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The Last Gift
As she walked up the last few steps she got a glimpse of the forbidden place her grandmother would never let her go as a kid. The ray of light beaming through a small window was the only thing enabling her to see. Lydia looked around at the remnants of her grandmother; after whom she was named. The overwhelming smell of must and creepy crawly bugs made her shiver. After 80 years on this earth the only thing her grandmother had left her was her engagement ring and all this junk in the attic.
Lydia was a surprise to her parents, never planned for, and has been a surprise to them her entire life. Lydia Gallagher came from a conservative family born and raised with Georgian wealth. She was named after her favorite grandmother whose father had started one of the most wealthy cotton plantations of the south. At the age of 26 she was the definition of a Georgia peach. She had a smile that would light up any room, emerald eyes that make every woman hold on to her man at parties, strawberry kissed blonde hair with just enough of a curl to make her look like she came straight off a movie set, and her southern accent so sweet it could sweeten your tea. Even though she is close to perfect her spunk and attitude has caused her trouble a few times. Lydia has a mind of her own and in her opinion southern hospitality can kiss her… well she does have a few manners.
Her grandmother was so awful; did she really not like her after all these years? She thought that they were so close and the greatest of friends. If this were the case then why on earth would she leave all this junk for me to take care of? As she thought of a plan on how to attack the mounds of stuff she heard the all too familiar sound of those to ominous notes radiating from her phone. Granted her mother wasn’t quite like the enormous shark with teeth the size of your head, which loves to snack on people, but she was pretty close to the blockbuster fish.
“Hey darlin’ just calling to see how everything is going at ma-maw’s place.”
“ Oh goodness it’s great! I just cannot wait to unpack all of grandma’s unwanted boxes just to find that most of it is rotten and probably has a funk to it!”
“Lydia Anne! Now I know that you’re upset that your grandmother didn’t leave all of her most treasured possessions to you but she wanted you out of everyone to take care of all of the things which made her who she was. And I know I did not raise you to be rude.”
“I’m sorry momma it’s just been a rough week and today hasn’t been any better.”
“I know your daddy is a stubborn man but I know that deep down he is a good man. He is just acting on what he knows and what he thinks is right. Oh well, I have to go Lee is ready to wax my…”
Ugh that woman will be the death of me! Lydia thought.
Well seeing as I have about one thousand boxes I better take a few home to go through and figure out what to do with all this stuff. All I ask Lord is that you don’t let me find a dead animal in one of these boxes!
Later that night after a nice glass of wine and pasta at her favorite restaurant Lydia decided to dive into her grandmothers things.
Over the years she had gotten to know grandma Lydia pretty well so all of this stuff shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to me, Lydia thought. Some old albums, maybe some VHS' of her favorite stories… Oh gosh hopefully nothing is surprising because after 80 years on God’s green earth there could be some scary things in these boxes.
Lydia went over to the corner where she had designated her grandmothers past to lay in the dusty boxes that had the potential to conceal so many unknown details. Lydia scanned over the pile choosing her first victim. She lifted up a box that looked more like an old orange crate, took it over to her sofa and blew the mounds of dust off of it.
Here goes she thought… taking a deep breath.
She had no idea what to expect so when she came across some old Christian love stories and a few Good Housekeeping magazines she knew she had not struck gold with all of her grandmother’s nick-knacks from the attic.
Before calling it quits for the night and calling Henry she decided to dig through one last item. She chose to look through on old trunk. As she opened it she could see at least twenty small notebooks. Each with the initials L.E.; Lydia Edgeworth. As she looked at them it brought tears to her eyes because even though her grandmother is not here anymore to help her through these difficult times maybe there will be some stories within these journals that can help her.
Lydia felt like a kid on Christmas morning with a smile from ear to ear and eyes glistening with tears of joy. She knew she had to look through them and that her call to Henry could wait. She thought of all the happy stories she had heard throughout the years and hoped they would be in the journals. Lydia wiped away a tear trickling down her soft rosy cheeks and cautiously opened the first journal.
The first few pages she read were blasé. Very little detail, only things that her grandmother had experienced that day. Lydia was surprised to see that her grandmother had written almost everyday; even if what she had to say was menial. After awhile she had gotten into the entries when her grandmother was a young woman.
June 13, 1951
Today was a very warm day. I tried to stay outa the heat as much as possible but with momma being ill I needed to help Mae out a little more with the chores. Today daddy hired some new workers to help with the cotton plantation. He said that even though harvest isn’t till October he could use the help workin on the fields till then. I usally am not exposed to the workers but since I was out in the yard helpin hang up the clothes I noticed some of the men. Now, I usally don’t talk to any of the colored people besides Mae our maid because daddy doesn’t like it. But I figured since I am 19 now I could if I wanted to. I noticed one young man in particular as he was walking back to the field from lunch I waved at him and went over to see if he would like any water. I don’t understand why people are so afraid of them just because their skin is different. Why does their skin color mean they are unworthy of equal treatment. I don’t pay any attention to those silly rules though. The young man seemed scared at first but once I introduced myself we got talking real quick. His name is Tucker, but he said I could call him Tuck. We talked about our schooling and books for a short time before he had to leave. I never knew colored people knew how to read. I find him so fascinating and nice and handsome. I hope we can get to know each other real well.-L.E.
When she was through reading her granny’s entry she was speechless. She never knew her grandmother was so much like her; going against the grain .She couldn’t wait to find out more.
August 23 , 1951
Even though I know I am not supposed to talk to Tuck I do anyway. He makes me smile and laugh like no other stingy man daddy has introduced me to. He is so strong and kind and I am closer to him than I have been to anyone in my life before. We try to see each other as often as we can but we have to watch out because of all the people who hate the colored people the racists they call them. From now on I don’t want to mention colors because that is just silly to me God created the flowers to be all different colors yet we don’t dislike a flower just because of the color. In my head we're equal because God created us that way. I really hope all this racist junk goes away soon because I think I want to spend the rest of my life with Tucker James.
Lydia was sobbing now. Why had her grandmother never told her these stories? Lydia Edgeworth had so much fun with a man she had met on her father’s plantation so many years ago. She wondered what had happened to Tucker and how did her grandmother come to marry her grandfather and not Tuck? She had to finish the journals and find out what happened.
Their story seemed flawless until one entry she read that she began to worry about her grandmother’s happiness.
May 20, 1954
Recently my daddy has become very angry. He and all his friends are screaming mad about the whole decision on integrating schools. I heard debates on the radio; Brown vs. Board of education it’s called. They want the schools to be integrated and want equality for everyone. I think this should have been done a long time ago. There is no reason to have two separate schools, buses, and sets of textbooks. Everyone should be equal and feel accepted. I have begun to worry because daddy says he is going to let go of half of the workers due to a bad season and he thinks they are all cheating him. When I tried to say even the littlest bit of what I thought about the issue he got really angry, yelling, saying that awful “n” word I hate. He told me I don’t know what I am talking about because they are dirty and do not belong next to anyone, especially his little girl. I am getting scared because now that I am 22 I want to settle down soon. Tuck and I are trying to keep everything a secret but we are both so happy together we are talking about getting married. I am terrified for our safety and how people will react.
Lydia knew her grandmother was a determined woman and if she really wanted to be with Tuck she would have found a way. They had to make it some how; they were perfect for each other.
July 7, 1954
I am full of so much anguish, hate, disgust, and pain. I cannot take it anymore. People are so cruel and blind of their own beliefs. They say they are Christian yet they spit, kick, and say horrific things to someone because they aren’t a certain skin color.
Last week I finally got the nerve to tell momma and daddy about the man I would marry some day. When I told them it was if I was telling them I was going to have a child out of marriage; all H*ll broke loose. Daddy’s face turned a shade of red I thought only a tomato could be. He yelled and cursed and threw things. If this was how my own father was acting I couldn’t imagine how others would react. I warned Tuck that since people knew about our relationship he had to be careful because in this town people are crazy when it comes to skin color. He ,of course, told me everything would be fine, that he would be careful; because he is a strong and courageous man.
A few nights after I warned him, we met to plan our get away. We knew that since people were threatening us and leaving death notes on my porch we had to leave. My own father told me I was not allowed to see Tuck anymore! He said I am only a silly girl who doesn’t know anything and should stick “to my own kind”. Tuck and I made our plans to go north to Michigan where we heard they were rallying supporters of the civil rights movements. We hoped that people there accept us. I should have just listened to my father and left Tuck alone. I feel like a horrible and stupid woman. From now on I am going to follow the rules because I can never be responsible for causing someone else pain. It is all my fault.
I was to meet Tuck the following night to leave for the north. He had saved all his money he earned on the plantation and we were going to get away from all the cruel people who hated us. That morning I had gotten up, packed some of my things, and went downstairs to eat some breakfast. I was shocked when I saw my father in a good mood and then after a week of not speaking to me he smiled and said good morning. When he said those words I knew something was going on because my father is a cold man who never backs down. He holds grudges as good as Crisco oils a creaky door. My heart sank as soon as he started his sentence.
“Sweet heart there has been an accident.” I could tell in his tone this wasn’t good nor was it an accident.
“ When I went into town today I was speakin’ to mister McGuire at the supermarket and he told me that Mrs. Scott, you know the woman who sits in the pew in front of us at church, was attacked by that colored boy who you were so fond of.”
No this wasn’t true Tucker would NEVER do that he is a kind and respectful man. He would never harm anyone especially a stingy white woman who claims she is a Christian.
“The police tried to stop him but they couldn’t control him…and well in the process…that ape was killed.”
I couldn’t handle it I broke down and screamed and cried so hard you would have thought someone pulled my all teeth out. He was lying I know my Tucker would never have done that. Since people knew about us I know those coward boys people call men were the ones who killed him. Tuck did absolutely nothing wrong and they killed him. He never hurt me nor anyone else in this town.
I will never find a man like him, he was so strong and sensitive, smart but humble. He had all the qualities my daddy would want for me in any white man, but Tuck had one flaw; he wasn’t white.
I will never know why God would allow such a wonderful man to be taken out of my world. I will hurt every day of my life because my best friend was taken away and I know no one will ever understand me and love me like Tucker James did. I know though that Tuck would want me to live my life and be happy so I will try. It will be hard and I will have to work at it everyday but I pray that one day I can be happy again. These past three years with Tuck have been the best years of my life. I now know that try as I may to do what I want and be who I am to be I can’t. The powerful people in the world will only pull me down and crush all of my hopes. I will do whatever it takes to never feel so hurt as I do now; I am empty and will stay that way until the day I die.
Lydia’s shirt was soaked from droplets of heartache. She could not believe this story came from her rather conservative and kindhearted grandmother so many years ago. She knew why granny Lyd had never told anyone of her heartache because Lydia, who was just like her grandmother, holds the really hard things inside and doesn’t want other people to have pity for her. As Lydia looked at the clock she was shocked when it displayed 5:46 AM. She decided to call it quits for the night and would return to put the pieces together in the morning.
Just as the sun broke through the glass the next morning Lydia awoke to a phone ringing. It was Jaws.
“He sweety it’s momma. I just wanted to let you know that I got a call from your uncle this morning who said granny Lyd’s lawyer forgot to tell you granny left you one more thing. He said that it should be arriving at your house in about half an hour. So make sure you're up darlin’! I hope you have a good day sweetheart, I love you.”
After she heard her mother’s call drop Lydia shot up and got dressed. She still had to call Henry but her grandmother's story was more important.
After some coffee she heard the foreboding ring of the doorbell. As she answered the door expecting a package she was handed a thin, weightless envelope. Her grandmother was full of surprises even after she died.
Lydia said a prayer and then carefully opened the envelope.
June 13, 2012
To my darling granddaughter Lydia,
I hope by now you have found my old journals. If not they are in an old trunk upstairs. I need you to go read them and then finish reading this letter. If you don't follow these instructions I will haunt you young lady!
I am glad we have that piece of business taken care of. Now, I know you probably have a lot of questions about what happened and how I got to be where I was.
You see I knew my time was near and with everything that has been going on I knew I had to tell you my story. Just like you I am a stubborn woman who sticks to what she believes so I want to first apologize to you for not helping you more. I wanted to leave you this letter and my stories as my last gift to you. Alright now time to explain myself.
First of all I want you to know I loved your grandfather very much, he was a good man and a great friend. But he was no Tucker James. I tried to love your grandpa as much as I loved Tuck but once Tuck had died I changed . From then on I couldn't allow myself to be vulnerable and let people all the way in, until you. You my darling are so special and just like me. I am so proud of you and how you stick up for your values and beliefs when things are tough much like I tried to. I am sorry that your father is so hardheaded and closed-minded, much like my daddy. Speaking of your father did you know I named him after Tuck. I often would chuckle when I said his name because no one but me knows the real reason I named him James. That is our little secret, okay miss Lydia?
My last few words to you I want to encourage you to stick with your heart and eventually things will work out. Our good Lord will take care of you no matter what and if anyone tries to come in the way of your happiness I will make sure the man upstairs gives them a lesson or two.
My sweet baby girl now you know who I am and how I become Lydia Gallagher. If your father doesn't come around then he is the one to miss out.
Sweety in life people will come and go but the ones who are worth the while will stick around. And lastly, never forget me and my story. Follow your heart and always put your faith in God and you will turn out just fine; no matter what anyone says.
I love you sugar pie and I am so proud and supportive of who you are. Just remember my last gift to you and everything will be okay.
Lydia wiped tears away from her eyes as she let go of the one woman who she needed most. Her grandmother supported her. She smiled and thanked God so much for all the junk in her grandmother's attic. She couldn’t wait to tell her husband all about this when he got home.
Lydia set down the letter and walked down stairs to see if her husband was home yet. As she turned the corner the front door opened. Henry's dark skin glowed in the morning sun. Henry was her Tuck. He was strong and sensitive, smart but humble and Lydia's best friend. In Lydia's eyes he was flawless and to her that is all that mattered.
She knew, thanks to her grandmother, that her father may never approve or come around, but that was okay with her because she knew her best friend would never fail her.
Even though Lydia's grandmother had given her so many gifts throughout her life the last gift in particular had the most value to her and gave her the most joy more than any material thing in the world could. She was so grateful for stories like her grandmother's because they allowed her to be happy and to Lydia that was the best gift of all.