Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Grandparent(s) (04/03/08)
TITLE: Ticker Talk
By Beth Muehlhausen
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“Grandpa, I’m bored.”
The scorching August sun baked Grandpa’s neatly ordered rows of corn stalks while I knelt on bare knees in their shade at the edge of the field. To kill time, I dug little holes in the loose, dry earth with the end of a twig.
A steady wind crackled the corn’s leaves until they roared in unison, pleading for rain. Golden tassels tossed this way and that, swarming like an army of miniature rag mops – or a plague of crippled spiders – atop an undulating green floor.
Grandpa sprawled in the open sun atop an antiquated, rust-spotted chair, with one leg thrown jauntily over the arm. Seemingly oblivious to me hunched in the shade of the corn, he jiggled the chair to achieve the same bounce you might want with a baby on your knee.
Finally, he puffed on his cigar and blew its pungent smoke my way. Most of the sweet/sour aphrodisiac leapt the other way to be carried abroad by the wind.
“So, young man.” His steely grey-blue eyes shifted to mine, staring out of sockets as deep as moon craters. “Here’s a story about my old ‘ticker’.”
Relieved to hear his voice, I looked up, expectantly. “You mean, your heart, Grandpa? Something about your heart attack?”
I stopped my earthmoving endeavors and crawled to a spot in the hot sun next to his chair while Grandpa jiggled a little bit faster. He croaked his characteristic, throaty bull-frog-type chuckle. “Naw, ha-ha, son … this time I’m talkin’ ‘bout my old pocket watch. That kind of ‘ticker’.”
The tanned face above me wore prune-like etch-marks induced by years of frowns and smiles. With arms encircling my scruffy knees, I squinted in the brightness as he puff-puffed his cigar. “Okay Grandpa. Tell me.”
Grandpa dropped his leg from the arm of the chair and bent over with both elbows resting on his thighs. The cigar fumed madly in-between us, a captive held by two stubby fingers – mutilated survivors of a merciless chop-chop from the corn picker years before.
“Back when I was courtin’ yer Grandma I had this special gold pocket watch my father gave me.”
He leaned back momentarily, checked the tassels that seemed to be cheerfully waving in the wind, blew a smoky greeting their way, and then returned, head-to-head. “Your Grandma lived a couple of days away on horseback. Only my dad didn’t have no extra horse for me ta take. I’d do anything ta see her. So I went and rented me a real-for-sure bicycle.”
Grandpa winked. I loved his stories because you didn’t know until the end if he was telling the truth or not.
“I rode that bicycle all day until I thought my legs would drop off, then stopped right before sunset at a barn. I sneaked inside, real quiet-like, and there was this nice big haystack. So I lay down and went right ta sleep.”
Unable to control the tickle in my throat any longer, I coughed and waved his cigar smoke away with my hands. Grandpa grew quiet and stared at the ground, then flicked some ash onto the grass with his thumb and continued.
“I slept like a log and woke up the next morning when the roosters started crowing. Didn’t want no farmer coming into the barn and findin’ me there, so I hopped up and was ready to take off, except … my pocket watch had fallen out in the night. It was gone, swallowed up by the haystack.”
“Gone? What’d you do?”
“I put my head down ta that haystack and listened – here, there, everywhere. After about ten minutes I heard that ‘ticker’ tickin’ away. I grabbed it and took off before anybody discovered me.”
I laughed at the image of Grandpa frantically searching for the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”
“What ever happened to that watch, Grandpa?”
A new gust of wind suddenly snapped the corn leaves surrounding us as if to punctuate my question. Grandpa’s wisps of gray hair went wild while his eyes twinkled with spontaneous inspiration.
“It’s right here.” Grandpa reached into the pocket of his overalls to pull out a glistening, golden orb. “Here.” He handed the watch to me with one hand and patted his chest with the other, which still held his cigar. “It’s a gift from me to you … before this other old ‘ticker’ stops tickin’ …”
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