Nurn, my father-in-law, walks down the corridor of the Assisted Living Center with us. He has prepared us, told us: there’s not a lot of Grammy left to visit. She is frequently disoriented. We walk by a dwarfish, toothless woman spouting random syllables, a thin little asexual bag of a person slumped to one side of a chair, and a nurse with a tray of little cups of pills.
“Where is she?” I ask.
“There,” says Nurn, pointing at the person we just passed. “That is my mother. I didn’t recognize her.”
Rabbi Goldberg turned and pointed at the wall behind him. The text of the letters were two stories high, gold plated on the side of the chapel. “And now, let us speak the words that have given comfort for thousands of years.”
“Should we just let her sleep?” my wife asks.
“Perhaps,” says Nurn.
The nurse walks by, sees us gawking. “Rose! Rose Kalikow! You have visitors!” She turns to us, a half smile. “She’s a little hard of hearing.”
“We know,” says Nurn.
Grammy Rose’s milky eyes open. Her hands are thin, twisted leather gloves. One hand is wrapped around a walker. Inside the basket of the walker is a photograph cube covered with baby pictures of her children and grandchildren, faded to pastel shades by decades of light.
The rabbi intoned, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
“Hello, Mother,” says Nurn. He kisses her. My wife and I do the same.
“Oh my, hello. Oh,” she says, grinding slowly awake. “Oh, where are we going?”
“We’re not going anywhere,” says Nurn.
“Oh, it’s lovely to see you, dear,” says Grammy. “And Jodie,” she says, touching my wife’s face. “Jodie, you are here. Oh, my cup runneth over.”
“I’m Mandy,” says my wife.
“Yes,” says Grammy smiling. “Jodie. You are so beautiful. Where are we going?”
“We came here to see you,” says Nurn.
The congregation joined in, quietly. The rabbi spoke, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Grammy smiles. “Well. Now. We have to celebrate!”
We all laugh. My wife says, “Yes, I think that’s a great idea.”
Grammy says, “Let’s go out and have some ice cream.”
Nurn says, “You want some ice cream, Mom?”
All the eyes in the room traced the words on the wall. The voices were subdued. “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Nurn says, “I’ll go get her some ice cream.” My wife goes with him. I see them talking to the hospice nurse.
I hold Grammy’s hand and smile at her. “Oh, hello. My boy. To be visited by my son…” She touches my face. “My cup runneth over. That’s all I can say.”
The rabbi recited, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
I say nothing and smile.
Grammy says, “All the people here, let me tell you. At this place. They never get visitors. No one visits them. But to be surrounded with your family. To have your loved ones with you. I have only one thing to say.”
The rabbi said, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil.”
Grammy says, “My cup runneth over. That’s all I have to say. Now what are you studying?”
I smile. “The piano,” I say.
Grammy says, “Oh, I love the piano. My children. They are so talented.”
Nurn returns. He has a small styrofoam cup. He yanks off the cardboard top and spoons out some chocolate ice cream. He feeds it to his mother, who smiles. After a few bites she takes the ice cream and feeds herself a few more bites. Then Nurn takes the ice cream and finishes it himself. I take the empty cup and spoon.
Grammy looks up and says, “Let’s have some lobster!”
We laugh. “Yes, let’s!”
The rabbi nodded and said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” I stepped forward, around the pew, to the center aisle.
“I’ll come see you later,” says Nurn. I kiss Grammy again.
“Ah, it’s lovely,” says Grammy. “My cup runneth over. That’s all I can say.”
We walk down the hall. As we enter the elevator, Nurn tells us, “I’ve spoken with the hospice nurse. It will be painless.”
The star of David was on the center of the box. It was unsanded, rough beneath my palm. Five men joined me and placed their hands on the box as well.
As we leave the Assisted Living Center, for some reason I still have the wooden spoon in my hand.by