“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Working the crossword puzzle was a breakfast tradition for Gmamma and DooDaddy. In fact, it was a team sport. Gmamma did her crosswording in pen just to intimidate DooDaddy. She could pull arcane words out of the recesses of her brain. Random literary references. Whimsical quotes. Vocabulary words previously seen only on the English section of the ACT Test. DooDaddy was her wingman. He could fill in the blanks with historical figures, big band bandleaders and song lyrics from the ’40s.
Every morning, my father would make a “Xerox copy” of the crossword and put it on a clipboard, so he and my mother could simultaneously solve the clues. There was a synchronicity to their tandem wordplay, a rhythm of gentle prodding and aha moments. My parents could finish each other’s thoughts and dust away the cobwebs of their collective consciousness. Over time, the process was punctuated by pregnant pauses and occasional mental blanks, the lasting effects of strokes and seizures.
DooDaddy: “15 across … hmmm … Viking Base … N-O-E-W blank blank.”
Gmamma: “It’s N-O-R-W where Vikings come from.” (insert eye roll)
DooDaddy: “Where Vikings come from … hmmm … the North? Norse Land?”
DooDaddy: “Branched horn, six letters … boy, these are hard.”
Me: “Think Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” (making finger antlers on my head)
Gmamma begins laughing till her eyes water.
DooDaddy laughs too and wheezes himself into a coughing fit.
We all forget why we’re laughing …
Me, remembering: “What does Rudolph have on his head?”
DooDaddy: “Branched horns?”
It’s different now. There’s no reason to make a copy, but DooDaddy still does. It’s part of the ritual. There’s no one to help him when he gets stuck on a clue. Gmamma’s candy-striped chair is empty. Still he carries on, because that’s what you do, right? You get up every morning, and you go through the motions. There’s comfort in the mundane. Love in the crossword puzzle clues. Magic in the memories.
DooDaddy: “A five-letter word for dangerous … hmmm … what could it be?”
Gmamma, shouting at the top of her lungs, still just a kitten’s sneeze in a hurricane: “D-I-C-E-Y!”
DooDaddy peers at her over the top of his reading glasses, a startled expression on his face.
Me, stating the obvious: “Mom, you’re the one who’s deaf, not Dad.”
Gmamma, shrugging matter-of-factly and turning back to her puzzle: “Oh that’s right.”
I miss her every day.