The 2011 Imaginary Family Project – Week 33

#33 of 52 : OLIVIA AND PAPA
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project Week 33

External Photo Clues:

A Note From Quentin:
This story was written over 25 years ago by a Grandfather, about a Granddaughter.  In April 2011 the Grandfather passed away, and the Granddaughter received the story as a gift.  This story was slightly modified by the Granddaughter, and the image selected for it, for The 2011 Imaginary Family Project.  Enjoy!

She has always been my favorite grandchild. Her smile can turn the worst of days into precious moments you never want to end. Ever since Olivia was two years old, her uniqueness has been apparent in her selflessness that is unmatched by any other I have ever known.

In rare occurrences, Bernadette might have known of Olivia’s existence. It is hard to say. Olivia, however, is quite aware of Bernadette, even though the two have never met and never will. For Olivia, Bernadette is an image of unknown quality known as great-grandmommy, a person who exists for her mainly because of Nani’s sadness. Bernadette is ninety-two; Olivia is six; and Nani is Claire: Bernadette’s daughter, Olivia’s grandmother, and my wife.

Claire is sad because her mother, Bernadette, has entered into the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I am telling this story because I am struck by the natural empathy of a little girl who has not yet learned to harden her heart in an attempt to cope with an imperfect world. Hopefully, she will never learn.

Olivia is so full of life that Caroline, her mother, wonders at times when the “terrible twos” are supposed to end, if ever. At the moment, she has a black eye and refuses to tell anyone how she got it. I have my suspicions that she teased her older sister, Anne (eight), once too often and was threatened with another black eye if she snitched. Tomorrow she will probably have another one anyway since her cousin, Joseph, popped her there – accidentally while wrestling, says he – on purpose, says she – no doubt richly deserved, says I. She is quite capable unless Papa (that’s me) is around, of course. Then suddenly she can’t butter her own toast or get the ice out of the refrigerator anymore. She also cheats at cards. But she’s unusually affectionate, loving and empathetic.

That showed most clearly the other night. It had been a beautiful day over the Labor Day weekend with our children and friends while four of the grandchildren fed pink food to the ants outside and wrestled with each other. After the ants and too many “she hit me firsts” drove the adults inside to a calmer setting punctuated continuously by little people’s tragedies and catastrophes, it was time for all the adults except Nani and Papa to go have more fun somewhere else. Nani and Papa would babysit Anne and Olivia for a while, not knowing yet that “a while” would extend until the next day. While mommies and daddies and friends tried to find small-sized shoes, t-shirts, and security blankets (among innumerable other paraphernalia), Claire decided to cap the perfect day with a call to her mother in Florida. Perhaps the children and grandchildren could say hello.

She had known that someday it would happen. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with Alzheimer’s: memory progresses inevitably from minor lapses to major ones. I heard only the Oklahoma side of the connection, but it was enough. The day that she had dreaded had come: Mom didn’t know her. Words and touching coming from me and our children helped, but the tears did not stop. While Claire, still sobbing, prepared dinner for the two grandchildren, I checked on them to make sure they were behaving themselves. I found them talking together, “Nani’s crying,” said Olivia. “That’s because great-grandmommy didn’t know who she was,” replied Anne. “That’s heavy,” thought I as I returned to the living room. Shortly, Olivia appeared.

I could hear the radio in the back of the house blaring away and wondered why she was not glued to it, ears oblivious to anything else instead of on the kitchen where I heard an occasional sob or sniffle. As I watched the little angelic creature whom we have sometimes referred to as “Olivia Lynne Mess”, I saw her arms go up and forward as she walked a little faster and disappeared into the kitchen. I got up and followed her.

In the kitchen, I found Claire on her knees with Olivia’s arms around her. They were crying together, hugging each other tightly, and Olivia was patting her grandmother tenderly saying, “I love you, Nani.” For the first time since the phone call, Claire looked at me and smiled as if to say, “I’m better now.”

After dinner and after Claire and Olivia fell asleep holding each other while Anne sat unmindfully coloring, I marveled at the way Olivia had soothed Claire’s hurt. It was so natural. So caring. For the first time I understood: “Unless you be like little children…”

Originally Titled : “Let the Children Come to Me”
By: Robert L. Quinnett and Kristen Reed

About The Authors:

Robert L. Quinnett died in April 2011 at the age of 82. Originally from Shawnee, OK, he spent most of his career as a service member in the United States Army and spent much of it abroad. He lived the last 40 years of his life in Norman, OK enjoying time with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His granddaughter describes him as a polyglot, incredibly intelligent and super cool.

Kristen Reed is originally from Oklahoma but has been living in New York City since 2005. She desperately wants her life to be as full of creativity as it once was but cannot seem to find the time to make this happen between full-time work, part-time school and social drinking.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
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About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles.  This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir.  Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects.  At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.



2 thoughts on “The 2011 Imaginary Family Project – Week 33”

  1. Kristen – this story reminds me of my own child, who – at her grandfather’s funeral, took special care in comforting her grandmother. Later, the grandmother told me, “She’s got a little soul much older than her years; she understood what was going on today.” Thanks for reminding me of that “little children” moment – – Red Dirt Kelly

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