The lane to the old farmhouse was unchanged.
Shadows from the leafy canopy dappled the ruts, and long grass straggled along the edges. Whirling pirouettes of dust settled while I absorbed the familiarity of the yard: a swing hanging lopsidedly from an ancient tree, petunias spilling from planters with colourful exuberance, and, behind the house, the weathered henhouse threatened to topple, but remained firm, as it had for years, in a perpetual lean.
As I stepped from the car, Grandma pushed through the screen door. “David, come in, come in,” she cried, whipping off her apron. Her cheeks smelled of cinnamon when I kissed her, and I knew there’d be pie later.
“Look who’s here, Carl.” She tugged me onto the porch where my grandfather slouched in an old wooden kitchen chair, one gnarled hand grasping the curve of his cane, the other resting on his knee.
“Let me get that,” I insisted as Grandma pulled a wicker chair closer to Granddad for me. She gave my hair a tousle and disappeared through the screen door.
“Granddad, how are you?”
Since his stroke, Granddad had not spoken a word. Each day, supported by his cane and Grandma’s stout shoulder, he managed his necessities.
I leaned forward. “I lost my job at the supermarket.”
Granddad stared at a worn spot on the step. I couldn’t tell if he’d heard me.
“Sharon’s not happy,” I added.
I shuddered, remembering Sharon’s reaction when I told her I’d been fired: shrieks, sobs, and slamming doors. The shabby couch had become my refuge as I cowered under a thin blanket each night.
“Now, there’s talk of raising interest on student loans.”
Granddad’s hand clenched slowly and released.
“And the war, Granddad. Maybe it would be a good thing if I do get called up. Absence and the heart growing fonder, you know?” I sighed miserably. “Maybe I won’t come home.”
Granddad’s head dipped, and a tear trickled down his furrowed cheek.
“Sharon doesn’t understand. And, the way the economy’s going, I probably won’t get a job when I’m finished college anyway.”
Granddad’s hand gestured tremulously. His knuckles were swollen, with decades of hard work grimed into the skin. Was he pointing at something?
I looked past the trees into the pasture. Several dozen heifers grazed there, their faces buried in the grass. Beyond them, in the distance, I could see a tractor pulling a hay baler along the ridge.
“Here you go, boys.” Grandma set down a tray loaded with frosty glasses of lemonade and plates of pie. One glass held a straw.
“Would you mind, David?” She indicated the glass with the straw.
“Not at all.” But inwardly I cringed. Everything was so familiar, so timeless on the farm, yet Granddad was not the same man I’d known. Where was the strong and agile man who’d ridden rank horses, ploughed acres of land black, and forked tons of hay to cattle in the winter?
I watched the docile and contented heifers. They weren’t Granddad’s, I knew, but belonged to a neighbour renting the pasture. The tractor and baler had rolled out of sight, but I could see a telltale trail of bales marking their progress. So, I figured, Granddad had sold his hay, too, letting someone else harvest the crop.
Carefully, I held the straw to Granddad’s lips. How did he feel inside his feeble and useless shell of a body? Lemonade dribbled down his chin, and I wiped it away.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining,” I murmured.
A gravelly sound rumbled from Granddad’s throat. His hand flopped and trembled. I grasped it.
“Is that what you’re saying, Granddad? My life’s not so bad?”
He growled again.
“How do you keep going, Granddad, when it’s all been taken from you?”
He closed his eyes, as if shutting me out.
Had it all been taken from him? Here he was, sitting on his own porch sipping lemonade, surveying his land, listening to lowing cattle, a humming tractor, and the persistent whisper of growing grass. He’d done what was necessary, in the midst of irrevocable change, to keep the things that meant the most to him, by embracing his life, precarious as it was, and adjusting to its limitations.
I stood up.
The screen door rasped open. “Leaving already, David?”
“Sorry, Grandma, I’ve got some important things to do.”
I clasped Granddad’s hand and whispered into his ear, “Thanks, Granddad. I’m so glad we talked.”
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