I called my grandma the other day as I regularly do since I live too far to visit. And as usual she let me know she had a story for me. She lives in an apartment community for people 65 and older, and generally her stories involve someone a few doors down setting their microwave on fire, falling to the ground and passing out, finding dishes as good as new at a garage sale, or dying (either because they had fallen to the ground or were in their 90s and the poor thing really was better off dead). But on this particular day her story was even more tragic than our normal calls; she had shit her pants.
It took a moment to sink in. How often does a grandmother openly admit to shitting her pants; especially before asking how your day was? I mean this was the same woman who would fart and pretend nothing happened, and she commanded so much respect that everyone else pretended the little toot was no more than a fly buzzing.
When her statement did fully register I let out a T.V. drama worthy gasp and said, “Grandma, no!”
“Yes,” she said in a drawn out manner. “I should have never gotten out of bed that day.”
Internally I wondered when the change would happen to me. How gradual is it? It’s hard to imagine in your late twenties not being able to keep your defecation securely behind your sphincter until you allow it to exit. Pee is one thing. I’ve definitely had a trickle escape on a full bladder when I sneeze, but that’s liquid.
I tried to imagine myself in my 80s as my grandma went back to the beginning of her tale and how it all led up to soiled slacks.
I saw my grandmother getting up at the crack of dawn as she always does and eating a very sensible breakfast. Maybe a slice of whole wheat toast with a spread of butter so thin that it really was pointless. Surely nothing that would come back to haunt her later on that day. Then after a rousing round of sudoku, she decides to go to Kroger even though she has only put 2,700 miles on her car in the past 7 months and has local children and grandchildren that willingly and gladly bring her groceries. It was just fate that had her itching to go.
It was here in my grandma’s story that I wanted to ask if she used the E-Z on sock aid I had gotten her last Christmas to help her get ready to leave for the store. Clearly her body is not what it once was. I had gotten the dressing aid for her as a serious gift, although I had a sinking sense that I had offended her. Whether she used it or not, interrupting her seemed inappropriate. I decided I would just sneak a look in her closet when I came home for Christmas instead to see if it was still there or had been given away like dozens of other gifts.
She proceeded to tell me how unfair Kroger is to senior citizens with their electronic coupons that she doesn’t know how to use. My elderly grandmother said as much to the cashier checking her out, who told her if she went to customer service they could certainly help her with this.
“Pff, stand in another line,” my grandma said to me. She told the cashier no; who then continued to scan Lean Cuisine after Lean Cuisine until the little piece of paper unfurled from the printer and the cash register drawer opened. She handed the receipt to my grandmother along with a twenty dollar bill.
She asked the cashier what it was for.
“That’s your cash back,” the cashier answered.
“I didn’t ask for cashback,”my grandma grumbled.
“The computer says you clicked cash back on the pin pad.”
And there she would have stood for a moment or two, with the cash in her gloved hands (because she trusts rubber dish gloves more so than masks for COVID-19). Her light blue eyes so pale they are like ice chips flashing toward the pin pad to see if maybe the buttons had changed, and she had clicked the wrong one by mistake.
It was here that my grandma’s story turned down a side street. I should know that my grandmother would never get cash back on a credit card. Who knows what kind of fees will show up on her next statement? Credit card interest is the only form of legal robbery! Then she took a sharp left back into the tale.
She ended up in the customer service line. The very same that could have found some coupons for her before she checked out. When she finally spoke to the clerk they informed her that there was no way to undo the cash back. She would have to keep the $20 and all the fees that the Mastercard miser would tack onto it.
It was on her walk back to the car that she sensed the unease in her bowels. She had two choices: go back into the Kroger’s and use a public restroom or wait the 12 minute drive home.
It was at about minute 7 that it all came out. Thank the Lord she has leather seats and all of her pants are bought on sale. Five minutes later she was home. It was then that she saw the apartment manager and the head maintenance man outside her apartment door. She had forgotten the apartment inspections were that day.
“I’m sorry. I have a bathroom emergency. You’ll just have to wait outside,”she informed them. And so they did, and to their credit neither one mentioned her change of pants when she reopened the door ten minutes later.
“Oh wow, Grandma. That’s awful,” I said thinking that if I ever shit in my car I was screwed because of the cloth seats. Her pants are always loose, too, so that probably stopped the leakage from squirting in any one direction. Her underwear, more of a shapeless bag with elastic safeguards keeping it all between the cheeks.
“That isn’t the half of it,” my grandma replied.
There was more. I left a silence on the phone that let her know I was listening intently.
“I went to the bank.” Again, why did my grandmother who never drove anywhere suddenly have a wild hair to get in her car to run errands? If it was me, I would have set my freshly wiped ass down in my chair, heated up a Lean Cuisine and watched whatever is on cable nowadays or curl up with a large print novel. Isn’t shitting in your pants enough of an adventure for one day? But I guess my grandma has more spunk than me.
In my head I saw my grandma getting back in her car that still had the shit smell lingering and slowly driving to the local bank. She would use her turn signal well in advance and put the sun visor up and down at least three times on the ten minute trip.
My grandma continued, “I pulled into the handicap spot and was going to reach for my hang tag-” It was here that I thought she was going to tell me she left her handicap car tag at home. Nope.
“I thought I had put the car in park, but when I took my foot off the brake I rolled forward and into the bank sign.
Again, I paused. “What?” I asked.
“I hit the bank sign. I forgot to put the car in park. Now my bumper has green paint all over it. I’m just glad I wasn’t in the next spot over, or I would have hit the building.”
“Oh, grandma,” I said.
There is an art to changing the subject, and my grandmother is a grand master at it.
“I think your brother and sister are nuts for getting on a plane with all this mess,” she told me. They were coming to visit me for Thanksgiving.
“Yeah, well…”was all I could muster. She wasn’t wrong.
“It snowed here this morning. Big, fat, pretty flakes,” I could see her sitting in her tan cloth chair facing the back window in her apartment. I was pretty sure sometimes she watched for deer and rabbits for hours out that window, not leaving the chair.
But this was something I could actually respond to with a full sentence, “Ugh, I do not miss the snow!” This was a phrase that I had uttered at least three times a year, every year since I moved to Texas. I think people that moved down South have to say this at some point in their lives. It’s like a rite of passage, a uniting phrase for thousands of people that have never met.
Grandma cleared her throat in an authoritative manner, “Your dad said you were going to drive up here for Christmas.”
“Yes,” I felt a drop in my stomach.
“That’s a long drive. Anything could happen.” The tone was reproachful.
“I know, but I’m going to break it up-”
“What is it from there here?”
“A little under 1,300 miles.”
She made a noise like a heavy stone was sitting in the back of her throat.
“Well, I don’t want to fly. I want to visit people and get stuff done for the wedding, and I just don’t think I could morally do that if I flew,” I said, but I thought I want to visit with you, and you are very old. Wouldn’t getting on a plane and stopping by be an asshole move on my part? But how do you tell an old person they are old? So I let it be.
She turned the stone over in her throat again, “If you wore a face shield and a mask you would probably be okay.”
Didn’t you practically call your other grandchildren idiots a few minutes ago for getting on a plane, I thought.
“Then when you got here, you could borrow my car,” she finished.
I thought about the car my grandma had shit her pants in.
“No thanks, Grandma,” I said.