By Angela Carter
It was a rainy Saturday morning. The kind of day that softens parents just enough to allow their children to wear pajamas until lunch and watch Fraggle Rock in numb silence for hours.
Struck by the contrast of the utter stillness inside my grandparents’ home and the sloshy noises outside, I jumped down from my top bunk bed, careful not to wake my six-year-old sister, and tip-toed up to the attic where my parents slept. That was where the best window was.
I stared out the window which, to all my four years of knowledge, showed me the entire world. Directly in front of me were the houses, farms, and orchards of West Mountain, Utah. Further yonder was the “city,” marked by the McDonalds pillar. And if you squinted your eyes real tight, you could see the hill on which our new house was being built.
Over the pitter-patter of the rain hitting the attic window, I heard someone shuffling around downstairs. Grandpa.
Excited at the prospect of surprising him, I abandoned the window and quietly walked down the stairs. A fresh fire was burning in grate, casting ominous shadows on the walls and occasionally emitting sharp popping noises that that made me crave hot, buttery popcorn. Grandpa was opening the garage door, no doubt to see to some errand before everyone else woke up.
“Grandpa!” I said in the quietest yell I could muster, remembering at the last second the sleeping figures behind me.
He looked up, a flash of guilt crossing his wrinkled face as he realized he’d been caught.
“Can I come with you?” I asked, bouncing in anticipation.
His eyes softened, the wrinkles on his face slightly less pronounced, and he sighed. “Okay. Tell your mother we’re going to the farm.”
Five minutes later I was watching the rain create rivers on the windshield of Grandpa’s Cadillac. During the 30-minute drive to Santaquin, I told Grandpa everything: why I loved the rain, what Grandma had said the other day about cousins not being allowed to marry cousins, the letters we learned in pre-school and my worry that I still couldn’t make sense of them, how exhilarating it was when my older sister and I snuck outside to take a peek at the baby farm animals. I asked him question after question: have you ever seen this much rain? Why are we going to the farm? Why isn’t this farm at your house? What is irrigation? Do you like my pre-school teacher? Do you like apples or pears better?
The only question I actually paused long enough to wait for an answer was this one: “Grandpa, do I talk too much?”
“Yes,” he said, without hesitation.
And then I kept talking. I only stopped when Grandpa stepped out into the pouring rain to turn off the sprinklers, and even then the wheels in my head were turning faster than the rain was falling, compiling a list of things I just had to tell Grandpa when he got back in the car.
We didn’t always need words to communicate, my grandpa and I. Not long after the visit to the farm—a few weeks, maybe—I was overcome with the desire for vanilla ice cream with Grandma’s homemade fudge topping. I walked into the kitchen and asked my mom if I could have some. She was in the middle of monitoring several boiling pots of what was going to be dinner, but I was convinced I wouldn’t live long enough to taste any of it if I didn’t get two scoops of delightful sugaryness right away.
Mom, of course, callously said I had to wait until after dinner.
I threw myself to the green-and-white, doily-patterned linoleum floor and cried. I would show her what a mean mom she was by giving her a glimpse into my pitiable condition. Surely she would understand that if I didn’t get ice cream right now, I would cease to exist.
Mom continued to ignore me with all the skill of a mother of four small children, and focused her concentration on managing dinner preparations.
I eventually grew tired of wailing on the cold kitchen floor, so I came up with a new brilliant plan. I would wait until Dad got home. Then I’d give him the best of my performance and he would drop everything to comfort me and give me what I sorely needed. I knew through experience that he was easier prey than my mom.
I perched myself on the couch in the living room, where the second-best window was, and stared down the long driveway, waiting for Dad’s car to appear. About fifteen minutes later, just as I was starting to smell something suspiciously vegetable-ish, it appeared, driving under the giant willow tree at the end of the driveway.
That was my cue: I started crying again.
I had worked up a pretty convincing cry by the time Dad walked into the house. However, phase two of my plan didn’t go as I’d expected. Without sparing a glance for me, Dad went directly to Mom and gave her a kiss. He asked her trivial questions like how her day was and what was for dinner. He asked nothing important, like “Why is our daughter so upset?”
My fake cries stopped and hot tears started to sting my eyes. The fact that I had lost the battle didn’t matter anymore; what mattered was that my parents cared more about meetings and green beans than they did about their suffering daughter.
Defeated, I retreated to the dark corner of the living room. It was then that I noticed that Grandpa was sitting there quietly, having witnessed my entire performance.
He held out his arms to me, and I curled up in his bony lap, the tears flowing freely now. Then he opened one of his hands and revealed a treasure: three gummy bears.
Grandma guarded her gummy bears like a tyrant. It was her privilege to dole out treats to her adoring grandchildren, and, sweet as she was, she wasn’t willing to share this job.
But now Grandpa was offering me some gummy bears. It was as if someone had declared it was Opposite Day without my knowing it. He must have feigned ignorance whenever he muttered under his breath that Grandma wouldn’t tell him where she hid the gummy bears. I imagined the shock the gummy bear tin must have experienced when Grandpa’s blistered, sunburned hand instead of Grandma’s soft, lotion-scented hand reached for its contents.
I ate the gummy bears in silence, a small part of me gloating that I was the only grandchild who received gummy bears from Grandpa. Mostly, though, I drank in the love emanating from this rugged old man. He held me; I chewed.
Weeks later, Dad and my uncles finished building our house, and we moved. Visits to the grandparents were reserved for sleepy Sunday afternoons, in which we were required to entertain the grandparents with a new trick, such as jumping three-quarters of an inch into the air. As soon as that obligation was fulfilled, my siblings and I (along with whichever cousins were there at the time) would dash outside to climb trees, sneak cherry tomatoes from Grandpa’s enormous garden, play lost princesses in the orchard, or spend hours building snow forts, only to be too exhausted at the end to have the intense snowball fight we had prepared for.
Then the awkward tragedy of childhood struck. I became unsure of what was acceptable behavior for someone who was too young for big-girl things, but too old to appreciate the magical fantasies of childhood any longer. That was when I began sulking in the corner of the living room during visits after the younger ones made their presence known and scampered. I would sit there for what felt like weeks, watching the clock while the grown-ups talked about the “good old days,” whatever that means, and old acquaintances that had died recently.
To my alarm, I realized that I had nothing to say to my grandpa. This wasn’t unusual for me, since I was a shy child, but my speaking barrier didn’t used to exist when I was around Grandpa. He was just like everyone else now—that magical connection that wiped away my fear of the spotlight was barely clinging to existence.
I wanted that connection back, but I didn’t know how to fix it. And as time went by, I talked to Grandpa less and less. Eventually I went to college, started a career, and left the duty of updating Grandpa on the haps of my life to my mom.
My relationship with Grandpa was reduced to occasional visits during holiday breaks. During one particular visit, I found myself in a familiar setting: several family members sitting in folding chairs, plastic chairs procured from Walmart, camp chairs, and overturned buckets in the shade of Grandma’s lilac tree. Grandpa’s lawn is immaculately mowed, as usual. It’s late summer, and the adults have exhausted all topics regarding the weather, their kids, and their jobs. Aunt Terri is starting to fidget because she needs a cigarette. We relapse into a pleasant silence, enjoying each other’s company and the gentle breeze.
Then Grandpa breaks the silence by barking, “Angie, I sure wish you wouldn’t talk so much.”
Everyone jumps, and then the smiles start.
Then Grandpa launches into a familiar line we’ve all heard. “I remember when I took you to the farm . . .”
I listen as Grandpa reminisces, comparing his memory to mine. “I guess I said everything I needed to say when I was four years old,” I tell Grandpa as he finishes his story and the chuckles have died down.
He grins that crinkly grin of his, stretching the scars on his face left by his last bout with skin cancer. I smile back, and in that moment I’m certain he feels that connection we took for granted when I was an adoring four-year-old. It’s just a glimpse, passing quicker than a blink, and then I’m thinking about how it’s probably time for me to head out, to return to my life of independence sans grandfatherly knights in shining armors.
Others sense the visit is coming to a close as well, and within a few minutes everyone is lined up to receive one of Grandpa’s famous bone-crushing hugs. “I love you,” he tells me as he releases me, gasping for breath. “Love you too,” I manage to say.
As I drive home, the wheels in my head are turning furiously, thinking up stories to tell Grandpa. It starts to rain, and I imagine myself telling Grandpa about my career ambitions, my uncertainties about dating. I want to ask him how to keep a cherry tomato plant alive in a small city apartment and what books he’s been reading lately. A part of me knows that I’m running out of time, and I’m tempted to turn around and dump my thoughts on Grandpa one last time.
But instead I keep those thoughts to myself, and by the time I arrive home I have forgotten them.
Category: Memoir, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student