“Oh, you girls, bathing Grandma can’t be all that difficult.”
This is my brother in law, Dr. Ron speaking. My mother and my 3 sisters and I are sitting at my mother’s kitchen table, discussing how it’s time to Bathe Grandma, Again.
This is a long time ago. My mother’s mother is in her late 80’s and has had dementia for as long as I have known her. She and my grandfather live in a cottage on my parent’s property.
My grandmother is the funniest woman I know. People tell me she had a terrific sense of humor before her strokes, but stroking hasn’t seemed to have taken away her zany and outspoken world view.
Hot weather or cold, Grandma always wears her heavy, hairy red coat that hangs below her knees with a lop-sided drag. She has long white hair that sweeps to her waist, hair that she brushes, puts into 2 two fat braids and loops over her head and pins.
She’s got the black grandma shoes and the nylons rolled right above her ankles. She wears gold wire-rimmed glasses over her nose, glasses that accent her heavily wrinkled face.
She’s healthy and strong and sinewy and likes to take a boxing stance. When she walks she lists to the right like a ship ready to roll over and go down in the roiling sea.
She doesn’t like to bathe and we don’t like to bathe her, but it becomes an absolute necessity when we can smell her as she rocks her way towards us or sits at our conference table for dinner with all 10 of us every night. The 10 of us are my father, mother, 6 kids, Lancaster (our grandfather) and Grandma.
Then, of course, in this room we need to count the big, smelly dogs, the cats, a few chickens that like to come in the house and visit and sometimes my brother’s mean, wild raccoon that rummages through all the pots and pans in the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, while we eat.
But, that’s another story for another day.
We’re talking about my grandmother and once again it’s Bath Day. We girls all hate this day because it takes all 5 of us to get her in the tub and hold her in the tub and get her washed. She screams at us, yells and slaps us soundly with wet wash rags. By the time the wash is over, the small bathroom in her cottage is wet, floor, walls and ceiling, soaked with water and we are all drenched with our clothes stuck to us and our hair in runny clumps with knots of soap and water.
Dr. Ron is sitting in Grandma’s small living room which is actually part of the kitchen, as we girls and Mom at the kitchen table discuss The Bath, which we are gathered to here to accomplish. We’re having green tea, getting fortified. Grandma is sitting with us, nodding and smiling sweetly, not having a care or trouble in what is left of her former mind.
Ron repeats himself, “You girls are all making too big a deal of this. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do these things. You’re obviously not approaching Grandma in the right manner.”
We all turn our heads to look at him and somebody says mildly, “Well gee…why don’t you show us how to do it,then?”
Maybe it was me?
Dr. Ron says, “Ok. I will.”
He gets up and comes over to collect Grandma.
“Come on Grandma,” he says as he takes her arm. “I want to show you something.”
He makes a point of smiling at us benignly, as though we are kind of dumb. Likable but dumb. Well meaning but ignorant of how to treat a disadvantaged elderly person who needs good guidance and understanding.
He helps Grandma gently up from her chair and leads her to the small bathroom, adjacent to where we are sitting.
This is better than watching to a horror movie before the terror starts.
Ron leaves the bathroom door open. We hear the water running into the bathtub and Ron’s quiet, soothing voice as he chats up Grandma.
“Now Grandma, “he’s says, “I’m a doctor and I know how to do these things. I do it all the time. Don’t be embarrassed. Let’s just get that coat off. Good. Now, I’ll help you pull your dress off and your underwear. Oh. You’re not wearing any underwear. That’s OK. Now. The shoes and the nylons. Great job. OK. Now, we’re going into the bath water.”
‘Oh boy’, we think in the next room. ‘He doesn’t know how right he is when he says ‘we’re going into the water’. In fact, we’re pretty sure there’s a 50/50 chance that he will be going into the water with her!’
We hear a lot of tussling and grunting.
It normally takes all 5 of us to get Grandma into the tub but Ron is a big man and we’re sure he can get her in.
More grunting. Someone is slammed against the wall. We know it’s not Grandma!
There’s a lot of banging sounds and Grandma yelling, ‘Help! Help! I’m being kidnapped!’
Heavy breathing and more grunts and a heavy splash. Somebody is in the tub!
Some wheezing sounds from Dr. Ron and then he says, “See how easy that was?”
Ron wins the first round.
He will not win the second.
“Now Grandma, I think we should start by washing your hair. I’ll just help you undo the braids and we can give you a nice shampoo.
That’s when the wet slapping sounds start.
This is Grandma with the sopping wet washrags.
Slap, slap, slap! Slap! We hear the hard smacking against bare flesh.
Grandma is slapping the silly out of Ron.
“Not my face, Grandma! Not my face!”
More slapping but we can tell she’s smacking his chest now, and his arms and any body parts she can get to and she is damn good at effectively giving you a bath with her!
In the kitchen we are laughing like we are little devils in jeans and earrings.
There’s a lot of yelling from the bathroom now, and it’s not all from Grandma.
We wonder how much of Grandma will actually get washed? We bet Ron is the one who gets the bath he meant to give her.
Suddenly, it’s quiet.
We wait some more.
We look up from the table. There is Dr. Ron emerging from the bathroom with Grandma. She is naked and has a beatific expression on her face.
Ron is wheezing, he is soaked through all his clothes and his dark hair is plastered to his head, running rivulets of water into his eyes.
Dr. Ron is breathing hard. He looks at us. He says nothing.
It would be unkind to remind him that he thought we girls were making too much of this bath thing. But, we’re smirking. And laughing. We can’t help it.
Ron shakes his head and walks out the front door.
Grandma rolls and lists over to the table, sits down wet and naked and says, “I feel so much better!”
We all raise our tea cups and shout, “Let’s drink to that! Just tell us when you want another bath, Dr. Ron knows how to do it!”
Grandma smiles beatifically as she hugs a hot tea cup to her naked stomach.
This is a Tea Party we will never forget.
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