My grandfather had a gentle heart, patient Southern drawl, and slow-moving ways. Mommy’s daddy towered over everybody, and his lanky, six-foot-eight frame ducked through doorways when he came to visit. Wet-combed, thin hair lay flat in the morning, but the shorter hairs on top rebelled as the day went on.
Every memory is filled with sweetness to counter my deep longing to see his soft, creased face again. There were games of “Stick ‘Em” in the living room chair. He sat quietly with a soft smile on his face. I heaved a giant hand or foot wherever I could manage and “stuck it” in place. In his big hands corn husks and bandanas became dolls, paper took flight, and leaf “boats” floated in rain puddles.
Hundreds of faded black-and-white snapshot memories drift through my mind, but a precious one is saturated in vibrant color.
There were four girls now: eight, six, four, and tiny. Suddenly I was a big sister. The baby was loud and red-faced a lot of the time. Mommy’s friends made a fuss over her. “She’s adorable!” they said. “Is she sleeping well?” they asked. “What a good baby!” they said. They had to ask, “How are you managing four girls?” “Daddy’s really outnumbered now, isn’t he?” everyone said.
Can they see me? I wondered.
We picked my grandparents up from the Amtrak station. Nana squeaked in high-pitched, happy-about-the-baby talk and did the grandmother things. Papa came with her.
Yay! Papa will play with me! Everyone else is too busy. Papa made time for me.
Dinner time. Pots and pans. Bang! Clang! Plates and silverware. Clink. Clink. “Jenny, go outside! You can’t be in here while we’re making dinner.”
I was in the way. Again. Navy blue tennies scuffed down the hall and out the front door. I plopped down on the warm concrete porch, feet dangling and kicking the edge over and over. My scrunched-up face rested in tightly-clenched fists. Why did they send me out? Mommy and Nana don’t like me.
The door creaked, and Papa ducked out into the sunlight. He eased down
next to me. His legs bridged over the front walk, and the grass flattened under the weight of his giant feet. One hand settled next to me.
He was a good listener.
“Papa, they don’t like me in there. They send me outside all the time.” My tennies bounced off the concrete.
“Everybody’s too busy to play, and they keep telling me I’m in the way. They don’t like me anymore. The baby came home, and now I’m always in trouble.” Tears finally came. I kicked harder.
“I think you need this.” A small teddy bear came out from behind his back. The chocolate-brown body was worn and nubby and more flat than fat. The yellow fabric on his paws and nose was faded. Above his nose was a threadbare spot. Two curves of black stitching formed a happy mouth. Hard plastic eyes glinted in the sunlight.
“For me? Thank you! I love him.” Teddy nearly disappeared in my tightly wrapped arms.
“I love you. And so do they,” he nodded toward the noisy, open window. “They’re almost done in there. Your Nana and your mom will just tell me I’m getting in the way, so I think I’ll just stay here.”
“They tell you that, too?”
I pulled me feet up and shuffled into criss-cross-apple-sauce. “They don’t like you either?”
“They do. I still get in the way.”
I thought about that.
We talked about the sun heading for quitting time. I told him the porch was going to turn orange. I showed him the tiny, black ants husling along the cracks of the sidewalk between lunchtime popsicle stains and their hole. Busy, busy!
The front door creaked as Mommy held it wide open. “Daddy and Jenny—it’s time for din-din.” I squeezed Teddy once more.
The steaming-hot chicken pot pie landed upside down with a plop! The crust was broken and leaking. A short, sweaty glass of milk waited beside it.
Thanks for reading, friends. Do you have a sweet story related to a precious relationship? I’d love to read your short story. Share it in the comments below…