copyright © 2003 Todd Ristau

by Todd Wm. Ristau

(Lights up on TODD, center stage.)

Some of you may know I'm writing my memoirs.

When you’re young you want to be old, when you’re middle aged, you want to be young.  Last month I was up in the quad cities visiting my grandmother while she was in the hospital recovering after her cancer surgery, and I got the impression that when you are old, all you want to be is part of something.

I sat for hours next to her bed and asked her questions about her life, and let her talk about her memories…and as she talked about the places she had lived and the people she had known I could see her visibly improving--and I realized it wasn’t the nostalgia that made her feel better, it was sharing her life in a way that made her feel it was also part of mine…

It was touch and go, but after a week or so she was out of the hospital and living with my Aunt Mother’s Day.

I got an email today saying that her cancer might be back and it didn’t look good.  I thought a lot about her all day, and I wrote down some of the things I remember about her…which I’d like to share tonight with you in the same spirit my grandma shared her memories with me...of feeling like I belong to you, and at the same time helping her to belong to a wider family too.

I remember when I was probably 5 years old sitting in the back seat of my grandma's car.  She was sitting in the front seat with her mother, Hazel, whom everyone called Gom.  They were complaining about how long it was taking my dad and grampa to walk around this lot looking at used farm implements.  "How long is he going to be out there?"  She asked.  I wanted to feel like one of the grown-ups, and so in language I'd heard my grandfather use a million times, I said, "Oh, that old cocksucker is going to be out there all day, he loves this shit."

Gram and Gom spun in their seats and demanded to know where I'd heard language like that.  I knew I couldn't rat out my grandpa; he was already in trouble for taking so long looking at manure spreaders.  I said, "Uh, I think in a movie?"  They didn't buy it, and demanded to know in what movie I'd heard a word like that.  I offered up John Wayne as a sacrifice to save grandpa.  The next thing I knew, grandpa was getting yelled at anyway and I was standing in the basement shower with Ivory soap in my mouth.

I remember after my parent's divorce I often stayed at Gram's house, and her telling me how to pray.  It is a long story, but basically boiled down to her catching me praying flat on my back in the sofa bed.  She told me first of all not to pray lying down, because I might offend God by falling asleep in the middle of a prayer, and I should reverently pray kneeling by the side of the bed.  Don't come to God in an irreverent fashion, don't pray on the toilet, he is your king, and you should approach him with respect.  She also scolded me for praying directly to God, saying that you needed to pray to Jesus and he'd take your prayer to God for you.  Jesus is the only one who talks directly to God.

I remember Gram telling me my dad thinks I’m ashamed of him because I stayed at her house more than I stayed at his house.  And how she understood when I explained why, but told me I needed to explain it to Dad.

Gram inspecting my fingernails before dropping me off at my girlfriends when I was in high school and not realizing until years and years later that she might have been thinking of Sara's vaginal health and not just Sara’s mother's impression of my hands.

Grandma telling me that she didn’t think it was Christian, but she thought it was better for me to live with a woman before I married her so we’d stop having so many divorces in the family.

Gram telling me she hated my long hair and hippy ways and then giving me some earrings she’d lost the other half of the pair to.

Gram saying how if grandpa knew how much she spent on his funeral he’d get up and die all over again.

Gram being so upset that she’d lived longer than two of her children.

Gram telling me how much she missed my father when he died.  And telling me how lonely she was now that he couldn't come visit every day.

How she let her self finally cry when her cat died…and refused to get another cat.

Gram telling me how if she got out of the hospital after that cancer surgery, she didn’t want to go back to her old house and live alone anymore.

Gram holding my hand and telling me she thought of me as her son, not a grandson.

How the last time I talked to her on the phone I could tell she was getting ready to go, but still wanted to stay…that she wanted to spend time with her new great grandchild…that by moving out of the old house she could think about the future instead of all that past.


There isn’t a point to this story, because its not really a story, except that I’ll bet you that if you think hard enough there’s someone in your life…Someone who needs to be reminded that you know how big a part of you they are…and if they have to go, when it comes their time to leave, then maybe it won’t be so hard on either of you if they know there’s something of them that is going to stay.

(End, lights fade)


Author's Note:
The attached picture is from my wedding on June 30th, 2001.  She was so active and full of life then, it is hard to accept that she would be in Hospice care only two years later.  As passings go, hers will be a good one, without pain, at home, and surrounded by a large and loving family.

This piece was first performed at Charlottesville No Shame on June 13, 2003.

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