09 March 2008

Broken legs, broken bulbs

Today, I visited Grandma without Noel, which means decreased joy (for her) but increased usefulness (for me). I arrived and was almost immediately put to work. Here's how it went:

Grandma: Jackie went to Wal-Marks for me this morning to get a bulb for my outside, you know I burn it all night ever night. Those heavy curtains in my room, they're just light enough to let the light in, so that's like a nightlight for me in the night. Been out three days, so I been pulling that floor lamp there into the kitchen and burning it all night, but it's not right. Your Daddy told me keep this package when he replaced the light last, five years ago or so, one of these new fancy bulbs, so I kept the package. Five-year warranty, he said. Now it burned out. But Jackie said they didn't have the same one: had one 13 watts, but not 15 watts like this one. And she didn't even ask if they were gone get some like this soon.

Me: Well.

Grandma: I use that light, now. Kids walk cross my backyard. Your Daddy tied up those gates tight with wire so the men have to get back there to read the meters have to jump over. They could open it but they don't want to. But I need that light, now. Jackie even went to Radio Shack but didn't find anything.

Me: Well, I bet they'll have it at Home Depot right up here. Let me go for you. I'll be back in 15 minutes.

Grandma: No, Jenny, you'll break your leg.

Me: Break my what? I don't think so.

Grandma: Now I just don't know what I'd do if you went up there for me and broke your leg. I'd never forgive myself is something happened to you and Noel.

Me: Noel's not even with me!

Grandma: Still, now, you've got to be careful.

Me: Okay, I'll be careful. I'm going, okay? [This is, in case anyone reading can't guess, an incredibly shortened version of this conversation: it was more like a programming loop.]

Grandma: Call me if you don't find the right one.

Me: Okay.

10 minutes later, I'm in Home Depot and find something similar but not the same, so I call:

Me: Hey.

Grandma: Hey.

Me: So there's a bulb here that I think is just right, but it's not exactly like the package. It uses 14 watts instead of 15 [of course, this is better, but that's beside the point] but it is like a 60 watt bulb, just like the one you have. It's not made by GE, but it's cheaper: Jackie said the GE one at Wal-Mart was $15 but this is only $5 [not necessarily a good thing to Grandma]. But they're otherwise the same.

Grandma: Just come back and let's call Wal-Mart to see if they're getting any in.

Me: I think this will be good, really. It's what I would buy if I needed a bulb.

Grandma: Okay. [Again, I'm truncating the loop for the sake of time here.]

Back at Grandma's . . .

Me: Let's put this bulb in, okay?

Grandma: Well, let's wait.

Me: I know this is important to you. Let me put the bulb in. Where are some scissors to cut the package?

Grandma: Those scissors won't cut that.

Me: Why not?

Grandma: I can't get them to cut anything.

Me: I'll try them. [They immediately and easily cut through the plastic.] Okay, let's put it up. Where's the step ladder? And the keys to the back door?

Grandma: I'll come out and hold the ladder.

Me: I think you should stay inside. Every time you come out here, you fall.

Grandma: I think I know when I'm going to fall.

Me: Whatever.

Grandma: Leave that bulb in here. If you drop it, it will take me forever to clean it up.

Me: I'm not going to drop it. I'm putting it in this chair here. It's fine. [I set up the step ladder underneath the light fixture on the back porch.]

Grandma: I'm going to hold onto the ladder for you.

Me: I don't actually think that's a great idea.

Grandma: Why not?

Me: Well, with all respect, your tremors kind of make the ladder a little shaky.

Grandma: I'll hold on with my good hand.

Me: Okay.

Climbing up, I realize this might not be so easy: the glass parts of this cubed light fixture don't come out by sliding, so the only way to replace the bulb is to take the entire fixture down. That means unscrewing the two flat-head screws and lowering the contraption carefully. But we finally get it down, bugs and all.

Grandma: Let me take that inside and clean it while you replace the bulb.

Me: No, I don't think you should touch this; you'll cut yourself.

Grandma: Jenny, I think I know what I can handle!

Me: Seriously, now, it's heavy and kind of sharp. You'll snag yourself with that paper-thin skin at every turn here.

Grandma: Well, you bring it in now and let's wash it.

Me: I'll just get a wet rag. [I go in for moist paper towels, come out and clean out the bugs and such that have collected in the fixture.]

Grandma: I didn't want to use paper towels. That's my last roll. Besides, that's not good enough. I clean that every time I take it down.

Me: Every five years?

Grandma: I keep a clean house, now.

Me: But this is an outside light. It goes outside, where the bugs are.

Grandma: Your Daddy cleaned that real well last time he changed the bulb. And that's how I always do it.

Me: Okay, let's take it inside. [I rinse it in the sink and it does look nicely clean afterwards.]

Grandma: I'll get a rag so we can really clean it out and dry it.

Me: But it's fine!

Grandma: Now this is the way your Daddy did it.

Me: But Daddy is obsessive-compulsive about stuff like this. That's not the way it has to be done.

Grandma: Well, I'm obsessive too. This is how we're going to do it.

Me: Okay. [So I take the rag and dry it. Grandma notices a few bits remaining in the crevices but I finally convince her it's just fine for an outside light. We take it back to replace it and I realize a problem: I've only got two hands, and I have to use one to hold the fixture in place while I use the other to position the screws and screw them in with the screwdriver. Hmm. I need a third hand. Long story short, I figure it out and the fixture is back. Yea!]

Grandma: Thank you, Jenny. Now let me pay you. [I groan but accept, with apology for having been disrespectful about the cleaning. She just chuckles; I think she actually appreciated the challenge.]

A few other issues later--namely, discussion of her taxes, search for Jerry's phone number, watering the plants with 4 gallons of water, and fixing the folding doors between her kitchen and living room--I'm off. Later, she calls me:

Me: Hello?

Grandma: uh, hello.

Me: Hey.


Me: Grandma?

Grandma: Oh, Jenny, hi.

Me: Hey. You okay?

Grandma: Well, yeah, except I'm sitting over here in the dark.

Me: What? Why are you in the dark?

Grandma: Well, that light out there is so dirty I can't see anything.

Me: Grandma, I told you I think it's fine! Now you seriously can't see?

Grandma: Oh, I'm just kidding. [She laughs.] Now did you get home without a broken leg?


Arthur Jackson said...

Great post.

Btw, March 10th has passed. Way to keep the streak alive.

Jen said...



I put it on my calendar: I distinctly remember this. But it's not there now.



Brent said...

Speaking of YouTube, you REALLY should consider bringing a camera with you for your visits with Esther. The transcript is great, but just doesn't do her justice!

Micah said...

oh my