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In Loving Memory
I sat on the creaky swing on my grandparent’s front porch. The voices of my family traveled out to me as I picked at the blueish gray paint on the swing that had long ago started pealing.
My eyes went over to my usual choice of seat. A lone wooden chair, painted the same color as the bench, sat next to a wheel chair that no longer had a real use. As I eyed the oh so familiar sight, I vowed there and then that I would never again sit in that seat. The chair would never offer me the same comfort, it just wouldn’t feel right.
I bite my bottom lip, I blinked my eyes rapidly in order to stop myself from crying. I had been doing that a lot that day, that week.
The hem of my black dress laid between my knees and my ankles. The black hat perched on my head made the day seem even hotter than it already was. I wanted to take it off but to discourage me from doing so my mom had pinned it to my hair. My braids hanged down by my eyes with black ribbons holding them in place.
That day was not only a sad one but one that forced me to end a fantasy I had been having over the past few days. I looked down looked down at my feet at my black shoes that were a size too small and my brand new tights. As I looked down a strong gust of wind blew, taking me back to a place that was very near yet very far away.
*********“You in or out?” he asked me, opening the door to the chicken coop.
“In!” I chirped and went into the coop, not daring to show him that I was even the least bit afraid of a bunch of chickens.
“That’s my girl!” he said smiling his usual tired smile.
After all the years I had known him, five at the time, he always had the same smile. Not a full smile, he always seemed too tired to smile a full smile, and it was a rare occasion when he laughed.
“Come on, don’t let the chickens scare you,” he said as he picked up hens by the back of their necks in order to retrieve the eggs under neither. “Don’t be afraid of getting dirty either.”
“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed when one of the chickens got too close to me.
I hid behind his leg, holding on tightly to fabric of his old and faded overalls.
“What are you, a girl?” he asked chuckling a little as he teased me. “Look at it this way, the more eggs the more eggs we leave the more chickens will hatch.”
Afraid to even image more chickens in the coop, I let go of his leg and went to over the hens’ nests. He waited a while to see what I’d do before he move a chicken out of my way. I reached and retrieved her eggs, happily placing it into his bucket.
“Good job,” he told me as he opened the door of the coop.
I bounced out into the barn with the bucket of eggs. While he bent down in order to fit through the door way, I sat down the bucket and handed him his cane that had been leaning against the wall of the barn.
“Thank you little girl,” he said, taking the cane gratefully.
He straightened up his back as much as he could once he got completely through the doorway. His eye lids dropped and he smiled his sweet, tired smile down at me. I looked back up at him, smiling so big that my mouth hurt, and looked into his sky blue eyes. At the time I was half the height I am now but I was still barely as tall as his knees.
“Grandpa, how tall are you?” I asked him as I picked the bucket and grabbed his hand that overwhelmed mine.
“To tall,” he told me with a small chuckle as we began our slow progression out of the barn and towards the house.
He didn’t bend his knees as we walked along, he couldn’t anymore.
“You know, you walk like Frankenstein,” I informed him, making chuckle a little bit more.
“No, I can say that I knew that,” he said.
“Well you do, but you’re no scary like him though,” I told him.
“Good to know,” he replied.
“When I grow up I’m going to marry you and we’re going to take care of the chickens together every day,” I said, and that time his small chuckle turned into a loud and hardy laugh that filled the crisp summer air. *****
The winded stopped blowing against my back and I stood up from the creaky swing. I walked around the house, ducking to avoid being seen through a window, and went out to the barn. I had no sooner gotten inside the barn when the wind began to blow again.
*****”Michelle-Amanda,” my grandmother said in her pinched voice and with a sour expression on her face, “sit up straight in that chair. Do you want to get a hunch on your back like my sister?”
I sat up straight in the uncomfortable kitchen chair and continued to string the mound of green beans in front of me.
“What is this?” my grandpa asked, walking into the small yet homey kitchen, wearing his overalls and tired smile.
“We’re stringing beans,” my grandmother said in her crackly old voice. “What does it look like we’re doing?”
“I know what you’re doing,” my grandpa exclaimed and bent down to give my grandmother a kiss. “I meant what are you doing,” he asked looking at me. “Wearing a dress, stirring beans in the kitchen, what are you a girl?” he teased.
I smiled at him and he winked at me.
“She is a girl, A.J.,” my grandmother told him sternly. “Not a little boy, a little girl.”
“A miserable one,” my grandpa said. “Go on, change into your work clothes and come out to the barn. I’ll be waiting.”
I got up and ran into the room I was staying in on my visit and changed from my pink dress with yellow bows in to my overalls. My feet flew as they carried me out to the barn.
“Grandpa!” I yelled when I couldn’t find him. “Where are you?”
“Up here!” he yelled back and I looked up to the roof of the barn where he was looking over the side down at me. “Come on up! Bring my hammer, I left it down by the ladder,” he instructed me and I could see his blues eyes shine from all the way down on the ground.
I grabbed the hammer off the ground and without hesitation, began to climb up the rungs of the old wooden ladder.
“Here, I’ll hold the nail and you hit it,” he said when I reached the roof of the barn, holding the nail in place. “Go on, but don’t hit my finger though,” he teased me.
The wind had begun to blow and it blew so hard that it blew the straw hat off of its perch on his thinning white hair.**************
The chickens started clucking like crazy in their coop behind me and I rolled my eyes in announce at my old feathered nemeses.
“Stupid chickens,” I muttered to myself and grabbed the bucket of corn so I could feed them.
******* “Come on,” grandpa said smiling tiredly at me. “In we go. Time to make the chickens some feed.”
“What do I got to do?” I asked, letting go of his big hand.
“You shuck the corn, I’ll take the corn off the cobs,” he instructed and walked over to a rusted, medieval looking device.
“Ok!” I agreed and began to peel the green covering off the freshly picked cobs of sweet yellow corn.
I handed the golden sticks to him, who put the cobs one by one into and end of the device and then turned the handle effortlessly. Somehow that device took the corn clean off the cob and push it out of the left side into a bucket. The bare cob then fell out of the front hole and onto the floor, disturbing the dust the covered the ground.
“How does it do that?” I asked him.
“Beats me,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. “But it gets the job done. You want to try it?”
“Sure!” I replied excited and walked over to the device.
Grandpa put a cob of corn in and I tried my hardest to turn that rusty handle. But it just would not budge.
“It’s broken,” I said and my grandpa laughed a little, obviously getting a kick out of the whole thing.
“Well, it is not,” he insisted teasingly. “Why I just got done using it not a minute ago. Aren’t you strong enough to turn it?”
I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed a little bit more. Then I went to back to trying to turn the handle. Finally, after much effort, it turns and the corn came out into the bucket.
“Told you I could do it!” I said with my hands on my hips witch made him laugh more.
A real laugh. Not just a chuckle, but a real laugh. In all my seven years at the time, I had only heard him laugh three times, this made the forth. And there was something very musical in that deep laugh of his that made me have to laugh right along with him.**********
After I had feed the chickens I went back to the porch. I just stood there, looking at my blue chair next to the ominously empty wheel chair. Then I looked for a long while at the screen door that lead inside to the living room where my family was congregated. I didn’t even blink. I stood completely still, waiting.
But he did not come out side to the porch to join me.
His voice did not call to me from the sky above as he sat of the roof of the barn.
The back of my throat burned the way it does when you’re trying not to cry. But in that moment it finally all hit me.
My grandpa was no more going to walk through that screen door in his overalls and smile tiredly at me, than my mom was going to come out and tell me I didn’t have to wear the dress to the funeral.
He wasn’t going to walk out of the porch and sit in his wheel chair we had to have made special for him because he was too tall for a regular one. We weren’t going to eat those peanut shaped candies together anymore. He wasn’t going to smile his tired smile and ask me if I was a girl. Nor was he going to tell me stories about the dust bowl or WW2 or his grandmother.
Without my permission my eyes produced tears that ran down my cheeks like a water fall over a mountain side. I looked down at my black shoes that were still too small and then over at his wheel chair.
Whipping the tears away, I sat down in his wheel chair. I wasn’t going to have him around to talk to anymore. He was always seemed to be the one person who loved me the most.
My mom came out on the front porch and yelled at me for getting my brand new dress dirty. Then she said it was time to go.
On the car ride to the way to the church I seemed to be the only one who really missed him.
What killed my grandpa was a ruptured appendix. When he said he didn’t feel well my family talked him out of going to the hospital and convinced him to just go take a long nap before dinner.
****** “Go wake him up,” my mother told me. “Dinner’s ready.”
I walked out of the kitchen and into my grandparent’s bed room where my grandpa was supposed to be napping on the bed.
“Grandpa,” I said when I walked in and flipped the light on. “Grandpa, time to wake up. The food’s done.”
He didn’t move, didn’t open his eyes. He just lay there perfectly still in his overalls. I walked over to the bed and kept waiting for his mouth to turn up into his tired smile. But he still didn’t move.
“Grandpa,” I said once again, climbing onto the bed. “Wake up,” I told him and bounced on the mattress.
He still didn’t move. The room was eerily silent.
“Grandpa,” I said and got off the bed.
I walked over to his side and put my hand on his unmoving chest.
“Grandpa,” I repeated and my voice cracked a little bit. “Wake up,” I begged, “please grandpa wake up!”
He still did not move. I bit my lip. He wasn’t kidding around, he wasn’t just pretending. I think somewhere deep within me, that he was really not breathing but I couldn’t let myself believe it.
“Grandpa,” I said again but it did not do any good. “Mom!” I screamed, “Mom! Come in here! Hurry!”
I walked around the bed and laid down next to my grandpa. I rested my head on his chest and shut my eyes.
“Grandpa,” I whispered. “Please.”******
I stood there in between the pews of the church. Not moving, not making a sound. I kept waiting for someone to care. But they were just acting like it was a normal day.
I just looked forward at the specially made casket. I was afraid to go near it. But I knew I was going to have to if I wanted to see him one more time.
The rest of my family staid in the back of the church talking, paying no mind to me. So I walked up the aisle to the man I once told myself I would marry, and to the alter when he laid waiting.
“Grandpa,” I said standing next to the casket, but not looking in. “They made me wear a dress,” I told him. “You never like it when I wear dresses though, I don’t either. I tried to tell them that but they didn’t listen to me. I miss you a lot.”
I took a deep breath then looked into the casket. For a moment I couldn’t recognize him. He didn’t look right. They put him in a suit, when he belonged in his overalls. And I belonged in mine.
In loving memory of Andrew Jackson Mayes 1918-2003