One of my oldest and fondest memories as a child was how, around nap time, my grandmother would pick me up and hold me in her arms. Her eyes would shine as she cradled me gently. I remember vividly how she would sing to me in her sweet, gentle voice. She would sing slowing and softly as she swayed from side to side, dancing with me in her arms. I remember it as if it was yesterday. She sang an old love song from the 1960s written by Paul Anka, entitled “Put Your Head On My Shoulder”. She would sing it over and over again until I would fall fast asleep.
Grandma Rosemary was 89 years old and I knew she wasn’t doing well. The cancer had taken its toll and it was only a matter of time before she left us.As much as I hated it, I knew I wasn’t going to get many more opportunities to celebrate her birthday so this time I wanted to do something really special for her. This year my family pitched in and we took her out for an evening of fine dining at a local French Restaurant. She arrived in style, driven by her 85-year-old French boyfriend, Henri, whom she met at the nursing home. Henri,every bit the French gentleman he is, drove her to the restaurant in his shiny new Mercedes sports car. Henri used to say he bought the luxurious vehicle just so he could “show off his Rosemary”.
My parents and I were already seated when they arrived. I went out to help escort grandma into the restaurant. With Henri on one side, and I on the other,we slowly walked with her to the table. Grandma smile brightly as she wore a gorgeous purple and white dress just for the occasion. Purple was her favorite color. Her beautiful white hair had been styled and her makeup was, as always,in place and perfect. Unlike her styling, grandma’s movement was less elegant.She walked ever so carefully, each step slow and deliberate. Her already small frame was made even more delicate by the radiation treatments and medication. I held her arm with one hand and her small oxygen bottle in the other as we made our way across the busy restaurant. Violin music played overhead as we slowly made it into the dining room. Eventually I got everyone settled at the table and ready for an extravagant five course meal.
The dinner, in true Parisian style, was an elegant dining experience for us,a Frenchman, and his lovely birthday girl. Henri had made sure everything was perfect, from the dozen fresh roses to the entrée of Foie Gras. Grandma was all smiles as we talked and laughed our way through dinner. I waited until after the main course of Margret de carnard, a duck breast with orange sauce, before I reached over and grabbed my glass of water. As I stood up I stuck the glass several times with my knife. The sound was much louder then I had anticipated and I noticed everyone in the restaurant had stopped to listen to what my commotion was all about.
“Grandma, would you like to stand up here with me for just at moment?” I asked as I reach my hand out to her.
She took my hand, rose from her chair, and took a slow, weak step towards me. I looked down into her eyes and said, “Grandma, I am so happy to be here with you.”
“and when I think about just how lucky all of us are to have you herewith us tonight, I wanted to tell you, and show you, how much you mean tome.”
She took my hand into hers and squeezed it tightly.
“Grandma, do you remember when I was a little boy and you would dance with me in your arms?”
“And do you remember what you would sing to me until I fell asleep?”
“Yes Glen, I do” she said as tears began to well up in her eyes.
I turned to the rest of the restaurant and spoke, “I apologize for interrupting everyone’s meal, but if you all could please forgive me for just a few minutes I have a gift I want to give back to my amazing grandmother,Rosemary.”
Hearing nothing I turned back to grandma and asked “May I have this dance?”
“of course” she replied.
As she did, I gently lifted up and removed the plastic oxygen tube from her nose. I motioned to the restaurant manager who had been awaiting my signal. The French Baroque music fell silent and the first few notes of “Put your head on my shoulder” began to play throughout the restaurant.
“I love this song” she said as she put her arms around me.
“and I love you Grandma.”
I held her up and we swayed from side to side as the music began to play.Her thin frame moved with mine as I took small, careful steps from left to right. As the vocals were about to begin I cleared my throat. I took a deep breath, and I began to sing. I had been afraid I might forget the words so I had been practicing the song for weeks and I recorded it days earlier with my own vocals.
As I sang, I looked into my grandmother’s face. No longer did I see a small,frail, woman stricken with age, but a strong, beautiful, and elegant lady who once rocked me to sleep. With each step we took together, her steps became lighter and stronger. Soon I did not have to even hold her up anymore and she moved gracefully in time with the music and my words.
As the song transitioned into the musical interlude, she turned her face and she rested her head on my shoulder. I could hear nothing but the music playing from the restaurant’s speakers and the beating of my own heart as we danced quietly together in the middle of the dining room.
For the next three and a half minutes the world disappeared and it was just my grandmother and I. We were again dancing together and comforting each other in song. It was then that tears of joy began streaming down my face. I quickly wiped my eyes with my sleeve as I caught up to sing the final verse gently into her ear.
“Put your head on my shoulder…Whisper in my ear… baby… Words I want to hear… tell me… Tell me that you love me too.”
Music ended and grandmother raised her head up.
“I love you Glen”
“and I love you too Grandma… Happy Birthday,” I said as I squeezed her one last time.
It was then I heard the loud clapping emanating from all around us. The rest of the diners and other patrons were clapping and standing, in honor of my grandmother. She beamed as she turned and, without my assistance, glided back over to table with the grace of a woman half her age. My parents and Henri were still clapping as we sat down.
Rosemary glowed from the attention she so richly deserved as the Maitre d presented our table with French champagne and Crème brûlée. Numerous people stopped by as they left the restaurant to congratulate Rosemary on her birthday. Several ladies even took the time to tell her how beautiful she looked and how well she danced. They were right.
I never again got to dance with my grandma for she passed away only a few months later. To this day I still keep my grandmother’s number in my cellphone. I haven’t felt the need to delete it. If you are lucky, every so often you may catch me listening to Rosemary’s ring tone, a simple song about holding the one you love tightly and letting them rest their head on your shoulder.