From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1954 –
The Young and the Old
Carolyn C. Lewis
It was one of those spring mornings that seem to have been all scrubbed and shined by some special servant during the night and set before the world with the words, “Here is a perfect day without a flaw.”
That’s what it seemed to me – a perfect day – warm, bright, beautiful. And I was young and thrilled with being alive. Only yesterday my mother – a sentimentalist, if you’ve ever met one – had said to me, “I wish I were your age again.”
Half-seriously I had answered, “I am glad I’m not your age.”
She had merely said, “Well,” and smiled, but her eyes hadn’t looked at me exactly. They had had worried shadows in them for the last few weeks because Grandpa was in the hospital quite ill. Of course, I kept telling her, he was old. She couldn’t expect him to live forever, but she only told me I didn’t understand and that that didn’t make any difference in how she felt about him.
Today, Saturday, Grandma and my aunt had come to dinner and then they were going to the hospital. June, my cousin, who is just about my age, was there, too, and she was all excited because she had a date that afternoon and I was to go along with her date’s friend, Jack. I had met him and he seemed nice, but nothing to get excited about.
When June and I had finished the dishes and she was flushed from hurrying and excitement, she said, “I can hardly wait. It’s the day for a convertible.”
“And not too many days around here are,” I replied, adding, “but I wish Grandpa was better. I haven’t even been down to see him yet.”
Just then mother came in. “And he’s been asking for you. I thought you might drop in today for a little while – both of you.”
“But, Aunt Kate,” June protested, “we’ve got a date; we can see him next week.”
“He’s quite sick …” Mother said, her words hanging in the air like the limp dish towel hanging upon the rack. Then she added, “Well, we’ll get ready. If you can stop in, do.”
“We will,” I said.
But the convertible was there before we knew it, and we got in, waving goodbye to the folks, who all looked pretty solemn.
Like thousands of others, we headed our car for one of the canyons where leaves were green and the air cool across the mountains rising above our heads.
Jack was a lot more fun than I remembered him. And a lot better looking, especially when he smiled, which he did most of the time, except once when he said to me, “You seem to have something on your mind?”
“Well …” I hesitated, “my grandfather is quite sick – in the hospital. Mother wanted me to go see him.”
“Maybe you’d rather do that,” he said.
I couldn’t be sure how he meant it, but I assured him that, of course, I wouldn’t.
Still, after a while, the subject came up again. it was almost as though he were teasing me to see if I’d rather stay with him or go back to town. His eyes looked at me rather strangely, and somehow I knew that I could like him very, very much.
We stopped in a small restaurant on the way to the canyon to have a sandwich and a malt. While we were eating, Jack put nickels in the jukebox and played the latest hit tunes.
“How about dancing with me?” Jack questioned.
“Sounds like fun,” was my reply.
While dancing with him, I realized that not only could I like him very much, but I already did. And, somehow, I got the feeling that he liked me a little bit, too. Maybe it was the way he was holding me while dancing, or maybe it was my imagination.
When we reached a park we walked around for a while. Then we spied some empty swings and, I guess still being little girls and boys at heart, we decided to swing for a while … I was going up in the air with the wind taking my breath, when I saw an old man walking near the stream. His shoulders were a little stooped, like Grandpa’s, and he held his hands in his pockets just the same way, with only the thumbs showing.
My breath caught in my throat again – only this time with a difference. I thought of his waiting for us to come – hoping. I slowed the swing down, dragging my foot, not even caring if I scuffed my new sandals.
“I’ve got to go back,” I said in one short breath.
“Why?” June asked.
“I want to see Grandpa – today.”
“So do I – but not this minute.”
I knew she hadn’t been as close to him as I had. We’d lived with him when I was born and for several years after.
Jack said, “If she wants to go, let’s take her. It won’t be any fun for her here, even if she stays.”
Nor for him, I thought. Still, it didn’t matter at the moment that I had to spoil something that might have been so nice …
He helped me into the car, and we were soon hurrying back to town, down the hill to the big hospital, which made my heart beat faster just to look at it.
We found the floor, the room. Mother saw us and came out so that we could go in.
Grandpa was lying with his eyes closed; and, oh, he looked so old and so tired, the veins showing in his face and in his hands folded across the white sheet. I stared at him, almost in unbelief. He seemed to know we were staring at him, for after a moment he opened his eyes. When he saw me, he smiled and lifted his hand. I took it and held it in mine.
June came over and asked, “How are you, Grandpa?”
He smiled at her, too, then closed his eyes without speaking.
In just that moment that I stood there, so many memories went through my mind of all the happy times we had had together – how he had peeled an apple and shared it with me every winter night; how he had held me on his lap and had given me my first love and knowledge of books; how he had found me, that day when I was lost, and carried me home against his shoulder that had been so big and strong then.
I bent and kissed his forehead. Then a nurse came and told us there were too many in the room. June and I went out.
The boys were waiting for us downstairs. Jack came over to me.
“I’m proud of you for coming. I was afraid you wouldn’t.”
“You were really?” I asked in unbelief. So he was testing me, and I thought that he didn’t want me to come!
He nodded, and we were about to go over to the car when we saw Mother and June’s mother coming out of the hospital. There were tears coming down their cheeks, and without having to be told, both June and I realized we had come to see Grandpa not any too soon.
I went over to Mother and put my arm around her and tried to imagine what it would be like to lose her or Daddy – tried to imagine life without Grandpa and his peppermints and his kindness – his wonderful kindness.
Mother and my aunt went back upstairs. June was crying, but it seemed that no tears would come to me – just an empty all-gone feeling in the pit of my stomach which made my knees feel very weak.
I felt Jack near me.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
In spite of the pain in me, I felt happy at seeing him look at me like that, having him so near.
For the first time, I suppose, I understood a little of what life is. The old, the tired, the dying, and the young going on – loving, living, making the pattern all over again.