When the front door opened it was as if the whole house held it’s breath. Gwen was home. Amy gave a relieved sigh. Sanity would soon be restored.
“Hi, mom. What’s the crisis?” asked Gwen as Amy puttered around the kitchen.
“It’s your nana,” said Amy.
Gwen grabbed her mother’s arm. “What’s wrong with nana? Is she okay? Do we need to call the ambulance? Is it her heart again?”
“Maybe the ambulance to the funny farm.”
Gwen grimaced. “What is it this time?”
Amy flipped her hand dismissively. “Go ask her yourself. She’s in the basement. Let me know when you’ve talked some sense into her.”
Gwen descended the narrow staircase hesitantly. She spotted her grandmother in the far corner of the basement. Her back was to Gwen.
“Hi, nana. Whatcha doin’?”
“Practicing. It’s good you’re here. You can help. You certainly couldn’t be more useless than your mother.”
Gwen’s 81 year old nana stood over an old wooden carpenter’s table hitting a ping pong ball against a cinderblock wall. She was in tennis shorts, a tank top and sneakers. A sweatband around her head completed the ensemble. Gwen covered her mouth to hide her smile.
“Nana, why are you, uh, what are you…”
“It’s not that hard to figure out, dear. I’m practicing table tennis.”
“Okay, but why?”
“I’ve decided to compete in the over 80 table tennis championships.”
Gwen stood with her eyes wide and mouth agape.
“Honestly. Sometimes you’re just like your mother. It exists and I’m going to compete. Louise at the rec center told me all about it. I have three months to train, so if all you’re going to do is stand there and catch flies, go upstairs with your mother,” said Nana. She wheeled around and resumed her ping pong practice.
“Well, what would your cardiologist say?”
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but only if you hit him with it right between the eyes,” said Nana. She smashed the ping pong ball against the wall with emphasis.
Gwen rubbed her hands over her face. “Nana, are you doing this just to get even with mom for something?”
Nana put down her ping pong ball and paddle. For the first time she faced her granddaughter.
“No,” she said. “I’m doing this for me. I’d rather die over a ping pong table than stay here or in some nursing home.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” said Gwen angrily.
“Don’t talk to me like that. I’m not a child. And I’m not waiting to die. Quite the opposite. With the few months or years left, I’m trying to live.”
Gwen stared at her nana. She followed the deep wrinkles around her eyes that formed over the years of work and home life. The sacrifices she made as wife and mother and seamstress and who knows what other accomplishments came over eight decades. She would never truly know what lay behind nana’s deep set eyes. Gwen knew that if she wasn’t careful, she would never know.
“Can I help you train?” asked Gwen.
Nana smiled. “I hoped you’d ask. Just do me a favor. Don’t tell your mother. I want her to figure it out all by herself.”