Crowning Glory

Last year my grandmother needed crowns on a couple of teeth, so Mom spent a great deal of time and energy arranging a trip to the dentist. Driving arrangements had to be made with her caretaker, money had to be obtained from the aunt managing Nanna’s checkbook, and there had to be a minimum of 15 phone calls back and forth with Nanna so that she could feel involved in the planning process and share her worries about everything that could go wrong.

By the end of it my exasperated mother was more interested in knocking out teeth than in fixing them, but the appointment was a success. Unfortunately, such work cannot be completed in a single visit; Nanna needed a follow-up appointment to permanently fix the crowns in place.

The plot thickens: Rachel, her caretaker, was having car trouble and claimed she did not feel comfortable driving such a distance (it’s an hour and a half drive). So one morning, I received a phone call from Nanna asking if I knew where Mom was because she wasn’t answering her phone. Hm. It was 9:30 on a Saturday morning, so Mom was definitely awake and probably at home. I therefore concluded that Nanna’s problem was the same as it always is: Mom has caller ID.

“Gosh, I don’t know where she is,” I said. “She must be busy.”

“Well, I need to find her,” Nanna said. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “We can’t get outside help for this, and something has to be done. We have to rely on the family.”

I’ve never seen The Godfather, but I imagine this is the kind of phone call he makes when he needs to have someone discreetly murdered. Had someone insulted her dogs?

To my relief, though, Nanna needed a driver, not an assassin. Rachel still had not fixed her car, and apparently the crown situation could not be further postponed without courting dental disaster. Nanna had given the problem careful consideration and felt that surely Mom could spare some of her infinite free time to resolve this family crisis.

I told her we’d figure something out, and she hung up. Within a few hours, I got a phone call from Mom.

It turns out that Nanna’s plan was more fully formed than she’d been willing to admit to me. Here’s the solution she presented to Mom: my Aunt Carrie (who worked full time and lived in Memphis) would drive three hours to Nanna’s house and take her halfway to Nashville. They would stop at a strategically located Krispy Kreme, where Mom would meet them and carry Nanna the rest of the way to the dentist. Carrie, meanwhile, would wait at the Krispy Kreme until Nanna was ready to be ferried home.

Nanna predicted that the whole thing “wouldn’t take more than four hours.” This optimistic figure excluded Carrie’s six-hour commute, but Nanna is after all a busy retiree with important soap operas to watch, and one cannot expect her to trouble herself about the schedules of daughters and other underlings.

Nanna, with her usual genius and attention to detail, had clearly crafted this plan with two goals in mind: 1) Create the greatest amount of inconvenience for the greatest number of offspring, and 2) Get some donuts. I myself was quite impressed by her tactical genius, but Mom vetoed the plan. Instead, I would drive down to get Nanna and take her to the dentist and back.

So, one Thursday morning a few weeks later, I steeled myself for the worst and embarked on my mission. I have never been good at spending quality time with my grandmother; we have very little in common and the supply of small talk generally dries up within the first five minutes. The only exception to this rule is when she is in the hospital: something about the setting brings out her crazy side and we can spend many an amiable hour chatting about how the nurses are trying to kill her and her roommate is a sex addict.

But I digress.

In this case these were no doctors around for her to complain about. There was only Rachel, her caretaker, who had come along to make sure Nanna didn’t break a hip getting in and out of the car. Most of the conversation consisted of Rachel reminding Nanna to take pills and making passive-aggressive comments about her long hours and low wages; Nanna held up her end by complaining about the pills and making passive-aggressive comments about Rachel’s voracious appetite and apathetic cleaning.

We stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel, and Rachel told us about her struggles with her boyfriend. He was a drug addict and in and out of prison, and she was contemplating breaking up with him. Maybe.

“Men,” she told me, “are just not worth it. When I get rid of this one, I am never hooking up with another man.”


“Well,” she amended, “nothing long-term, anyway.”

The dental work itself went smoothly. Apparently if you stagger into the office with a walker, they do not make you wait. We were out of there in 30 minutes, and then there was nothing to do but drive Nanna home. The trip back was uneventful, except for a U-turn that cemented me permanently in Nanna’s mind as a reckless driver. Considering that there was no oncoming traffic for my turn and that Nanna once drove through a building, this struck me as slightly unfair.


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