“How come nobody ever visits her?” whispered Samuel.
“Because she’s a mean old lady,” said Bernie.
“Come,” said their grandmother. She eased herself up from her bed, grabbed her walker, and took the boys down the hall for a stroll.
“She’s not mean. She’s just full of regret.”
“Sure she’s mean. She’s always telling us we’re too loud, too ‘boisterous,’ too… everything,” said Samuel.
“She’s not used to being around two rather rambunctious young boys. She never had children of her own you know. By the time she and her husband got around to trying, they were too old.”
“Who’d want her for a mother anyway?”
“Now Samuel, that’s not nice. Remember the Golden Rule?”
“But she doesn’t even seem to like kids,” said Bernie.
“She’s just used to older children. She was quite wealthy once, and very pretty. Her husband passed away twenty-two years ago. That’s a long time to be alone.”
“What did she do all day?” asked Samuel.
“She so regretted not having children of her own she took a job at a high school cafeteria--until she got too sick to do it. It’s not easy getting old you know. To go from a life of leisure, to working--to having someone change your diapers...”
The boys giggled when their grandmother mentioned adult diapers. “But you’re not grumpy all the time,” said Bernie.
“I have visitors, like you boys, to cheer me up. Imagine how lonely she is... Did you know she’s an excellent chess player?”
“I bet she’s a sore loser,” said Samuel.
Nan laughed. “I wouldn’t know about that, she always wins.”
“You mean she even beats you?” said Bernie.
“Wow!” said Samuel.
Nan said, “Everyone’s good at something. We all have special God-given gifts.”
“Do I get presents, too? Does it come in a big box?” asked Bernie.
Nan laughed. “Your gift is something you’re good at, something you enjoy; something God wants you to do--to bless others.”
“Like soccer?” said Bernie.
“Maybe, sometimes it takes years to figure out what your gifts are--and to practice at it to get better. Some people never quite figure it out. Just do your best. Do, say, and think what God leads you to. And don’t forget to pray.”
“Matilda’s birthday is tomorrow you know,” said Nan.
“Her name’s Matilda?” asked Samuel.
“Hey, why don’t we make her a birthday card?” said Bernie.
“I think that’s a splendid idea,” said Nan. They rode the elevator down to the atrium. Nan dug up some pens and paper and the boys set to work.
It was almost dinner time when they finished. “Does Matilda eat in the dining room?” asked Bernie.
Nan shook her head no.
“She doesn’t like anyone?” said Samuel.
“She’s not been here too long really. When people asked, she always said no, so they stopped asking. They gave up on her. I think she’s just settled in her ways. And her hearing’s not the best… Did you know English isn’t even her first language?”
The boys shook their heads. “Matilda speaks seven languages. She’s traveled all over the world. Her husband was a General, very important. She’s led quite a fascinating life, really... But she’s all alone now. She’s the last person in her entire family. This place even used up all her money.”
“No wonder she’s grumpy,” said Bernie.
The boys walked their Nan back to her room.
“Now don’t be shy,” Nan prompted.
The boys approached Matilda. Bernie whispered something into Samuel’s ear and then they two boys loudly sang “Happy Birthday.” When they were done, they handed Matilda the cards they’d made.
Matilda looked stunned. There were even tears in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “I didn’t think anyone remembered, or cared…”
“God cares,” said Bernie. “That’s what Nan always says.”
“Your Nan is a very wise woman.” Matilda actually smiled.
“Now go on, let an old lady rest in peace,” said Matilda. But her voice didn’t sound quite so harsh.
“Can we watch you play chess with Nan next week?” asked Samuel.
“We never saw anyone beat Nan before,” said Bernie.
“It takes a long time,” said Matilda. “If you can keep quiet, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. You know, I don’t have any grandchildren to teach... What’s your worst subject in school?"
Both boys shouted, “Quiet time.”
Matilda actually laughed out loud. “We’ll just have to work on that now won’t we?”
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