“A kiss from the sheared ape!” squeals YiaYia, fluffing her recently cut hair as she opens the apartment door for Mom and I. Outside falls soggy snow, reminding us that spring can come and go as she damn well pleases in Ann Arbor. But inside YiaYia's apartment, decorated with photos of grandchildren, wooden African statues and Grecian worry beads, it is warm and inviting. YiaYia has just returned from her annual 6-month snow-bird in Florida, her skin more brown and leathery than ever. Normally she hides out in Florida until June when the bad weather finally passes, but this year is special. This year she came back early to realize a dream of touring France, a country she has long admired and a language that she briefly taught as a young woman. My parents (her son and his wife, my Mom) and myself (grand-daughter number 4) will accompany her. “Come in, come in- Can I offer you some coffee?” She asks.
My YiaYia is 90 1/2 years old. That half-a-year shout-out may seem silly to some, but after the recent death of her brother and sister-in-law, six months is a small miracle. It should be universally acceptable for those over 80 to count half-years again. These moments I share with her are precious. Time feels like a blanket of past and present folded warmly together, and I am trying to snuggle up as much as I can into their inviting overlaps.
YiaYia gingerly strokes her head, the grey-white hair falling flat and formless over her crown. Her shoulder sockets creak, and I can tell that simply brushing the hair off her forehead pains her. “I know it looks bad,” she says of her shapeless new 'do, “but this old bag can't even brush her hair anymore.” YiaYia seems smaller to me, though her smile and laugh widen with age along with her “hammer toe.” Now her laugh grows slow and steady, a train engine gaining momentum in deep chugs. Mom and I declare that she looks just fine. YiaYia could be toothless and bald and still emanate beauty and light.
We help her pick clothes for our upcoming trip to France. YiaYia is ecstatic and having a difficult time focusing. As we sort through her clothes she occasionally stops, drops whatever was in her hands, and pumps a fist while hooting “France!” in loud, staccato bursts. Two classy pantsuits and some scarves are placed neatly in the “pack” pile, while a green dress with passport and handbag prints is gently discouraged by Mom and I. It seems too tacky to wear in the city of style. However, after chatting with my dear friend, Cailley, about the trip and my grandmothers fashion sense, Cailley helps me realize that when you tour France at 90 you should wear whatever the hell you want. This trip is not about my mother and myself. This trip is about a little old spitfire of a woman speaking a language that she treasures, tasting the countryside where her brother sweated under a heavy uniform, and walking with as many pastries in her hand as she can hold. Life is short and the opportunity to sport a green dress with passports on it doesn't mosey on by every time the rooster crows. I will call YiaYia in the morning and tell her the dress is a winner.
Watch out France. Here comes the sheared ape.