Friday, July 01, 2005


"Let's go to the Fair today," Grandma said.

I hadn't thought I'd ever hear those words again. Though only 61, Grandma had been stopped cold by arthritis. 'Old Arthur,' as she called it, had cruelly plucked from her all her delights--trips to the mall, trips to Seattle, trips to the Fair. Arthritis had stolen her legs and hands, wrung the energy from her bones, and confined her to a chair near a window, from where she could watch life but no longer participate in it.

"If you want to go to the Fair today, then that's exactly what we'll do," Grandpa said. I watched him watching her, and saw determination in his eyes. "How many scones do you think you can eat, Mickey?"

"At least two. And an ear of corn from the VFW booth," she said. He grinned in response.

We didn't waste a minute. I helped Grandma brush her hair, Grandpa got her shoes and purse, and off we went.

Monroe--home to the Evergreen State Fair--was just a bit over spitting distance from my grandparents' Snohomish farm. We were there in under twenty minutes, even counting Fair traffic. Grandma endured the slide from the car to her chair without a word. Nor did she utter a syllable's worth of complaint as we traveled the gravel-covered parking lot.

As we walked toward the admissions gate, I saw her staring toward the right end of the fairgrounds, where the whizzing carnival rides were in full neon frenzy. "Shanny, what's that long, skinny ride over there?"

I followed her gesture and saw the ride in question. "That's the Zipper, Gram."

She watched for a split second and said, "I think I'd like to ride the Zipper today."

I made a sound not unlike a snort. "No, Grandma, you don't want to go on the Zipper."

I looked at Grandpa and he looked back. My expression said, "What is she thinking?" but his sent an entirely different message. What I saw in his eyes was, "Isn't she something?"

The Queen sat a bit straighter in her chair and lifted her chin. "We'll see," she said.

True to her word, she ate a butter-slathered ear of corn and two scones. She also nibbled an elephant ear and shared a purple cow milkshake with Grandpa. We watched a man demonstrate the new-and-improved way to slice vegetables, watched a woman clean a spill with a must-have chamois, and watched loggers climb poles, chop wood and roll logs in a make-shift pond. We got our rings cleaned. We listened to the stock car races and even found a low-enough hole in the fence so Grandma could have a peek at the cars flying around the track.

Maybe it was that race that got her going again. "You know, I think I'm ready for that ride now," she said.

I decided not to fight her. But the Zipper was out. "Grandma, if you feel well enough for a ride, let's find one that won't rattle you. The Zipper is just too much." I scanned the jumble of machinery and saw one that looked innocuous enough. "Look over there," I said.

Grandma looked. "You mean that big circle of swings?"

"Doesn't that look fun?"

She kept looking. "Not really."

"Sure it is. See--they'll strap you in and then it lifts and spins around. I'll bet we'll be able to see everything from up there."

She looked unconvinced. "Well, I'll go on that, but then I want to go on the Zipper."

I felt a little embarrassed as we wheeled Grandma up to one of the swings. I could see people nudging each other and whispering, as if we were torturing the woman--forcing her to ride carnival rides against her will. I pretended not to notice.

I fastened Grandma's safety belt and locked the metal bar. "I'll be in the swing ahead of you."

The ride started. We lifted and began to spin. Against the force, I twisted in my chair and looked back at Grandma. She sat straight against her seat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and a polite smile arranged on her face. It threw me a bit to see her legs dangling back and forth.

The peaceful, gentle ride didn't last long. We got her back in her chair and wheeled past the onlookers. "That wasn't so bad, was it, Grandma?" I asked.

"No," she said, "but now I'd really like to go on that Zipper."

If she went on the Zipper--which wasn't going to happen--it would mean I'd have to go with her. I took in another earful of Zipper-screaming and another eyeful of tumbling cages and decided I'd have to find a less frightening alternative.

My eyes landed on the Matterhorn. "How about that ride?"

Grandma sighed. "All right, Shannon. But then we're going on the Zipper."

We wheeled her up, helped her into the alpine-decorated cars, and started off. This time, she perked up. As we rolled up and over the curved track, she started yelling. "Faster! Faster!"

We did go faster. We whipped along that track like a couple of medal-bound bobsledders, with Grandma yee-hawing right in my ear. After several minutes, we finally began to slow down. Grandma squealed her disappointment. "Don't stop!" But the ride operator on the side of the track just laughed. As we rode past, he yelled back, "I'm putting it in reverse--just for you!" And off we went again, with Grandma yelling out her delight.

I felt dizzy as we climbed out of our car. That ought to do it, I thought. But Grandma had a different thought. "Clifford, tell Shannon I want to go on the Zipper."

I begged Grandpa with my eyes to just say no. The Zipper was evil. It would swallow us whole. At the very least, it would make me lose my scones. But I should have known he could never say no to her.

"Shanny, take your Grandma on the Zipper."

I walked to that ride with all the joy one would feel walking to a guillotine. I felt ill as we climbed aboard one of the barely-secured cages and I heard the click of the lock. Grandma, however, looked like a sixteen-year old who had just gotten her driver's license. "Let's see how fast we can make this thing spin."

I didn't have time to argue. The ride--and my screaming--began. Up we went, and then around, and around, and around. "Lean into it," Grandma ordered. "Help me spin us faster."

Could she not hear my screaming?

I screamed myself hoarse. Grandma giggled through the entire ride. And when we finally, mercifully, slowed and stopped at the very tiptop of the ride--upside down--Grandma kept laughing. I kept screaming. Until eventually, she gave me a nudge in the side. "Shannon, you're embarrassing me."

I stopped screaming and turned to look at her. Grandma's hair, like my own, hung straight down from her head. Her eyes were teary from laughter; with a gnarled finger, she wiped one escaped tear from her cheek. I could just see the ground below through squares of the cage near her head. Near our feet, I saw the sky. And the whole thing was suddenly so absurd, I had to laugh. We hung there together like two teenage friends, stuck in a moment I've returned to a hundred times in my mind.

Grandma's arthritis came back in the months that followed. It came with a vengeance, angry to have lost her for that short period. That trip to the Fair was our last, but it was the trip that meant the most to me. Among the many things I learned from my grandmother, the lesson she gave me in that between-earth-and-sky moment was one I value most. Age, it turns out, is a relative thing, and unless you convince yourself otherwise, you're never too old to fly.


14 Comment:

At 7/01/2005 11:57 AM, Blogger Fran had this to say ...

That was a very touching, sweet story (but please remember that "guillotine" moment when we are at Disneyland and have mercy on me!) Maybe your grandma is where you get some of your spunk from oh adventurous one! :)

At 7/01/2005 12:02 PM, Blogger Jennifer had this to say ...

Hi, Shannon,

That is a wonderful memory. It reminds me of the story my dad tells about grandfather. Pap would entice my Dad (or anyone else) to ride the Ferris Wheel with him. Then, when it reached an appropriate height, he started rocking the seat as hard as he could, laughing all the time. Pap's been gone a number of years now, and he's still missed. I was so blessed to have my grandparents around into adulthood.

Thanks so much for your blog; you're such a beautiful writer.

At 7/01/2005 2:49 PM, Blogger Mz. Pig had this to say ...

I loved my grandma more than anyone then or since.
Wonderful story!

At 7/01/2005 4:35 PM, Blogger Stephen had this to say ...

What a great story! Thank you for posting it!

At 7/01/2005 6:14 PM, Blogger Nan had this to say ...

Oh I pray I can be like your Grandma. The saddest thing in the world is to be unable to have fun in it.

At 7/02/2005 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/02/2005 7:38 AM, Blogger Jimmy had this to say ...

What a great reminder that we should grab every bit of life we can. I admire your grandma for her spirit and her determination to ride that zipper. As Mame said, "Life is a banquet and too many people are starving".
Encouraging story, Shannon!

At 7/02/2005 8:44 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

We'll see, Fran, we'll see ... :)

Jennifer, your Pap sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks so much for your nice comment.

I'm glad you had a grandmother like mine, Cheryl. :)

Welcome, Stephen! Thanks so much.

Yes, Nan and Jimmy--I think my grandmother knew a secret. I've tried to live the way she did ever since I recognized that spirit in her.

At 7/02/2005 11:13 AM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

Shanny I just love it when you blog stories about Gram, it brings tears to my eyes. I really miss both of them, they made a big impact on my life in the short time I had with them. I can just picture the smile on her face and her determination to go on that ride. And Grandpa Clifford's face full of love and respect for her, they were the picture of love.

BTW, you will never catch me on the zipper, the carousel maybe!

Found it interesting there was a comment deleted by blog administrator... must have been another raised on snuff and MD!

At 7/03/2005 10:35 AM, Blogger Kathryn St.Clair had this to say ...

wow i hope i can be like your granny when i get older. such zest for life is hard to find sometimes particularly when you suffer from arthritis and such.

thanks for the post.


At 7/04/2005 5:59 AM, Anonymous OldGuy had this to say ...

Another wonderful story Shannon.

Your grandmother sounds like she was quite the woman :)

At 7/04/2005 11:56 AM, Blogger Cora had this to say ...

Super post! What a great memory! Loved hearing about it. I hope I can have that much spunk when I get older. . .I wish I could have that much spunk now!

At 7/05/2005 12:26 PM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

I have seen the crippling effects of arthritis on several in my family. What a great and inspiring story.

At 10/07/2005 2:17 AM, Blogger Christian had this to say ...

Really great blog! I noticed a mention about arthritis in foot . I thought you might be interested to hear that both my parents and several of their friends have had problems with arthritis and we have been very lucky to have come across Bioflow. They are sold at arthritis in foot and they have been worth every penny. They don't seem to work for everyone but they have helped reduce the pain in my parents arthritis so that they almost don't notice it any longer. They'd still be taking painkillers if it wasn't for wearing a Bioflow on their wrist


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