From ‘Pupik: How My Grandmother Saved My Bellybutton’

A Memoir by Lou Cove

Published April 01, 2005, issue of April 01, 2005.
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We were back at the table. It was Yom Kippur and we were not fasting. I had unintentionally done my share for three weeks in the summer, watching 20 pounds fall away, unable to get anything in or keep anything down. And Grandma needed to eat. Her doctor had set weight gain as a priority over cholesterol and blood pressure. This freed Wini to eat whatever she pleased. No more synthetic Egg Beaters or Scramblers or whatever they were passing off for breakfast in the Old Folks section of the Star Market. No more fat free, cholesterol free, nondairy, low salt, high fiber, unsaturated, unnatural garbage.

For three weeks we had been up every night crying, watching TV and remembering Gramps. He had become the first link for us — the emotional common ground on which we could stand together without being fearful of letting our deeply intense emotions show.

I had come to her a basket case. My mother had driven me to the door and wept bitterly as she left, knowing I hadn’t chosen her as my savior, and that she was hiding a vital secret I could never have fathomed, even without the dread and loathing that consumed me.

When I arrived, Grandma seemed fearful, not knowing what her role was or how she could possibly help. When it came to caring for her grandchildren, she was a whirling dervish of ingenuity, artistry and unconditional love. But I could tell from the troubled look on her face that she had no idea how to handle the gaunt, unshaven, distraught grandson that had been left at her doorstep. Yet how could she refuse? As we sat and stared at one another, her slack-jawed responses suggested that she had consulted a martini glass in search of the answer.

But three weeks had changed us. Not the way three weeks of 50-minute therapy sessions change you, but the way 21 days times 24 hours changes you. Five hundred and four hours is 30,240 minutes. Together. When you’re trying to decide whether to live or die, you count them.

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