From the Relief Society Magazine, February 1960 –
Grandpa’s Red Suspenders
by Myrtle M. Dean
It was near the middle of May, when Grandpa Foster came to stay at Brookside, with his son James and his family. Janie would always remember the time, for it was so near her eighteenth birthday. She had planned a big birthday party. She had made a list of all of her young friends, the most special one being Stan Dalby, who was just home from college. Janie was anxious to make a good impression on Stan this summer.
Janie’s heart sank low when her mother said, “You will have to give up your party, Janie. now grandpa is here, the noisy crowd will disturb him. he has been ill you know.”
“But, Mom, grandfather will be in his room. We won’t make that much noise.” Janie could hardly believe that her mother was serious.
“I told your father that all the family would have to give up their own normal life and pleasures, if Grandpa came here to live,” Janie’s mother continued.
It seemed to Janie now that her mother was forcing them all to play the martyr. Anne Foster had agreed to Grandfather’s coming so grudgingly. Janie had heard her mother say, “I’m only a daughter-in-law, and he has two daughters. It seems that they should be glad to care for him.”
There had been many conferences over the matter, before Grandpa Foster came. there were five children and all agreed that something must be done about Father. After all their discussions, James, the oldest son, decided it was his duty to see that his father was taken care of “lovingly,” he had said to the others.
Grandma Foster had died last year, just before thanksgiving time. Usually all the families went down to Grandpa Foster’s farm for thanksgiving dinner, but last year they all went to their grandmother’s funeral. grandpa had protested so vigorously against leaving his home then that they left him down at the farm. The grandchildren had gone to visit him often. Then this spring he had had a bad case of influenza. that was when the family decided something must be done.
As James Foster stopped at the front of the house with his father, the family all came out to greet him as cheerfully as they could. Bill and the two younger children, Jimmy and Beth, ran out to the car to help bring in his things. Janie and her mother stood waiting on the porch. There were a small suitcase and several paper bags full of his things. Then Bill and Jimmy came along behind the others carrying a little, old-fashioned trunk.
“Perhaps we had better put that trunk downstairs in the storeroom,” Anne Foster said.
Grandpa Foster’s face became anxious, and he spoke up promptly, “I’d like awful well to keep the trunk close by me, in my room. The things in there are mostly keepsakes of Grandma’s and mine.” His face was very serious, and he followed closely as they carried his things to his room.
The room was clean and comfortable. there was a radio, and in a corner of the room, a fine TV set. Near his bed was a small table where he could eat his meals, if he wished.
His eyes teared, and his hands trembled a little when he spoke. “I’m real grateful for all your kindness.” for a moment then he was silent before he spoke more firmly. “It is foolish, though – real foolish, that a man can’t stay in his home and not trouble folks. A flu bug hit me, but I’d soon have been as good as ever, and could look after myself.”
“Now, father,” James Foster sad, “you are too independent. I want my boys and girls to know you better. And your farm is in good hands. Sam Carson has it rented and will keep things in good shape. You must not worry.” James tried to pacify his father.
Janie thought that her grandfather kept to his room too much. Was it because he didn’t want to trouble the family, or that he liked to be left alone? she wondered. His appetite seemed to lag more each day. grandpa isn’t happy here, she thought, and she wondered sometimes if her mother might have planned the comforts of Grandfather’s room to keep him away from her family.
Each evening Janie took in a tasty meal to her grandpa’s room. It seemed that he sent most of it back on the tray.
“Grandfather, you eat so little. what would you like? Can’t I fix you something?” Janie asked one evening, when he seemed paler, and even more quiet than usual.
At first he hesitated, then a smile crossed his face as he said, “Janie, do you remember eating bread and milk, with honey and jam and fresh butter, down on the farm with grandma and me, for supper?”
“Oh, Grandpa, I can never forget how good it was. it was so much fun to eat with you and grandmother. Her good homemade bread. I can taste it now. Let me try baking some tomorrow and we will eat it here together,” Janie said kindly.
The late afternoon sun shone softly into the window, making the room cozy and bright. Janie and her grandfather sat together enjoying the fresh baked bread that she had brought to eat with milk and honey. As her grandpa ate he talked of the days on the farm with grandma, when they had first gone there together. How wonderful their love must have been, Janie thought. Sitting here listening to her grandpa’s voice so full of happy remembrance, she wondered how it would be to have someone love her as grandpa had loved his wife. She thought of Stan Dalby, of her plans for the summer which included him. She thought, too, of the birthday party which she had counted on, and must not have on account of grandpa.
“Oh, Grandpa, why couldn’t you have waited to come until after my party?” she said to herself. She realized now that Stan had not even met her grandfather, and she wondered what he would think of him. This old man with such homey ways, and he had always lived on a farm. there was another thing that always worried the family. Grandfather Foster had a pair of bright red suspenders and a tie to match, which he had won down at the county fair, years ago. He always put them on for special occasions. There had been no place for him to wear them here at Brookside. There would probably be none. he would have to keep them stored away in his trunk of memories.
“I’m afraid that you children are bothering Grandfather too much lately,” Mrs. Foster warned them. They had begun to visit him to hear his stories, and followed him on his morning walks.
“Grandpa knows the names of all the birds, and just where to find their nests,” young Jimmy said.
“Mother, I think he enjoys having somebody to talk to. He doesn’t seem to mind,” Janie told her.
A few days later Bill surprised Janie by saying that his mother was letting him have an Explorer fireside at their house the next Wednesday evening.
“Mother says it will be more of a meeting, with a speaker, than a noisy party. I’ve asked Bob Hansen to come and talk to us. You know he has traveled a lot and tells of such interesting things.” Bill was enthusiastic.
“Oh, but Bill, all those noisy boys. That will be just as bad as though I had my party, and Mother made me give that up,” Janie spoke solemnly.
“I thought I’d ask Stan Dalby to come and give us a couple of his songs.” Bill smiled slyly at her. “Would you agree to come down when we need you and accompany him?”
Janie’s face flushed with pleasure. “You are a swell brother … sometimes,” she added.
“Do you suppose that we could slip in a bit of guitar strumming, and maybe a game or two for good measure?” Bill asked mischievously.
“You would never get by Mom with that, Billy, boy,” Janie told him.
It was almost six o’clock on Wednesday that Bill came to Janie with a sober face. “our fireside is off. Will you phone Stan and tell him he won’t need to come and sing? I’ll call the boys. Bob Hansen just called. His little brother got hit by a car, and they have to rush him to a hospital. They think it isn’t too serious, but they can’t tell until they take X-rays, and go over him thoroughly.”
Janie looked as crestfallen as her brother. She had counted on seeing Stan, and playing for his songs. “I’m real sorry, Bill,” she said quietly.
“Things have been so dead around here lately, and now for this to happen.” Bill spoke disconsolately. “Well, I’d better get on the phone and tell the guys. It is too late to get another speaker now.”
They sat there for a moment together, their heads bent thoughtfully.
“It seems that since Grandpa came, all we hear from Mama, is – you can’t do this – or you can’t do that – I hate it,” Bill finished bitterly.
“But Grandpa wouldn’t want it that way, I’m sure he wouldn’t,” Janie said, then suddenly her face brightened. “I have a wonderful idea, Bill. Don’t call and say the fireside is off.”
“Well, tell it. Don’t keep me in suspense.” bill’s face was puzzled.
“Grandpa Foster …”
“Grandpa Foster – what? Of all the bright ideas,” Bill said disgustedly.
“Listen, Bill, grandpa can tell the most exciting things. Stories of true happenings. The boys will love it. Really he has such a sweet way of telling things.” Janie spoke earnestly.
“The fellows won’t want to sit and hear Grandfather talk about himself,” Bill said, still skeptical.
“Please try it, Bill. Grandfather will love it. it will do him ever so much good, too,” Janie said.
“What about Mother? What is she doing to say?”
“We won’t ask Mother. We will ask Grandpa,” Janie laughed.
“What if Grandpa wears his red tie and suspenders? I’ll bet he is just dying for a chance to put them on.” Bill spoke, still reluctant to agree.
“I suppose he will wear them, and also tell the story of going to the county fair, and winning them by throwing the most balls into a china pig’s open mouth to do so. The boys will love that, too,” Janie coaxed.
“Will you ask him to talk, then, Janie?”
“If you do it yourself, it will be more official. it’s your affair, you know.” Janie left her brother still pondering the subject, but she felt sure her suggestion would work out.
Two hours later she heard the noise from twenty boys as they came in with boyish greetings. A little later she heard her grandfather going down the stairs to the playroom. She wanted to peek to see what he was wearing, but refrained. I will see soon enough if I play for Stan to sing, she thought.
Stand came up to the living room to escort her down to accompany him. She was glad when he said, “Janie, I’m so glad I got to come and hear your Grandfather talk. He has had such wonderful experiences. Not only exciting, but so faith promoting. It is so fine for the boys to hear such stories.”
Janie knew that all the others had enjoyed her grandpa, too, for their faces were full of interest as he still held them busily in conversation. She saw that she was just in time to hear him telling the event of his winning the red tie and galluses, as he called them. He opened his coat and displayed them proudly. The boys all laughed uproariously.
“Grandfather, I’m glad that you could be our speaker for our fireside. Especially since it turned out that Bob Hansen’s little brother was not hurt seriously. You sure went over with the guys,” Bill told him.
Janie thought, how fine for the old and the young to become acquainted. We can do so much for each other.
A few days later as she went to her grandfather’s room she saw him sitting by the little old trunk he had brought with him. The lid was open, and some of the things he had lifted out and placed beside him on his bed. His face was sad, and Janie knew that he was pining for Grandma foster. She hesitated, and was about to turn away, when he saw her. “Come in, Janie dear,” he said.
She stood by his side, and he told her of many of the things that belonged to grandma. A little silk lace shawl that she had worn to keep warm on chilly evenings, he had given her for her seventieth birthday. A faded bouquet of pressed violets.
“I gathered these from the woods,” he said. “she loved violets in the early springtime.” Janie saw the love in his eyes as he spoke of grandma. She bent down and kissed his cheek.
“Grandpa, that lovely dress. It looks as if it belonged to a young girl.”
“Janie, this is the dress that your Grandma wore to her birthday party the night that I told her I loved her. The night that I asked her to be my wife. She was just eighteen then. she was young and beautiful, but of course I was a bit older.
Just eighteen, Janie thought. I will be eighteen, and I can’t have a party.
“Janie, do you know, you look so much like your Grandma when she was your age, that when you came to the door just now, I could almost believe it was she.”
“Am I? I do hope I can be as lovely a woman as she,” Jamie said.
“Do you remember that your birthday comes the same day as Grandma’s? The twenty-fourth of May? why bless you, that is day after tomorrow.”
“Yes, I do remember, and I will be eighteen,” Janie answered a bit solemnly. She was silent for quite a while. she was thinking, how nice if I could have a party. I wonder if Stan would find me as nice and beautiful as Grandpa did Grandmother.
Janie was almost startled when her grandpa spoke. ‘Janie, why don’t we have a birthday party? I’ll bet it would be as nice as Grandma’s. There is plenty of room downstairs for fun and dancing,” he said, and there were little smile wrinkles breaking all over his face.
“Oh, but Grandpa …” Janie said, thinking of her mother and her forbidding a party on account of grandpa. On account of Grandpa – and here it was Grandpa who was suggesting it.
“I’ll buy the birthday cake. It will be a big one with white frosting and pink roses, just like the cake that Grandma had,” he said. His eyes were shining and his voice was full of enthusiasm. “I wondered what I was going to do with all this money.” he jingled the few silver coins he had in his pocket.
Janie threw her arms about his neck. “Grandpa, I love you so much. I would love having a party.”
“You had better get busy with your invitation list, and get on the telephone,” he said.
Janie didn’t tell him that she had made her list weeks ago, and had put it away because there was to be no party. She ran to her mother.
“Mother, I don’t have to give up my party. Grandfather wants me to have it. He is going to buy a lovely cake for my birthday.” Janie was breathless with excitement.
“But, Janie …” her mother began, “first there was the fireside, then the children bothering him for stories and tagging along on his walks. Now you ask for your party.”
“Mother, please don’t stop us. Grandfather remembered it was Grandma’s birthday, too, on the twenty-fourth of May. It will be a happy time for him.”
“Maybe you are right. grandpa has seemed much better since he has been doing things with the family. I guess your father was right about bringing him here to live. You have all been so willing to sacrifice and do things for one another. And Grandpa is doing wonders for our family. The children love his stories.” Anne Foster looked very serious as she made this confession.
“I am sure you are right, Mother. We gave Grandpa a comfortable room, and shut him up to enjoy it, mostly to keep him out of our way. what he really needed was to be one of us, a part of our family. he needed love, to help fill his loss of Grandma.” Janie put her arm about her mother, feeling grateful that her mother understood.
There were telephone calls – calls in and out, that crowded the party line. Janie’s guests were all invited.
“Get out your guitar, Billy boy,” she told her brother. “Grandfather and I are giving a party. You can strum to your heart’s content. There will bel singing and dancing and all the fun anyone can want. I’ll bet Grandpa will think you can sing as well as Ricky Nelson,” Janie laughed.
Stan and Janie stood by the piano talking happily when grandpa entered with the huge birthday cake. he carried it, and ceremoniously placed it on a table at the end of the room. it was a surprise to all except Janie and her mother.
Everyone at the party exclaimed with ohs and ahs, and gathered to admire its pink and white loveliness.
“It’s for my best girl,” Grandpa Foster said mischievously.
Janie thought that her grandfather’s smile was the best part of it all. It spread all over his face. He wore his bright red tie and suspenders, and Janie hoped that after she had danced with Stan, the first waltz, that Grandpa and she would dance the old-fashioned polka.