Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mrs. Paulk Goes to Washington

This was originally published on Little Merry Sunshine on Monday, June 8, 2009.

About 10:30 this morning, I received one of those dreaded phone calls. It was from my mom and she was calling to tell me that something happened with Nana last night and she wasn't expected to live through the week. My mom gave me the details of what happened with Nana, but all I heard was "Nana is dying," so I can't explain to you what my mom told me.

Many of you know about my Nana and know about the long ordeal we've had with her over the last 7 years. Newer readers of LMS probably don't know about my Nana. Frances Paulk is my maternal grandmother, my heroine, and my rock and it breaks my heart into 10 million pieces seeing her suffer. You can read more about her in these blog posts.

After I spoke with mom and wiped the tears from my face, I spent most of my day feeling numb. I also got to thinking about some of my favorite memories with Nana.

In the fall of 1994, Uncle Michael graduated from medical school in upstate New York. On her return flight to Florida, Nana had an hour layover in DC, where I'd been living for almost 18 months. Because Washington National Airport (now Reagan National Airport, UGH!) was just a few Metro stops from my office, I suggested that I meet Nana during my lunch hour. And then I had one of my most brilliant ideas.

Almost 80 years old, Nana had never visited Washington DC. As a surprise, I called the airline and arranged to have her layover changed from an hour to four hours. In retrospect, I'm not sure how she didn't know about this change, but when I met her at the gate and let her know of the change of plans, she sure did act surprised. We were going to use her layover to tour DC.

We hopped on the Metro (DC's subway) and rode it across the Potomac River and back into the District. Getting off directly under my office building, our first stop was my office at Hogan & Hartson. As we walked into the lobby and into my office (not a cubicle), she beamed with pride. Because I had just gotten a promotion, I had also just received my first business card. I gave her one that day and she carried it in her wallet until she stopped carrying a wallet.

We left my office and took a cab to my apartment. Although it was only about 6 or 7 blocks away, this was further than I thought she could easily walk and didn't want to spend our precious time walking. I wanted her to see as much of DC as possible in the short amount of time we had. It was from the window of my apartment that she first saw the Capitol and that was the first of many times that day she would say to me "In all my years, I never thought I'd see DC. I read about it in history books, but I never thought I'd walk in the city where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abe Lincoln walked."

We grabbed another cab and I explained to the driver that my Nana had never visited DC before and that before he took us back to Washington National, I wanted him to show us everything. As luck would have it, he was a fountain of knowledge and eagerly drove us from my apartment to the Capitol, past the National Mall, to the Washington Monument, down Constitution Avenue to the Lincoln Memorial, up to National Cathedral, down Massachusetts Avenue past Embassy Row, down 16th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue and slowly in front of the White House, over to the Jefferson Memorial, across the 14th Street Bridge and the Potomac River, to the George Washington Parkway and to the airport.

The whole way, Nana sat with her face glued to the cab window taking in the sites not knowing if she'd ever return to the District. The only words she was able to speak were "I never thought I'd see Washington." When she finally emerged from the cab at National Airport, I saw for the first time, the tears of joy in her eyes. Her emotions were obvious and she didn't need to tell me how much she loved that afternoon, although I certainly knew.

That Christmas, I surprised her with one of those Washington DC coffee table books with beautiful pictures of all the sights we saw that afternoon. It was her favorite gift that year and it was certainly my favorite gift that I gave that year. One of the things I loved most about her was her memory. Even though she'd only seen it all once in person, she narrated the entire book to the entire family that Christmas afternoon.

I can't begin to count the number of times I heard her recount that day and how proud she was to be touring Washington with me. The thing is, I'm not sure who was prouder that day, her or me.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I do know that they're running some tests tonight and we should know more soon. I don't know if she really only has about a week left or if I'll blow out the candles on her 93rd birthday cake with her in July.

Part 2 tomorrow.

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