My Special Grandmother: Caring During Covid

Maxwell Surprenant (United States)

September 2021

grandmother and grandson looking out over bridge

**Note: The following piece was written at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.**


Every year, Evie, my 88-year-old “adopted” grandmother, bakes me a heavenly chocolate birthday cake. “No slivers today” she exclaims as she cuts the biggest piece for me.


For the first ten years of my life, when my family and I lived in an apartment in Boston, Massachusetts, Evie was my next door neighbor. Now, I’m 16 years old; my family and I live in a house in the suburbs, and Evie is settled in an assisted senior living center 10 minutes away. But even though we live near each other, COVID-19 keeps us apart. At the senior living center, residents are isolated in their rooms. There are no gatherings in the dining room or meeting spaces and no visitors. We can only call and FaceTime, which is difficult because Evie’s challenged with technology and has trouble hearing over the phone. It’s been over two months, and I miss Evie’s face as much as she misses mine.


Since I was a baby, Evie has held my face in her hands and called me her “Shayna Punim,” which is Yiddish for “pretty face.” I’m Catholic, but I have learned about the Jewish religion from her. We celebrate each other’s holidays together, like Christmas and Hanukkah, which gives me a greater appreciation for different cultures and traditions. Evie taught me by example to treat everyone with respect. She has traveled all over the world. She gave me her collection of postcards, and I cherish them. Someday, I will visit these places, too.


Sometimes, young people think that old people are boring and can’t find common interests with them, but that’s not the case with Evie and me. We love going out to restaurants, movies, and museums, but we also like cooking together, listening to Sinatra and Broadway records, and playing board games. During these times that we spend together, she shares stories with me about how she grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Evie was born in 1931, and she lived through The Great Depression and World War II. Her father was a blue collar worker, and her mother sayed home; neither went to college. They did not have a car, so they walked everywhere. But Evie never talks about a lack of material things; she conceded that she was content reading the newspaper and Jewish literature—whatever her dad was reading. Neither does she complain about the childhood chores she had, like cleaning, cooking, and sewing. She recalls how neighbors helped neighbors, and everyone watched out for each other. She has fond memories of playing with the all of the kids on her street: They played the old-fashioned game of Kick the Can with whatever tin container was around. Evie laughed, saying, “We didn’t need much. We were happy.”


Evie’s carefree attitude is calming and refreshing. She doesn’t want or expect presents, but she’s very thoughtful and giving. She sends cards and letters by snail mail, and she has splendid cursive writing. Evie always writes thank you notes. She taught me to be grateful for the little things. She reminds me of what’s most important in life: family, friends, love, laughter, and kindness.


Evie worked as a nurse at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston for many years. After she retired, she continued to do some volunteer work there. She has always been a caregiver, but now she needs people to help take care of her. She has diabetes, cardiac, and respiratory issues that make her more vulnerable to COVID-19. She’s the reason why I stay home, wash my hands, and follow social distancing guidelines. If the roles were reversed, she would do anything to keep me healthy.


I long for the day when the lockdown ends, and I can safely visit Evie again. When she turns 89 on her next birthday, I’ll bake her a cake. And we’ll enjoy eating it together.

Maxwell Surprenant (Boston/USA) has covered sports, art, politics, and social justice issues for Sports Illustrated Kids, Scholastic, Los Angeles Times/High School Insider, and Write the World Civics in Action. He serves as CEO/Co-Founder of Catching Joy, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes youth volunteerism and acts of kindness.

#Lockdown         #Family         #Community         #Friendship