The Cherry Cordial Revolution: Do I help Grandma, or do I follow the rules?

Guest post by Helen Jane

cherry cordial revolutionAt 96, my Grandma Clara Yeager was pissed. A tough Irish broad who raised all five of her children during the Depression, she had broken her third hip and could no longer stay at home alone.

Dad and his siblings sent her to live at Woodbridge Nursing Home.

We visited her once a week. My sister and I sat on the end of Grandma’s twin bed watching Star Search while Grandma groused at Dad for putting her there in the first place.

She had a legendary sweet tooth. Fifty years of grandchildren still talk about that candy drawer in her house — to this day. So, when Grandma established a Woodbridge candy drawer, we assumed she had come to terms with staying at the nursing home and the grousing would stop.

One day, a nurse took Dad out of the room for a private chat. My sister wasn’t there that day, and Grandma took the occasion to make a request…

“Listen,” she said, grabbing my hand tightly. “Next time you come, bring me a box of Cherry Cordials. Here’s three dollars. For some goddamned reason, they won’t let me have them. Put the cherries in my sweater drawer at the bottom, the drawer above my candy drawer.”

Grandma rarely talked to me, much less made a direct request so I didn’t ask why — my dad returned to the room and it was clear this was secret.

A few days later, I bought the cherry cordials at the drugstore across from my middle school.

That night, from the computer, I overheard a conversation between my parents

“…leaving the cherries all over the nursing home.”


“She’s sucking the chocolate off the cherry and spitting the cherry out. She leaves them all over the nursing home. The nurse said Mother refuses to comply. The home has offered napkins, containers, special times of day but still, she leaves the sucked on cherries on windowsills, in drawers, in the art room, on the piano, on the table in the cafeteria.”

“So no more chocolate cherries,” said my mom.

Now I knew Grandma was unhappy with the nursing home, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be complicit in this… sabotage.

NOW it made sense, why she wanted me to put the chocolate covered cherries in her sweater drawer.


Do I help Grandma? Or do I follow the (eavesdropped) rules and refuse to buy Grandma her cherries?

At the time of Woodbridge, I was twelve, I wore thick glasses and headgear. HEADGEAR. For my jacked up teeth (toofs). I preferred writing computer programs to interacting with humans and I was growing hair between my eyebrows. My body was changing and I didn’t like it. I felt trapped. I had no control over the changes happening to me — and I had less control over my living situation. I felt like I couldn’t make my own decisions. I wanted my own space, I couldn’t have my own space.

I totally got it. It wasn’t her fault her body was changing and everyone told her what to do all the time. That was the worst. I knew from experience.

I decided to help.

The next Thursday, I snuck the box into the bottom of her sweater drawer. I did this every Thursday for the next two months until she died. They never knew where she got the cherries.

Last fall, I toured Woodbridge Nursing Home with my mom. She’s moving into a nursing home this year under far different conditions (willingly! cheerfully!).

I couldn’t help but look in all the corners, on all the windowsills and shelves to see if they missed one — that maybe, just maybe, I’d see one quivering red cherry, sucked free from its chocolate cover. Cherry cordial, revolution candy.

Comments on The Cherry Cordial Revolution: Do I help Grandma, or do I follow the rules?

  1. I love this story so much. It reminds me of a similar situation with my grandmother. She stayed in her own home until about a week before the end. She was on blood thinners among other things, but she missed her cocktails and she was in oxygen so they made her quit smoking. She was in her nineties and they weren’t letting her have any fun. I took green apple vodka and sprite to a family dinner and she loved it. For two years after that every two weeks I’d take her a handle of green apple Smirnoff and two 2 liters of sprite… then my aunt decided to do some spring cleaning and found two years worth of empty BIG Ass vodka bottles stashed EVERYWHERE! She wouldn’t tell them where they were coming from! It took them days to figure me out as her accomplice. God, I loved that crazy Broad!

      • I agree, *EXCEPT* in matters of safety, primarily driving. If anyone has an elderly relative who’s a hazard on the road, PLEASE make sure they don’t get behind the wheel. My sister had to “fink” on my dad to the DMV because he was driving around half-blind. He was extremely pissed when they took his license away, but that sure beats letting him kill someone.

        • Yes. The DMV has now permanently taken away my grandmother’s license after a fender bender. The other person called the police for a report and they asked where my grandmother was headed and she told them that she was going to see her brother George. At the end of the conversation, the officer asked about family members nearby that he could call to pick her up and she said she had none close by and the police asked her about George. At no point did she think to clarify that he was Brother George, in the religious sense. A lawyer had to get involved to clarify what happened because my grandmother has always been a stubborn smart mouth. She was given two chances to repass the driving test and failed both times.

          She lives in a suburban area where anything farther than the grocery store requires a car so we weren’t thrilled about this but also knew that letting her drive was a terrible idea. My mother had thought about “finking” but this happened before she did so the DMV got to be the bad guy and we didn’t have to feel guilty.

        • My husband spent the better part of a year or two in his teens hiding his grandfather’s car so he couldn’t drive. Grandpa was going blind.

          He’s still kicking, but lives in AZ now where the sun is brighter and he can see better (aka at all).

          • My grandmother-in-law was told at 94 after a few fender bendors that when it came time to renew her license no one in the family was going to bring her to the DMV unless she could tell them how to get there. She was very unhappy about it but the roads, and she, are safer without her driving.

  2. As someone who was also blessed with a “tough Irish broad” (your and her words, now mine as well) for a grandmother, I absolutely loved this. My Grandma passed away a couple months ago, so I feel that, too. But mine lived in her own home, worked in her own garden, worked on her own tractor, and killed rattlesnakes until she died. I absolutely would have snuck the candy.

  3. As a long-time nursing home employee I can assure you they knew the cherries were there and who was bringing them in. Unless Grandma was washing and putting away her own laundry, and then dressing herself which I sincerely doubt, they knew. They just stopped making a case out of it, and kudos to them for it, cuz someone had to be watching her and cleaning up after her to make sure one of the other residents didn’t eat the sucked on cherries. Seriously.

  4. I love this story! I’ll always remember the last time I saw my grandmother. It was Christmas. She had dementia and had a few strokes and a lot of pain. The nursing home had given her pain medication to help make her end a bit more comfortable but with her dementia she didn’t always remember taking it and this time she wanted more. I bribed her with whiskey. I kept telling her I would sneak her whiskey but that meant she couldn’t have her pills. I never actually gave her either but the promise of liqueur distracted her from the want of meds. The last photo I have of us is our heads together as we plotted how to get her the hooch, I don’t think the person taking the photos knew that. That is the memory I’ll always hold on to, her smacking her lips at the promise of Jameson and how happy she was that finally somebody wasnt simply telling her no and was helping her make her own decisions. I hope you eventually told your parents about your part so they could laugh with you

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