about to pop out of pods. And then Grandma told me to shut up.
Just shut up and sit in the TV room; they’re showing people going to the moon. That’ll keep you occupied.
When I got to the TV room, I couldn’t hear the compressor pump thing any more. Grandpa came in and sat down. He picked up a National Geographic and slowly paged through the section on the moon. Then the nurse came and sat down on the battered brown couch with us and lit up a cigarette. We watched the TV where they showed astronauts who were being trained to hold their breath underwater. They were wearing big silver suits and helmets with golden visors that showed the reflection of the people taking their pictures.
Grandpa turned up the volume of the TV and turned to the nurse with the big red hair and said, Any chance of me getting you to shut off that respirator?
The nurse shook her head. We got no signature and that quiet, little lady of his ain’t going to listen to anybody but your Trudy. She’s got quite the attitude going, Albert.
Sorry about that, said Grandpa. When she was little her father accidentally dropped her on her head during Easter church service. She’s never been one hundred per cent since. Kinda like living with a long-term dizzy spell. Me, not her, if you catch my drift.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Listen, why don’t you just stand up to her, Albert? All these years, all these years and she’s still got you walking around like you’re on eggshells.
Oh, she’s not so bad, he smiled. Is she, kid?
He elbowed me with a chuckle.
Ha, laughed the nurse on the way out the door. I’ve got to tell the cleaning staff about that one.
We sat there for a while, watching grown men bounce like drunken rabbits across the moon, waving at earth. And we waved back.
To be continued…