A Tale of Tootie

Written by my niece, Kayley Stevenson, about the death of my grandmother today.

The other day I was visiting my grandparents. I decided to take a path well traveled by the feet of a younger me to see if I still knew it and what all had changed. My grandparents have lived on a lake my entire life, and at the end of the road there’s a hill that no car can go down and a dam and a bridge that separates the lake from a second one. I remember when the bridge was built. The wood was bright and looked orange even, but now it had faded to almost a gray color, and the water that ran underneath it had seemed to dry out long ago. The houses along the road on the other side of the bridge had stayed the same, but the occupants were different. The dogs were different. Children that weren’t even a thought in the minds of their parents the last time I was there played in their front yard. Finally I came upon the house I’d been looking for. It was strange to see newer cars outside it. A minivan occupied the space where my great grandfather’s car had gathered dust, unused by the wife he’d left behind. I stayed for only a second, barely a glance, and turned to walk back the way I’d come. I remember a time when I’d take my bike and ride it down the hill and across the bridge. Once I’d raced the rest of my family who’d taken the roads. Once I’d forgotten the bridge’s height above the ground and crashed. The other road had been quieter back then. The dogs had all known me, or at least the rat terrier that often trailed behind me (bless her soul). I remember the way the ground beneath the wheels changed as I turned into that driveway. The door opened before I’d even gotten off my bike, and she’d be waiting in the doorway to greet me with the biggest smile on her face you’ve ever seen. Several minutes of hugs and kisses later, she’d usher me inside a house that smelled of freshly made butterscotch cookies and offer me some lemonade or tea to go with them. I’d sit in her living room in a house that hadn’t aged in 50 years. I’d read her collection of national geographic from the 80s and play with her domino set that had been one short for as long as I could remember. When I was done I’d explore and find the basket of toys that reminded me of the ones the Winnie the Pooh characters were based off. I enjoyed the quiet of being there by myself with her. I was too young to notice the changes at first. As we both got older, she stopped meeting me at the door and instead acted surprised that I was there. She forgot my age. She forgot my name. The house stopped smelling like butterscotch cookies. Before I knew it we had to sell the house that had helped raise 3 generations of my family. Eventually it got to the point where she barely knew who I, her oldest great grandchild, was. She knew I was family, but she couldn’t remember where I was on the tree. Despite knowing she wouldn’t be around much longer, I didn’t expect to be told hospice had been called so soon. I had clung to the desperate hope that she’d live past 100 at the very least. For a few days it sounded like she was getting better, and part of me couldn’t help but wonder if she’d recover enough to be let out of hospice. A vain idea to hold onto. Her death felt sudden, even though deep down I knew it was coming. I haven’t stopped crying.

I wish I could go back in time and see her once more. I want to once again turn into that driveway and see her smiling at the door, waiting for me. I want one last butterscotch cookie made by her hands. I want to go back to a time when she knew who I was. That’s how I’ll always remember my Tootie. Not who her aging mind had made her, but as my great grandmother who’d always been excited to see me and made me love butterscotch. Rest in peace, Tootie. I love you.

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