Monday, November 29, 2010

Grandma Tales

Positive Effect of Memory Loss, #1,984: Sunset, For the First Time (Again).

In the car with Linda last night. Outrageously beautiful sunset blazes across the sky. Grandma says, "Oh, for beautiful! It's never done this before! I've never seen the sky like this before!"

Negative Effect of Memory Loss, #5,399: Home, Alone and Post-Non-Event-Stress-Syndrome.

Boys and I at church. Linda's working upstairs. Grandma stirs from her room downstairs. Linda joins her.

Grandma: Where is everybody? 
Linda: They're at church working on the play.
Grandma (with that panicky voice): You mean I've been home alone?!
Linda: No, I've been here.
Grandma: So, what you're saying is that I've been here all alone?!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Love Parent/Teacher Conferences


I can honestly say, without hesitation, that the bi-annual Parent/Teacher ritual is a blast. Last night we attended another - and probably our second-to-last - conference. We tried something new: We took the whole family.

Everyone came -- Linda and I, April (27), Jeremy (24), Gary (22), Jon (17), and Grandma B (91) in her wheelchair. We waltzed into each of Jono's classrooms and greeted the teachers. We made people groan, thinking the lines were much longer than they were. We got comments from the principal. We made teachers laugh and smile and look at us weird. It was the most fun I've ever had at conferences.

As we paraded down the halls at Freeland High, I thought about the joys of conferencing over the years. Sure, there have been a couple of rough moments, but the vast majority of these visits have been so pleasing, so satisfying, so fun, that I barely remember any little negatives. Our conferences have been blessed because our kids are great.

I take very little credit for that. Whatever brain-development-DNA spun its mysterious fabric in my kids' gray-matter did not come from Dad. Which leaves Linda, who is the smartest person I know. Everything I ever learned about learning I learned from her. Our children have acquired their amazing capacity for knowledge from their Mom.

We have smart kids who are good kids. The combination makes for quick, light-hearted, and breezy conferences. We have heard these words over and over through the years:

"Well, [BK - Benson Kid] is doing great. [He/She] is a pleasure to have in class." Glances at grade book without really needing to . . .  "Looks like a solid 'A.'  I wish every kid in class could be like [BK]. Do you have any questions or concerns about [BK]?"

Well, hardly ever. And thus ended another conference. Delightful.

Every once in a while, in a grand attempt to make sure we didn't get such big heads that we'd end up stuck in the door on the way out of the room, clogging up the entrance, a teacher would say, "The only thing I would like to see from [BK] is a little more talking and participating in class."

Actually, one year in elementary school (Linda would know the year), one of the teachers (Linda would remember her name), said about one of the kids (Linda would remember which one), something like this (Linda could give you the exact quote - I said she was the smart one!):

"Frankly, I wish [BK] would get into some trouble once in a while. It would be good for him/her to break out just a little bit."

Never thought we'd hear that from a teacher. I know my parents could only dream of a teacher saying such things about little Ronnie.

And that is why I'm thankful for my kids. Like all children, they have their "ish." But God gave Linda and me the gift of good kids. And when they all come home, and we gather around for a meal, and the banter and opinions and laughter starts flying, I marvel at the grace of God sitting at my table.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lazarus, Revisited

At the conclusion of The Lazarus Experiment, I said there would be more coming from me. It’s taken a while, but here it is.

All along the forty days, one thing kept impressing itself in my head. It’s not strange that it did, because this one theme has dogged my life. It’s always been lingering around the edges, always haunting the inner life. In fact, I have proof of the longevity of this particular mind-shadow.

I’ve posted this picture around before. It’s me at seven years old, sitting atop my brand new birthday bike. But, while she was organizing our photos this summer, Linda took out the picture and looked at the back of it. In my mother’s handwriting:

Ronnie – Looking a little chubby.

Nope. Never looked at the back. Never caught that before. Explains a lot.

So lay me out on the proverbial psych couch and let us regress!

Not really. I’m not one for digging at excuses like scabs, seeing if I can make them bleed enough to build my self-pity and garner sympathy for my oozing wounds. I’m not going to blame anyone, or cast my problems out onto the relational landscape to see where they stick. It just is what it is.

A struggle with—weight, diet, exercise, health, overeating, imbalance, emotional eating, obesity—there are so many names for the thing. For as long as I can remember, this cloud has hovered over my head.

The Lazarus Experiment forced us to ask how we live life—second life. We posed the question: What kind of things would Lazarus have done differently once Jesus called him out of the tomb and the mummy wraps were pulled away? What Would Lazarus Do?

From day one of the experiment I knew this: Lazarus would not live with this cloud. He would not live a life that was not healthy. We don’t know what killed him off, but if it was anything that was within his own personal control, you’ve got to believe that on the next go-round, on the other side of the grave, on the resurrection rebound, he would not have continued on the same weary-worn path.

If Lazarus died because of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, for instance, I just can’t see him asking for a cig once the grave clothes were unwound. If he kicked off because of a venereal disease, I’m thinking he would change his wanton ways after he heard Jesus say, “Come forth!” Getting another swing at life would change your perspective, I think, and motivate life change.

Add to that the realization that Jesus did this, for you, alone, to his glory, and the will to change becomes even stronger. The idea of Lazarus falling at the feet of Jesus, worshiping him for proclaiming victory over death—YOUR DEATH—seems like the motivational equivalent of a power boost button in a car racing video game. Move over, Mario! Luigi’s coming on strong!

It just kept hitting me, over and over, that Lazarus would not have stayed obese if he’d died of a heart attack or diabetes.

Now—I also believe this: Lazarus would have lived life to the full. He would have loved and learned and labored and leisured like he never had before.  He would not give up bagels. He would eat cake and ice cream. In fact, I’ve got to believe that one of the first things he did was sit down to a steak, medium rare, and onion rings.

OK. Maybe not onion rings. Maybe asparagus instead. And that’s just my point. Lazarus would have a new awareness of how to enjoy the miraculous gift of life in every way. Including health.

So, for many reasons, now is the time.

I’ve done it before. Twenty years ago, when Linda and I and three of our four kids pulled into Royal Oak, Michigan, I had just completed six months of NutriSystem and lost nearly 100 pounds. In those two decades since, I have found all of them, and enough new ones to bring me to a new personal record.

I was 35 years old then. Now I’m 55. It’s going to be different.

Lazarus would do it with grace. He would do it with the awareness of his value to Jesus. He would do it with a joy that comes from facing into the mouth of death and hearing your name called by the giver of life. It would be—fun.

I am fully aware that all of you will have advice for me. I appreciate your help. I know that you want me to succeed. I know the secret of weight loss: take in less than you burn off. Easy as pie. OK—easy as a cucumber. But the truth is I’m not after losing, I’m after living. Health gained, not pounds lost.

I also know that now you’re all in on this. So if you see me at a potluck with a mound of calories enough for a week, you can say something. Or if you invite me to lunch, steer me away from the buffet. You can steal the cream cheese off my tray, or slap the donut out of my hands. I know you’re watching me.

But now let me turn the tables on you: If you want to live your life like you mean it, like you are purchased out of the grave by grace, what would you never do again?  How can I help you? How can I hold you to it?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Grandma Tales

The Clinic is not supposed to be about my mom, but about grace-stuff. But Mom--Grandma--lives with us, and like any two-year-old or ninety-two-year-old, she often is the center of the house. Lately, Grandma's dementia has been deteriorating, and the results are funny, sad, and weird. Some of it makes us wonder . . .

In the last week, Mom has heard singing. It's a man's voice. He's singing gospel songs. The other night she came out of her room after being in bed for a couple hours.

"Do you hear that?" she called out from the hall.

"HEAR WHAT, GRANDMA?" I shouted because she takes her ears (hearing aids) out when she goes to bed.

"Do you hear him singing?"


"That man!"

She had me go into her room, and pointed to one of the windows. She told me he was singing "Oh, That Will Be Glory For Me."

This morning he was singing again; this time, "Silent Night." Grandma sang along with him while we ate breakfast.

Tonight, after being in bed for twenty minutes, Grandma came out. "Do you hear that?"


"Yes! I can't go to sleep! Can you hear it?"


"Well, come in here!"

We walked to her room. "Do you hear him singing?"  And she sang along.
"And he walks with me and he talks with me, And he tells me I am his own . . ."
I continued to try to explain that the music was coming from her head. I told her to just go to sleep. Since she couldn't hear me, I shouted and repeated. Even when she heard me she didn't understand at all. She went back to bed and I closed the door.

Ten minutes later, she was out again, complaining about the singing. We went through the whole thing again, and I went back to her room.

"Can't you hear that?!" she asked, and waved toward the window. She was quite aggravated.


I was standing three feet away from her, and still I had to repeat myself. She couldn't hear me for anything. But she heard the song, and she sang, "And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

"Well, what should I do?! That's going to go on all night!"

"JUST ENJOY IT, GRANDMA. ENJOY THE MUSIC AND YOU'LL FALL ASLEEP AND THEN IT WILL STOP." She rolled her eyes, got a peeved look on her face, and shrugged her shoulders.

"OK!  Good night!"

She hasn't been out again, but the night is young.

And about the singing - Don't even ask.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Grandma Tales


After flipping every light switch in her room, in the room next door, and the next one: "How do I turn off this TV?"

After waking up at 10:00 a.m.: "Is it time to get up?"

After mixing two cans of Campbell's soup, one Bean With Bacon and one Chicken Noodle, without water: "Is there some salt I can put in here?"

"Is this Sunday?"
"Is this Saturday?"
"Is this Friday?"  (You get the picture).

"Is tomorrow hair day?"

"So, I'm going to have to be all alone all day long, the whole day?" (Grandma's hardly ever alone).

Peeking out of her room at 5:00 a.m. (and 5:23, and 5:58), "Are we going to church today?"

This is getting rough.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grandma Tales

We arrived home from eight days in S. Ca. where we mourned the loss of Linda's brother, Tim. We pulled into the driveway at 3:15 a.m., and caught two hours sleep before going off to work.

We had been concerned about Grandma's reaction to our being away. She had wanted to go with us, which is just not possible anymore. And she's always extremely anxious about being at home when we're away, even though Jeremy and Jon were both with her.

That evening we were talking at dinner, sharing all the stories and details of our trip. In the middle of the discussion, Grandma exclaimed, "You were gone?!"


"When did you leave?"

"Over a week ago."

"When did you get back?"

"This morning, very early."

"How long were you gone?"

"Over a week."

"Where did you go?"

"We went out to California."

"Well, how did you get there?"

"We took an airplane."

"Who took care of us?!"

"Jeremy and Jon stayed here with you."

"Well, what did you go out there for?!"

"Linda's brother died, so we went out for the funeral."

"He died?!"


"How many people were there?"

"About 250 people came to the funeral."

"Did anyone ask about me?!"

After some more questions, we ate our dessert, and continued to share some stories. After about three minutes, Grandma exclaimed, "You were gone?!"

(For the rest, please refer to above dialog).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hot News From Cincinnati

Big Jesus was struck by lightening and burned to the ground. Can we say, "BIG IRONY?"

Check out the news and watch the video here.

I wrote about Big Jesus in Grace Clinic a few years ago.

Sadly, the pastor of Solid Rock Church says they will rebuild Big Jesus. Maybe they'll use something less fire-enhancing than Styrofoam and perhaps add a few lightning rods.

In the meantime, be extra careful driving Interstate 75 in Southern Ohio. It seems to me Big Jesus is not doing a very good job of protecting the area.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pet Peeve #2589: Singing Hallelujah, Big Stupid Song Endings, and American Idol

Let's talk about Hallelujah.

Canadian Leonard Cohen, a prolific writer of prose and poetry before venturing into music, wrote a beautiful song that has now been sung, recorded, and popularized in multiples. It was even featured in the movie, Shrek. It is a sad song, highlighting the irony of love and loss, the rise and fall of attraction, infatuation, and relationship.

Besides the obvious spirituality of the title, (which I think draws the Christian community to the song - at least until they read the lyrics), the song features a clear and unfettered reference to the love story between David and Bathsheba. It may even be a song about that relationship.

The song is also sensual, unabashedly so, as the writer reminisces about intimacy with a slow mourning - not full out weeping and wailing, or even a tear rolling down the cheek, but just a stare off into the distance of memory. It is a private song. It is not to be sung while looking strangers in the eye. It should be sung looking down at the piano or guitar (as when Rufus Wainwright does it, or the late Jeff Buckley performs it), or with hands on your knees sitting in a straight-back chair in the middle of an empty room. (Here's another version of Cohen singing Hallelujah in front of thousands in London - close to Lee's rendition. Is there a difference?)

Here are the beautiful, haunting words:


Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Last night on American Idol, Lee DeWyse sang this song to the acclaim of all the judges and the raves of the fans. Good for Lee. He's got a good voice. He could win, and he would deserve it. Hallelujah.

Lee's arrangement started out quiet, and then got bigger. There is room for some of that in the song. It calls for some dynamic, because of the underlying anger and angst of the lyric. OK.

But then the choir came in behind Lee. Alright. That's nice, as long as they back right out the same door they came in from. They stayed, however, and were followed by the horn section--a big brass band. The song built from there, with DeWyse matching the Hollywoodisms of the arrangement. Lee has a gravely, natural voice, but he turned that off to become Robert Goulet for the big, impressive finale, which crescendoed and catapulted the song right out of the stratosphere. It was spectacular. 

Was Leonard Cohen listening? If so, just how big were the chunks that he tossed at that moment? Did he lose just his lunch, or did he lose the inner lining of his stomach? How much damage did he do to his TV, his living room, his home--and will the insurance cover it? Is there even a policy that covers loss due to stinky, unnecessary, stupid song arrangement?

I usually agree with Simon Cowell on Idol. Sure, he's brutal. But he's honest. And the performers at that level have to know how to take it. But Simon shares a certain problem with many other performers and listeners. Call it Big Finish Syndrome. Big Finish Syndrome is the delusion that any song is better if it ends with a huge crescendo, cymbals crashing, horns blazing, strings full-out. (Cowell last night suggested that Casey James' song, Daughters, should have had a bigger finish! BFS, for sure!)

Beethoven, Handel, and some other classical composers suffer from BFS. They just can't end a piece without this flashy ending. Sometimes they end the song, but the flash wasn't big enough, so they do another one, which also isn't big enough, so they add two or three more. This gets the audience all riled up, thinking that the first ending was the real one, so they jump to their feet and applaud louder and louder at each subsequent faux-conclusion. 

This is what happened to Hallelujah last night. Be honest. Go back and read the lyrics again. Do you see a Big Finish ending there?

The same Big Finish Syndrome is perpetuated in the Christian Music industry. I think it's getting better, but there is still this requirement to end big, end happy, end with a screeching, building, awesome Hallelujah. But that's not the way it goes. That's not how reality is all the time. That doesn't reflect the lyric of life.

I love Cohen's song. It is provocative (it is NOT Christian). It is beautiful, not because it white-washes pain, but because it portrays it accurately. It is lovely because it leaves you with a taste in your mouth that is not honey, but more grapefruit - rind, and seeds, tart and sweet. And the gnawing in your heart is familiar, recognizable, reminiscent. But it is not hallelujah, in the way we think of the word. The whole point of the song is the irony expressed in the repetition, juxtaposed with the pain of relationship lost.

There is a place for Big Finish songs. But not every song, just like not every day, calls for a big finish ending. Many days, just a quiet, soft song will do just fine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grandma Tales

This comes from some dear friends at church:
We've sat in front of your mom the past several Sundays and DJ [their one year old foster son] pretty much smiles, laughs, and generally flirts with her most of the service.  She seems to love it.  So, when we arrived this past Sunday and walked into the row in front of her, I turned to her and said, "Well Rebecca, your boyfriend is here," (meaning DJ of course).  With a straight face, she looked around, seemingly oblivous to DJ, and said, "How did he find me here?"  Gotta love this lady. 
We're still trying to figure out who Grandma's boyfriend is, and why she's been keeping him a secret. How she's been keeping him a secret is just too much to think about. We've checked under the bed -- nothing there.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grandma Tales

We got drums.

While it is technically correct that the drums belong to Jono, and that Jon paid for most of them, and that he is the only one who uses them, and that drums would not be in our basement except for Jon's lifelong desire to beat on something legal, still -- we got them.

All of us. All of us, and the neighbors. All of us, and the community. All of us, and all those who drive by on River Road. We all have drums now. All God's children got drums. Drums are loud.

Grandma got drums. Although I'm not sure if she really gets that she got them. The drums sit under her room. Because of her hearing aids, the full aural equation of sound does not reach her eardrums, but something does. She doesn't know that it's drums. But she knows it's loud. She knows it's Jon. She knows she doesn't particularly like it. Especially when Dr. Phil or Bill O'Reilly or Wheel of Fortune are on the TV. And it especially annoys her when Jon competes with the Golden Girls.

So a couple of days ago, Grandma brought out her TV remote. She often forgets now what the thing does, and she mixes it up with the other remotes within her reach -- a remote for her lift chair, a remote for her electric heating blanket on the lift chair. You can imagine trying to find O'Reilly and having your chair lift you up and out instead. Or thinking that you just cranked up the heat, only to have Dr. Phil shouting at the top of his lungs. It's confusing. So she brought out the TV remote for a consultation.

"What's this thing do?"

"It's the remote for your TV, Mom."

"How can I get it to stop?"

"You mean turn off the TV?"

"No. I mean Jono. What do I press to get it to stop?"

"You mean the drums?"

"That noise! How can I turn it off?!"  She looked at the remote, pressing buttons and listening to see if anything happened. Some people might do this to be funny. Grandma was being funny, but not on purpose. She thought there must be a button that worked on Jon and his drums.

The great thing about hearing aids is that you can take them out. We found the button. For Grandma. I don't have hearing aids. Yet.

(Luckily, the kid is doing great with the sticks. There's been more dancing in this house since we got drums. Dancing is good.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Grandma Tales

I thought you'd enjoy this:

We're coming up on the annual Freeland Walleye Festival. Freeland is where I live. Walleye is what's in the river. The Festival celebrates it all.

So, in the spirit of civic involvement, and because I love to fish, and because walleye is good eating even if it's loaded to the gills with dioxins, I entered the Freeland Walleye Festival Fishing Tournament last year. And I fished on Sunday. After church. For an hour. Maybe. It was raining.

Fishing on a Sunday is verboten to my mother.

Anyway, I found this note today. On a Sunday, maybe that Sunday, my mom had this note delivered to me at my fishing spot in our backyard on the Tittabawassee River:

Dear Ron,
Your mother does NOT like you fishing on Sunday.
And I'm sure your congregation won't like it when they hear you do SUNDAY fishing!
P.S. I love you anyway, and please come in and get some supper.
Your Mother.
'Nuff said.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


I woke up at 2:30 a.m. Monday night. I don't know for sure, but I could swear I was singing this song out loud (no confirmation from Linda). If it wasn't on my lips, it was in my brain, and when I startled awake, the lyrics were right there. This has always been my favorite hymn, and expresses much of my own longing and my own thinking about being a pastor and a Jesus-follower. In fact, the words are so close to me I hesitate to share them with you. But I will. Sometimes I sing this in an empty auditorium.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies;
No sudden rending of the veil of clay;
No angel visitants, no opening skies.
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Hast Thou not bid me love thee, God and King?
All, all thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
my heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Sense of the Health Care Bill

Here’s what it sounds like the Health Care Bill will do for me, which is all that matters, right?
  • I will live forever. Medical attention for all my health needs is my right, guaranteed by the Constitution and my President. Whenever I get sick, I can go to the doctor, and I don’t have to worry about who will pay the bill. The older I get, the sicker I get, doesn’t really matter. As long as I stay out of unstoppable automobiles and avoid very heavy objects dropping on my head, I will always be able to be fixed. I have a healer, and his name is Obama.
  •  In the unlikely event that I die, it will be because my government thinks it is time to go. I’m glad to be relieved of this decision, because it’s getting more complicated. Since the government has guaranteed my health, and since nearly everyone can be kept alive for a long, long time, it makes sense that at some point someone has to decide that my time is up. Time to pull the plug, disconnect the machines, and say goodbye to the best health care in the world.
  • In the next three or four years, my country will give me everything I need to be well, and it’s all free. So in the next couple of years I’m going to meet my doctor. I imagine that he and I will become pretty good friends, since I plan on visiting him once or twice a month. Since it’s not going to cost me anything, apparently, I may as well get my money’s worth.
  • After three or four years, expenses for this whole thing begin to hit home. But by that time, it will be my kids, and then their kids, who will be paying for it. I’ll be close to retirement. I really like the way these laws work—you get all the wonderful benefits for several years before the actual costs begin to come due. It makes the whole thing seem almost—affordable.
  • Since the government will be paying for my health, they have built into the law a lot of provisions for keeping me healthy. For instance, from now on all chain restaurants have to include calorie counts on their menus. And we’ve heard, “As goes New York, so goes the nation,” so soon all salt, fat, sugar, and refined white flour—basically everything that tastes good—will no longer be available, because the government wants us healthy. Even though this sounds like a bad thing, I’m happy about it. I’ve never really been successful at self-control, so letting the government control me might work out.
  • Taking that idea to its logical conclusion (this is all very logical, right?) it seems to me since the government wants me to be healthy, and since the doctor is free, he could write me a prescription for a health club membership, and it would be covered by the government. I hear they have really nice hot tubs and saunas at health clubs. And smoothies. I love smoothies.

Anyway, that’s what I’m picking up about this whole thing. All I can say is – thanks for the bennies! I love America! 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grandma Tales

I'm this close to turning this blog into an emotional trading post.

Got to tell this story:

Yesterday, in the midst of a birthday celebration, with wrapping paper flying around the room, my brother Bob called from Montana to talk to Grandma.

"Hello, Bensons."
"Hey bro, what's up?"
"Nothing much. We're celebrating."

Same verbose chit-chat typical of the Benson species.

"So what is The Mom up to?"

When Robert asks this question, always the same, I answer with an outrageous lie. Different lie every time.

"Last time I checked we had her cleaning toilets. Let me go see if she's done."

Grandma B. is 91. She hasn't cleaned a toilet in a decade.

So I hand Grandma the phone. At exactly the same time, she says, "My ear went out."

Her "ears" are hearing aids, since her God-given ones just don't cut it anymore. The new ears take batteries. The batteries last about ten days, then they're out. So grandma takes out one of her ears and hands it to me at the same time I'm handing her the phone. She puts the phone to her ear--the real ear--but the one now sans an aid.

(We've had this struggle before. A while ago one of Grandma's "ears" went belly-up, and she had to go with one hearing aid for weeks. But she could not break the habit of holding the receiver of her phone to the wrong ear. Many people hung up on her because they thought she was being rude. She probably was, but she had a good excuse - she couldn't hear a lick).

"Bob?" she said into the phone, but she heard no response.

I took the phone and put it to the other ear--the good one. Immediately, by force of habit, or magnetism, or stubborn will, she put the phone to the opposite, hearing-disabled ear. And she held the phone upside down, meaning the part-you-talk-in was on her bad ear, and the part-you-hear-from was on her mouth.

I took the phone again, turned it around, and put it to her good ear. "Bob?" she said.

And then like a flash, she put the phone back to the bad ear. "Bob?" She continued to call, turning the phone every which way. "Bob?"

As she fiddled with it, and the rest of the family tried to help her, I scrambled to replace the battery--an itsy bitsy little steel pod that would be hard for anyone to put into place, much less a geriatric. I finally got it into the hearing aid, and gave it back to Grandma. She handed me the phone, having yet to make contact with Bob.

He wasn't on the line. In all the phone handling, we had hung up on him.

So we got the battery changed, the ear (manufactured) back into the ear (flesh), and started to resume family activities as we waited for Bob to call again. Grandma continued to fiddle with her ears (all of them).

She had her hand up to the ear that had been re-powered, and out of the blue she called out, "Bob?  Bob, are you there?" She did not have the phone. She was calling into her hand. "Bob?"

One of the side effects of being hard of hearing and a little dazed and confused because of old age is that you don't always get what people are laughing about. Grandma's family was rolling on the floor laughing. She just smiled, lowered her phone -- hand -- to her side, and waited for it to ring.