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“Happy Birthday Evelyn, the big seven oh, right? How’s it feel?” I slid my eyes shut searching for a name but couldn’t come up with anything. All around were my family and friends, gathered to celebrate my 70th birthday, and I could only remember a handful of them. All the noises of laughing and partying were too much. Everyone had congregated at the picnic tables, so I wandered off, toward the abandoned swing set to clear my mind.
I sat down on the plastic seat, appreciating the solitude. As I rocked back and forth a gentle breeze blew, and the sweet familiar smell tickled my nose in a way that had only happened once before.
“I wanna swing on the big girl swing Grandma.” The smell of milk thistle was heavy in the air, as gentle hands answered my question, by lifting me onto the leathery seat.
The wind was blowing strong enough to lift my dirty blonde curls, teaching my pigtails how to do the tango, but gentle enough to allow no sand into my bravely opened eyes.
The leaves crunched under my slipper clad feet, creating a mosaic of reds, yellows, browns, and oranges, in shades that only autumn knew how to make. I pushed myself a bit harder, turning my gentle rocking into a steady swing. The breeze felt good as it held a whispered conversation with my thick whitened hair and I let my head fall back, to look at the sky.
My legs kicked back and forth and my feet, dressed in dirty sneakers, had no intention of getting to know the newly fallen leaves. I threw my head back to see the clouds and, longing to touch them, yelled out, “Higher Grandma, higher!” She laughed but gave in. Thinking that I could, in fact, touch the clouds, my five year old hands tightened around the rope in anticipation. I waited for the gentle white fluff to kiss me on the cheek.
It was such a clear day, I noted, as I swung higher and higher, not a cloud in the sky. My hands, covered in a complex maze of wrinkles, tightened on the plastic-coated, weather-proofed chains that kept the seat suspended. The sun looked so alone with no clouds for company. Swinging forward, I longed to befriend it, maybe even touch and hold the shining yellow ball in my hand, but instead I closed my eyes against its brightness, only seeing the light that had managed to leak through my nearly lucid lids.
I closed my eyes and laughed at the show that the sun’s beams played on the back of my eyelids. My pulse pounded in my throat and I lifted my feet out in front of me. If it weren’t for Grandma’s gentle hands, touching my back at steady rate, keeping me swinging, I would have thought for sure that I was flying.
I kicked off as hard as I could without causing damage to my fragile bones and lost connection with the ground. With liver spotted legs fully extended, I was only aware of two things: my wildly beating heart and the intense, irreplaceable feeling of flying. A smile spread across my face, revealing fake enamel, but none the less genuine. My laughter escaped into the open air, and the wind carried it until it got lost in the purple-pink flowers of the milk thistles.
Laughter took over my entire body, bubbling up and spewing from my tiny toothless smile, into the air. I took a deep breath, allowing the enticing scent of the milk thistle to intoxicate my mind as the swing slowed.
I slowed down a bit breathing heavily, a hint of laughter still hanging in my eyes. I thought the moment had been mine alone, so I was surprised to see a young girl standing, a little bit away but, so clearly, watching my every move. Her curious and confused look mirrored my own, until a wave of realization washed over me.
“That was so much fun Grandma,” I said, still giggling a bit. I hopped off the still seat and turned to face her. “You’re the best.”
She smiled, which made the lines on her face even deeper. “Thank you Evelyn, but that’s what Grandma’s are for.”
“Yes,” she replied laughing, and I launched myself into her arms, hugging her close to whisper in her ear.
“I’ll remember this day forever and ever.”
I beckoned the small girl to me and whispered into her ear, “Do you want me to push you on the big swing?” She glanced over and nodded excitedly. We walked over to it together and I lifted her into the seat. I pushed her; aware of every plea of “higher!” or “faster!”
Party forgotten, we were both lost in memories. Our imaginations hard at work making sure we would never forget them.
Tomorrow, I may not remember my son’s home phone number, or even what day of the week it is; but it’s things like this that no one lets go of.
“Wow Gramma Evelyn, you should try this, it’s so much fun, just like flying! Thanks for pushing me.”
I slowed the swing and let her off, “No problem sweetie, that’s what Grandma’s are for.”