Werther Memories

When I was little, I thought I was so sneaky taking piece of candy after piece from an emerald-green bowl my grandparents had in the basement of their house. It was always Werther’s Original. They never put anything else in that bowl. I would be sitting downstairs watching television, MacGyver and cartoons mostly, and there on the top of their old television, that emerald bowl with candy would be calling my name. I’d never think that they would notice it being almost empty by the time I left and I’d never put my wrappers in the garbage. They would know I had eaten the candy then; no I had to stuff them in the sides of the chairs. Thought I was so sneaky, would never be caught.

The basement was where I was most of the time. Watching TV, eating candy, and hoping that my grandfather would let me play pool. He had an actual pool table in the basement that us grand kids, well the really young ones were never allowed to play with, let alone touch. I always wanted to play but never got the chance.

I loved staying with my grandparents, my dad’s parents. My grandmother was so nice, the quintessential grandmother. She always had her long hair in a bun, not too tight, I never saw her not have her hair in a bun, her white hair, not gray, white, pulled back and then around and around in a circle large enough to cover most of the back of her head. She’d listen to everything you’d say and not give off a superior attitude in her responses.

She was diabetic, not something I really understood when I was little. I would often be around her when she’d test her blood. I’m not really sure if I knew why. She’d always needed insulin and I would be hanging around her when she’d inject insulin into her stomach or thigh. Never was very good with needles so I always turned away. I was always curious as to why she’d have to do that but I think the reason I didn’t ask too much was because she’d give me a chewable vitamin C that tasted like orange juice. I’d be pretty satiated after that.

They lived in a huge house, by a 7-8 years old standard and my grandmother had my grandfather put a swimming pool in the backyard. The house had a four or five car garage, three bathrooms, four bedrooms, a master bed and bath, huge kitchen with a permanent island, dining room, and a few other lounging rooms along with a study in the basement. This house was in one of the richer snobbier areas of Topeka, Kansas. How anyone could afford it is still beyond my understanding. I had two different rooms I could stay in, one in the attic or converted attic which was always hotter than I ever thought possible and you had to go through my grandparent’s room to get access, the other was about 14ft by 14ft and had its own bathroom with Jacuzzi jets in the bathtub. The main floor had a built in brick double fireplace that they rarely/if ever used. I just remember this statue of two cats being in the right fireplace. The backyard also had a little fish pond. I would always sit next to it and watch them swim around and around wishing I was a fish. I loved that house, mainly because it reminds me of them.

She would go out to the pool everyday and swim laps. I’d be out there too, showing off of course, as best as I could. There was an underwater bench built into the side of the pool for her. I don’t remember how many laps she’d swim but no matter what she’d always stay out there and play with me. My grandfather would come out to watch me swim around too. Throwing quarters in the pool for me to swim down and get, he always let me keep them. I remember being called a little fish because of how much I loved the water. Sadly, I would always get water up my nose so I had to wear a face mask in the pool. I loved staying under the water.

My grandfather on the other hand always scared me. He wasn’t foul-tempered or stern to me but I guess I could tell that my grandfather and my father didn’t have the best of relationships. My dad had seven siblings so I bet trying to keep all of them in line probably wasn’t easy. My dad getting married to my mother didn’t help much either. They never really approved of her, causing a lot of friction between my family and my dad’s parents. I guess being a daddy’s girl kind of helped me pick up on that, but I’m not entirely sure. My grandparents had many grand kids and out of all of them, I was the only one to ever just go up and hug him openly. He needed to bribe the others with candy. If I ever see a lollipop with a paper rope loop for a handle, I’ll always think of leaving there house and hugging him.

(I think much of what I wrote in the last paragraph was skewed by things I’ve heard and so much time. I don’t really remember being afraid of him. And if what is on the few tapes I’ve seen of use at their house, which are very few, I would follow him around. I do remember following him around asking him questions, feeding the fish in the pond with him, and even him cutting his roses and giving them to me. So I’m not really sure if I was afraid of him or not. I feel bad having written all of that now that I’m not so sure one way or the other.)

I spent one week with them in the summer of ’94 swimming, trying to get my grandfather to let me play with the pool table, and getting sick as well. I was always sick. Sinus infections, ear aches, and allergies plagued my childhood. They still do today. I was eight and had decided to be away from my parents for the month of July and stayed with both sets of grandparents. I had been staying with my mother’s parents for a couple of weeks, the complete opposite of my dad’s parents so this was a welcome reprieve from Hoover, my mother’s mother. She’d suck all the fun out of the room. Anyway, I was staying in the room with the bathroom attached to it this trip, it was one of the hottest summer’s I remember, no way was I going to stay in the attic room. My grandmother and I would go swimming, talk about silly stuff, and then one day we went around Topeka running errands in her red mustang convertible.

I had never been in her car before let alone a convertible. She tied a scarf around her hair and then put one around mine as well. I felt like royalty riding around with her, both of our hair tied back, trying to get the red lights to change by blowing on them like in Corrina, Corrina. I think that work once maybe twice, well according to my grandmother it worked, and of course I believed her.

We drove to Fed-ex, I believe, she had written a book of her life for her kids and grand kids and was getting it copied and sent to them. After that we went to pick up one of my cousins from work and took her home. It didn’t matter what we were doing, we could have been driving in circles and it wouldn’t have mattered to me as long as I was with her.

A few days later, all three of us went to Fort Riley to get groceries. My grandfather was a veteran of World War II so going there wasn’t a problem. I don’t remember what the military term for it was but the grocery store was huge. I’m thinking it was larger than Sam’s Club but I can’t be sure. It was amazing to me, a military base. Men and women in uniforms everywhere, it was like stepping into a fairy tale for me. They were all heroes to me just because they were in the military. Of course I didn’t think about them actually killing other people, but they were heroes to me no matter what.

Going to Burger King was an interesting experience; I was so used to saying what it was I wanted and my parents ordering it. I never expected my grandfather to order for the three of us, Whopper’s for them and a Whopper Jr. for me. I was so used to the Kids meal that this was a complete shock. I never really ate the burgers in the first place. I ate mostly the ketchup and the occasional fry when it got to soggy to hold anymore ketchup. So I was trying to shove down this burger and having a hard time of it, a few fries and little to no ketchup. I was really shy and wouldn’t go get it myself, even if all I had to do was to ask the person behind the counter for it. Nope, wouldn’t do it and no one could make me, except when I was in dire need of ketchup in this situation. I actually went and got some. True to the grandparent’s philosophy “Fill full of sugar, spoil at will, then send home to parents,” my grandfather bought me a Disney Pocahontas cup from Burger King too. I was ecstatic!

That was until we headed home in the middle of a thunderstorm. Lighting, hail, big droplets of rain…my nightmare coming true, all that was missing was the Tornado. For the first time, because I was so scared, they let me listen to what I normally listen to, rock, and I got to eat in the car. Cherry’s but that was a big stretch for them. There would be patches of sunshine and then more darkness and rain, thankfully we made it home safe.

A day or two later All of were down in the basement, my grandmother and I watching TV and my grandfather was on his computer, occasional getting me over there to play pinball on it. It was great and the funny thing was I didn’t even feel sick until the contents of my stomach made the journey into my mouth. I had enough time to say “I don’t…” and then put my hand over my mouth before they were able to grab the trash can and get me out of there. I spent the rest of the night with my grandmother in my room trying to calm my stomach down while she talked to my mother on the phone. My mother had to assure her that this sort of thing happened a lot and that she shouldn’t worry.

That was one of the last good memories I had with my grandmother. Within that next year her health deteriorated, diabetes was one of the main causes of it but in that time my brother had also gotten sick. Well, we had found out he had cancer and my grandfather told us that she had asked the God take her instead of my brother. Even though I’m not a real religious person, I believe that she got her wish that my brother live in her place. By Christmas of ’95 she had gotten so sick that I’m not even sure she realized that we had visited her, that she even recognized me and my siblings. It’s one of the saddest things to see, someone so full of life and love slowly slipping away. The dining room became her room with a hospital bed and her own nurse. I have never been so scared in my life, seeing her like that.

She died that January and her funeral was the first and last funeral I have ever sworn to attend. It was the first time I saw my dad cry. It was hard for me to believe that she was dead and in that casket. We all went to Fort Riley Cemetery where she was buried. It started raining when we entered the cemetery and rained the rest of the day.

My mother and I went back that summer to help my grandfather who was getting sick. That was the first time he ever seemed to accept my mother and realize just how much my parents love each other. They talked about his family and I would watch TV and swim, but it wasn’t the same. My grandfather and I would feed the fish together like always and I would sit and watch them. You could tell that neither the house nor my grandfather would ever feel happy again because she was missing.

On July 4th I was swimming later in the day, my mom was talking on the phone to my father and my grandfather was working on his flowers, then a firecracker shot up and fell right into the pool, not 6 feet from me. My grandfather was livid, he bent down, almost falling in grabbed the fire cracker and sped off to yell at the neighbors. My mom said goodbye to my father, told me I should get out, and sped off after him. He had cancer in either his lungs or liver and my mother was worried that he might cause a heart attack or stroke with how mad he was. He yelled at them about almost hitting me, according to my mother he said “My ten year old granddaughter was swimming in the pool and your firecracker almost hit her. I should call the police.” There was a lot more but he was so livid that his sentences didn’t really come out very…well, coherent, I guess.

We left a few days later when one of my aunts came to take over caring for him and keeping him company. We had to return within a week, he was dying from the cancer. Seeing him hooked to all those tubes scared me as much as seeing my grandmother so weakened. When he died, I refused to go to the funeral; I wasn’t the only one thankfully, so my mother’s father, grandpa Bud came up to take care of us. Boston Market take-out is really the only thing I remember about that day.

The rest of the week or two is a blur; the only thing that stuck out was being robbed during the night. Dealing with the police was fun…not really. Our cameras, video and still, two laptops, along with a few tools I think were stolen. It was one really bad year.

Come to find out I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought with those wrappers. Before my grandfather died he told my mom about finding the wrappers in the cushions. He thought it was funny I thought no one would notice, a big surprise to my mother. No one else could have gotten away with it. I never knew it but I was his favorite. Watching a tape of them out in the backyard with relatives, I had forgotten how I used to follow him around. He’d cut me roses from his bushes, tell me about the rocks he had in his yard (I used to collect them by the bucket load.), and then we’d feed the fishes.

It’s been so long since I’ve eaten a Werther’s, or really enjoyed swimming. I have avoided both of them. Deep down my thought was that if I did either one, they were really gone. My mother bought them yesterday; I was hesitant to try one. When I did, I was instantly taken back to that basement and thinking I was so sly hiding the wrappers, and realized they weren’t really gone.

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