My cousin and I were talking about whatever teenage girls talk about when I heard a clattering on the roof outside the upstairs window of the bedroom we were staying in. A quick look outside the window confirmed the source of the noise and it didn’t take long for my brain to register who the tuft of gray hair just above the edge of the roof belonged to.
I ran out of the room, down the stairs, through the dining room and the kitchen and out the front door. To my right was a ladder and on that ladder, luckily only about two and a half off the ground, was my 88-year old grandmother. She had a bucket on the porch railing near her and she was cleaning out the gutter. I didn’t want to startle her, but I knew I needed to get her off that ladder before she fell and broke her hip, or worse, her skull.
Before I spoke a word, I did what any good granddaughter does – I walked slowly back into the house and grabbed my camera.
“Um…grandma?” I spoke softly so I didn’t startle her and send her flailing backwards in shock and over the porch railing to the ground below.
She wore a hearing aid but she still heard us fairly well. My mom used to joke that she couldn’t hear anything unless we talked about something we didn’t want her to know about, like that time we spent $300 on our cat that was hit by a car and he died anyhow. We were pretty certain she would have told us, “Back in our days we threw them in pillowcases and drowned them or just shot them. $300 on a cat. Ridiculous.”, which is why my mom made us whisper about the cat or speak of it only when Grandma wasn’t in the room. Eventually, she did learn about the cat and her response was one of expected incredulous shock. Luckily she didn’t suggest we should have shot him.
Grandma heard me fine when I called to her from the bottom of the ladder but didn’t turn to look at me.
“Yes?” she said, continuing to pull slop from the gutter and toss it into the bucket.
“Um…what are you doing?” I asked, walking over to hold the bottom of the ladder and keep it steady on the concrete porch floor.
“I’m just cleaning out this gutter,” she told me, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your dad said he could get to it after work but I figured I wasn’t doing anything else so I’d take care of it.”
I assured her Dad would finish the job when he got home and urged her to climb down. My cousin and I were at home alone with her and I couldn’t imagine how much trouble we would be in if we simply let her climb ladders and fall off and break a hip.
The photo of the moment wasn’t high quality since I took it quickly and on a simple point-and-shoot camera. I barely took time to focus out of fear I would capture her mid-fall. Had I been married at the time I’m sure my husband would have said what he has said about some of my photos of the children.
“Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and helped your 88-year old grandmother off the ladder instead?” he might have asked, much like he once asked, “Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and taken the dog food out of our son’s hand?”
Of course the answer to those types of questions is always ‘no, I should not have put the camera down.’ The photo is almost always worth more than a thousand words used to describe it, though sometimes words also help. In my defense, the baby didn’t eat the dog food and my 88-year old grandmother didn’t fall off the ladder.