Day 141

Feeling sedentary, I make use of the fitness room before walking with Grandma. Today she tells me about some of her other activities. She directs the choir here and chairs a committee for the arts which will try to get a new performance hall built in Cypress Village. She has many people interested in her talents, it seems.

I spend some good time looking at photos and listening to stories. I get the story of the relatives Grandma went to meet in Berlin recently. Gustav’s siblings, it seems, were sent to Siberia. One of them, Justine I think, had twins there, and several others had children too. The twin daughters were able to leave somehow, but only made it to West Berlin. From there they brought out others as they could.

I probed about Gustav’s breakdown without learning much, but she did tell me about the stroke he had then. He was preaching in Detroit when suddenly, mid-sentence, he stiffened and stopped talking, then turned around and walked away. He was found in his office in poor condition and taken to the hospital. Frieda says it was the largest in a series of mini-strokes that in the past had caused angry and irrational behavior in Gustav. This was news to Grandma. He went to Ann Arbor to recover, and there got his Master’s in philosophy.

Frieda takes us out to a seafood place on the beach for lunch. I try shrimp. They’re much denser and chewier than I would have guessed. We have to thwart Grandpa’s attempts to pay the check. Frieda is a little more subdued today, but I get her to tell me about her role in caring for Aunt Mary. Later Grandma tells me that although David’s research shows very different Sudermann and Enss families, in her life there was no distinction between the Sudermann and Enss children. Mary was the only one who never accepted Gustav as her father.

During their afternoon rest I tune the bike and lazily soak up some TV (a Burt Reynold’s movie!) I try to think of a few stories I might tell at my talk tonight. I realize that many of my stories need more thought and work. Dinner is accompanied by more introductions and many anticipatory remarks regarding my “presentation” tonight.

Frieda tells me about how she enraged her college advisor over and over again, first by refusing to attend graduation, then by contradicting her by easily finding a job, and lastly by refusing to return to Pakistan. She laughs as she describes how angry this woman was.

During the day I’ve dropped little remarks intended for Grandpa about how it seems like older folks have to adopt new roles for themselves because their old ones are no longer applicable. I don’t say this exactly. If he implies that he should be driving, I imply that being driven is a sign of love and respect that he’s entitled to. He seems to react better to this tactic than my previous attempts to reinforce his positive remarks.

The time comes to address the group. It looks like about 60 people have come, and someone set up a small PA system and microphone. Grandpa nervously introduces me. He repeats himself a bit, but also cracks a couple of jokes out of nowhere that get the whole room lauging. Then starts just making things up – I’ve just finished postgraduate work, I’ve invented the recumbent bicycle. It’s a glimpse of what he wishes for me, and prompts me to take the microphone. Then it’s my turn. I try to cast a spell with the story of how the trip came to be. I explain my reasons and motivations, and the chances I took. Looking over the faces, I worry I might lull them to sleep! I make it more animated, sitting on the floor and acting like I’m surrounded by bike parts, putting things together. I tell them about losing my map on the first day, then invite them to help me by asking questions. In a very orderly way people begin to voice their curiosities. Some questions have simple answers, others allow me to tell another tale. Mostly I try to express the deep emotions of joy and exploration the trip has created in me. I manage to be funny once or twice, but I can’t deliver like Gramps. Someone asks how I find retirement communities. I address my feelings about Grandpa again, telling them how much I admire them for not getting hung up on the limitations age introduces, and how they face their new roles often with great humor. When the pace begins to slow, Grandma signals me to wrap it up. I’m a little surprised when the whole room rises in a vigorous standing ovation, then they line up to shake my hand and thank me before leaving. The thanks are so heartfelt, I can’t help but be touched. It’s a very kind, almost loving reception.

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