W  H  A  T  S  U  I  T  S  H  I  M
launched 1 january 2016

January 2017



*originally written 7 December 2012 · London, United Kingdom*

My grandmother’s voice booms throughout our home as she barks her orders. “Justin,” she yells, “stop messing with that boy and finish those cards before your mother gets home! You know how mad she’ll be if she gets back and you aren’t done!” 

“That boy” would be my nine-year-old nephew, and today, I have been commissioned by my mother to babysit both him and my eighty-seven-year old grandmother, whose memory is becoming worse by-the-day. Added onto my tasks is the completion of about fifty thank-you cards to family and friends who are financially helping me during my semester abroad in London. I could write generic messages, but that would be impersonal and make me feel like an ingrate, so instead, I choose to write personally to each of my benefactors. Might take a little longer, but it feels more satisfying. “Granny,” I say with a bit of frustration, “he’s in your bedroom watching cartoons. I’m in the front of the house writing these cards. We’re not playing around.”

Johnnie & Cowell 2.jpg

“Oh, okay.” But almost five minutes later, she repeats herself: “Justin, I told you to stop messing around!” This time, I go into the kitchen to explain to her the situation, but as soon as I reach the door, she gives me a look of understanding. She knows her memory is slipping, and she feels so helpless about it. All we can do is laugh. “Help me get these cookies, Jet,” she says. Jet is the nickname my grandfather gave me when I was a baby. An hour ago, she asked me to see if my grandfather had left for work yet. Unfortunately, he passed away twelve years ago. “Granny,” I start, but that same knowing look comes across her face. She’d stop herself if she knew she were wrong. But for those flashes, to her, the past seems like the present.

Me + Granny before Christening.jpg

I grab two Oreo cookies for her and sit down with her while she eats. Her memory might be fading and her motor skills might be shot, but her appetite has gone nowhere. “Where did your momma go anyways?” “The grocery store, Granny,” I laugh. “You two do have to eat.” She looks at me with a smirk, the same smirk that’s made me smile since I was a child. “I know that. I’m just saying, when she gets with your sister, they’re gone all day. Don’t they know when to come home?” I wish I could count the times I’d heard that line before. After I’d moved out the house for school, she’d always remind me, “The address and phone number haven’t changed over here.” It’s her maternal instinct. She’s had as big a role in raising my sister and me as our mother has, and that’s one thing she hasn’t forgotten. To her, I’m basically her son – not her grandson.

“They’ll be home soon, Granny,” I say. “Relax. You want something to drink behind those Oreos?” She goes to drink the raspberry lemonade already in her cup, letting me know that she no longer needs my help. “I’m going back in the living room to finish my cards,” I tell her. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

No sooner than I head to work on my cards, my grandma starts again – “Justin, I told you…” – but this time, my nephew cuts her off from the back of the house. “GRANNY, I’M BACK HERE,” he yells in his high-pitched voice. I just laugh and shake my head. She’s doing this all out of love.

I look out the window to see my mother and sister coming into the driveway, and I know they'll ask me to help bring the groceries in the house.  I'm aware I’m screwed – I’ve only completed maybe five or six thank-you notes since they’ve left, and I’m leaving with my sister after we’ve finished with the groceries.  But I still hold hope that I can sneak the cards out of the house and finish them later.  My mom kills that dream almost immediately.


“How many cards have you finished, Justin?”

“I don’t know. Like six.”

My mother explodes. “SIX!?”

I hear my grandma giggling at all of this. As I go to grab my things, she mutters just loud enough so I can hear, “I told you she’d be mad at you.”

It took all of my strength to not burst into laughter. “There’s no way she’s losing her mind,” I think to myself. “No way.”

I give my grandma a hug and kiss before I leave the house. “Bye, Granny. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Don’t forget this address and this phone number, now.”

“I won’t, Granny. I promise.”

Her voice fades out as I close the door to the house. “And I hope you didn’t forget those thank-you cards…