I have the best granny in the world, or so says the homemade, brightly colored, baked clay clumsily glued to a safety pin “broach” I made for her in first grade. Constantly levelheaded, and always sensible, my grandma can be found in the front row of every Christmas play, piano recital, and cheerleading competition, bursting with pride for her grandchildren. Each of her co-workers knows by heart the lives of my sisters and myself. “Oh! You’re Mary’s granddaughter,” they say when she introduces me. “Boy have I heard a lot about you!” She drags every person she can club over the head to one of my boring jazz band concerts or just to listen to me play the piano at Lee’s Restaurant and sip coffee. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to return her love or see her happy. Nothing.
My grandma is the sort of person who could talk endlessly about nothing and all you would have to do to make her think you’re listening is unconsciously grunt or nod your head every so often – it’s one of her most loveable qualities. Never had I seen her flinch with foolish sentimental emotion. Raised by a single mother who spoke little English and no education, and one of 12 children, she has seen her share of difficulties. Things happen, suck it up and deal with it, and “Oh, by the way, do you have a tablespoon of lemon juice? I’m making chicken and forgot to run to the store.”
It was for this reason, I was not at all surprised that on our way to her sister-in-law and best friend’s funeral, she was talking about the banana sale at Russ’s Market. My sister and I were much more involved in smothering our completely inappropriate giggles over the irony as the song “Ashes by Now” began to play on the radio. Poor Great Aunt Louise had been cremated. From the back seat of the car, I half listened to grandma as I watched her gray head bob up and down, and the rise and fall of her hand correlate with the inflections in her voice. From the extra hours she’s been putting in at the office, to a perfectly good chair she found by the dumpster (all it needs is a good scrubbing), somehow, her stream-of-conscience chatter led to a story her priest told at Mass last Sunday. As she told us the story, her voice maintained the same non-stop, up-beat tone as when she told the banana sale story.
The story was of two soldiers in World War II. They were best friends. One soldier risked his life and left the trench to set a trap for the enemy. As the other soldier waited for his return, there was a terrible explosion and he knew his friend had been in the midst of it. Hours passed as he nervously waited in the muddy trench for him to reappear, but he never did. Against the will of his commanding officer, the soldier left the safety of the trench, determined to find and bring back his friend. Not more than a few minutes later, he returned, carrying his friend over his shoulder, eyes moist. He laid him gently on the ground. Dead. “I told you it was useless,” reprimanded his commanding officer.
It was here in the story, I heard something I had never heard before. My grandma paused, tried to go on, but rather whispered gently, “Excuse me.” Her head was still. Her hand went over her mouth. Her eyes dropped to the floor. After several moments of this strange new silence, she went on.
“No,” replied the soldier boldly to his commander. “You see, he wasn’t dead when I found him. When I knelt next to him, he said to me, ‘I knew you’d come.’”
There was more silence as my grandma gained control. Then she explained, “I never went to see her in the hospital.” My sister and I exchanged stunned and confused glances, afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the delicate mood. Grandma proceeded, “When I spoke to her on the phone, she even asked me, why hadn’t I come to see her?” A tender pause. “I knew you’d come,” she repeated softly to herself. “No that’s true friendship.” Her voice was quiet and full of bitter regret. It was in that moment, when I nearly cried of heartbreak for my grandma’s pain, that I wished I were lying in a hospital so that when my grandma came to see me, I could say to her, “I knew you’d come.” Because I know she would.
**This story was published in the Four Cornered Universe Online Literary magazine on March 6, 2010. http://fourcornereduniverse.com/