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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONADE
There were only a couple of boxes of kitchenware and some miscellaneous knick-knacks left after the garage sale. It amazed me how many memories you could fit into a single cardboard box. There was the harvest gold plastic pasta fork we had used to serve Grandma’s famous spaghetti, the sewing box with her thimble, the gaudy green ceramic dog figurine no one would ever buy, but had so much sentimental value. I shuffled through the boxes until I came across the glass pitcher. It was the pitcher we used to make iced tea in every Fourth of July, except for that one summer. That was the summer I got back at my sister.
On the Fourth of July we were getting ready to go to my grandma’s house for lunch. “Charlotte, help me find something for Mom to wear,” Dad said opening the blinds. “Wake up Dear,” he said to Mom.
“I don’t want to go,” she said.
“What about this?” Dad asked, holding up a red dress.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Charlotte, can you help me zip up my dress please?” Gracie asked. She was wearing the same blue one Mom bought for her last summer. She looked like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Except this year she didn’t have any pigtails because when Dad tried they looked crooked.
“Okay, Gracie,” I answered. “Dad, can’t I just wear jeans?”
“No, your mom always likes you to dress up, it’ll make her happy,” he whispered. “And Charlotte, will you look for Gracie’s other sandal, I could only find one of them.”
Once we were at Grandma’s house, we found her in the kitchen setting out the things she was going to make for our Fourth of July picnic lunch.
“I think we should make lemonade,” Gracie said.
“But we always make iced tea on the Fourth of July,” I said.
“That’s a good idea, Gracie, we should make lemonade for a change,” Grandma said.
“Yea!” Gracie exclaimed. I slid down off the kitchen stool and walked towards the sliding door that led out to the deck.
“Don’t you want to help us?” Grandma asked me.
“No, I’m gonna go outside” I said.
I walked out onto the deck. Then I followed the stone pavers to the garden. It had a magical quality that sent my imagination traveling the globe. I visited the deepest rainforests of South America where I was a scientist studying exotic butterflies. I ran through the African jungle, a warrior hunting a stealthy jaguar. I was a wise princess dancing around the pixies’ pond.
I heard Dad calling my name from the grill where he was cooking the ribs. I skipped every other stair back up to the deck. “Charlotte, go see if your grandma has any barbecue sauce for these ribs.”
“I’ll get it,” Gracie suggested.
“No, I’ll get it Gracie.”
“Why don’t you both get it?” Dad said. I went towards the door and slid it open. Gracie followed behind me.
“Gracie, if you’re the last one in you have to close the door,” I said.
“That’s okay,” Grandma said taking some red Jell-O out of the refrigerator, “I don’t have the air conditioning on.”
“Charlotte, don’t wear your shoes in the house, you’ll get dirt on the carpet,” Mom said.
“Gracie has hers on too,” I argued.
“Yeah, but she’s just been out on the deck. You were playing in the garden,” she explained. I slipped them off. Gracie got the barbecue sauce out of the fridge and handed it to me. It seemed like she wanted me to be impressed by how she had used all of her might pulling open the refrigerator door, which was heavy for her, I guess. I took the bottle outside to Dad.
Grandma brought the Jell-O out to the picnic table. We had all the good American cuisine: barbecued ribs, coleslaw, potato salad, biscuits, and corn on the cob, and my favorite, watermelon. “So girls, how many place settings are we going to need?” Grandma asked.
“I think we need six,” I said. “I mean five,” I quickly corrected myself. I had forgotten that Grandpa wouldn’t be there this year.
“Yes, that’s right,” Grandma thought out loud. “I’ll go get the plates, and will you girls help me with the silverware?” We agreed and followed her inside.
Inside Mom was sitting with her head down. I asked what was wrong. She said that nothing was wrong.
“Come outside, Mommy, we got all the food ready,” Gracie said. She pulled Gracie onto her lap and squeezed her in her arms like a teddy bear.
“I just miss your Grandpa so much,” she said gasping between tears. “Charlotte, I need some Kleenex please.”
I need my mom back, I thought. I brought the Kleenex box from the bathroom.
Now she was laughing and stroking Gracie’s hair. “Oh, I don’t need the whole box Honey.”
“I just thought you might…”
“Come on Janie, let’s go outside,” Grandma said to Mom.
At the picnic table Dad asked, “How are the ribs?”
“Yummy to my tummy!” Gracie said reaching across the table for a biscuit. Everyone laughed.
“Ahh! Gracie, you knocked over my glass!” Ice cold lemonade seeped through my sundress, sticky on my hands. “My dress is all wet! Gracie you’re so stupid!”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “it was an accident.”
“Charlotte, don’t yell at your little sister like that. It was just an accident,” Mom said.
“I’ll get a towel,” Grandma said getting up from the table. Dad started soaking it up off the checkered tablecloth with some red-white-and-blue napkins.
Mom and I went to Grandma’s bedroom to get something for me to change into. Then in the laundry room Mom said, “I guess it’s a good thing you made lemonade this year huh? If this were iced tea it might have left a stain, but this should come right out.”
“All better,” Mom announced when we went back to the table.
You don’t look like a baggy clothed monster, I thought, pulling at the shorts and T-shirt from Grandma’s dresser.
“You look funny!” Gracie laughed.
“No I don’t! Shut up Gracie!”
“Don’t talk to your sister like that Charlotte,” Mom said sternly.
“Girls, let’s help your Grandma clean up,” Dad said. “Gracie can you get that bowl, and Charlotte, bring the plates please.”
Once Dad was in the doorway I said, “No!” He didn’t hear.
I watched Gracie walk to the top of the stairs carrying the bowl in her cutesy little dress. Then I jumped up from the picnic table, ran behind her and stuck my foot out around her feet to trip her. She fell face first, onto the wood sending an explosion of potato salad onto the deck. “What happened?!” Grandma exclaimed, running out of the house.
“My arm,” Gracie cried. I stood there trying to comprehend what I had just done.
Dad drove us to the hospital. Mom had stopped being so sad about Grandpa and focused her attention on helping Gracie get better. I had to help Dad with extra housework and not watch TV until Gracie got her cast off. Mom was embarrassed and as far as all of our friends and relatives knew, Gracie had tripped on the stairs. It was just an accident.
24 years had past since then, and we were all grown up. Gracie had a little house, four kids, and a husband that just lost his job. My daughter and my nieces were laughing and playing tag in Grandma’s backyard. Gracie helped me carry the last few cardboard boxes out to my car. She asked me curiously, “Charlotte, why did you do it?” I told her how it was because I had felt like her life was so easy and that I always had to be responsible for everything. “Everyone has hard times in life, even rich movie stars have problems sometimes,” she laughed. I had hurt more than just her feelings, but Gracie forgave me anyway. My not-so-little-anymore-little-sister had taught me an important lesson that day. And I would always hold it near to my heart. You will never be truly happy until you’re content where you are, with what you have, right now.