Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Social Media (12/01/11)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Nana and Papa lived with their gray-muzzled, stiff-whiskered coon dog in a vintage house on Old Swamp Road. My mother was born in that house on Nana’s birthday thirty-eight years ago, an October day when airborne cattail-fluff filled the air and covered the window screens. “Those little messengers stopped by to see what all our commotion was about,” Nana says. “Then in due time they flew off – whoosh! – to tell the rest of the world about my precious new birthday gift.”
I liked my grandparents’ house with its missing shingles and crooked shutters because of the location. In May the magical song of the swamp’s spring peepers enchanted me as I snuggled beneath Nana’s hand-pieced quilt on the porch. Papa swatted his ears and said, “They’re too noisy – dratted little beasts.” I disagreed, and so did Nana.
In January, the dry bulrushes whispered and swayed like a giant field of towering, oversized prairie grasses. They shushed and hushed, reminding us to rest. “Does a body good to rest them bones,” Papa always said, while snapping his suspenders for emphasis. “Nature rests when the snow flies. We should, too.” He spoke with authority, and I listened.
Mama says Nana’s always been passionate about reading and writing, but just never had time for much of either. For as long as I can remember, Nana’s been a worker bee. She’s baked bread and served lavish meals; she’s milked Cassidy the goat and gathered eggs from the hens. It’s Nana who’s stoked the wood-burning stove in winter, and tended the vegetable garden in warmer months. And she’s done all these things while holding down a part-time job as a secretary and typist for our village mayor.
Things have been different recently, though. Nana fell from the ladder in the shed a year ago and broke her hip in two places, leaving her bedfast. The breaks refused to heal correctly, and not long after the fall, pneumonia erupted. She lay stone-still in the cherry four-poster bed all last winter, barking at Papa: “Please … (cough cough) … get wood … (cough cough) … for the fire!”
A chronic trial intensified at this same time as Nana’s hearing loss escalated beyond the amplification capacities of her hearing aids. It became very stressful for her to carry on conversations with friends and neighbors. As Helen Keller once said, “Blindness separates us from things, while deafness separates us from people.” How true. Nana and I could no longer even share the spring peepers’ May choruses.
In July the garden plot grew only a fine crop of tangled weeds. “Don’t need vegetables anyhow,” Papa boomed whenever the topic came up. “Woods are full of deer – we’ll eat well enough!” Despite his gruff façade, I knew he’d miss Nana’s pumpkin pie at Christmas-time.
When downy cattail-fluff first wafted on the breeze in October, I approached Mama. “Can the extended family go together and get Nana a laptop with portable wireless connection? Then she could correspond with people electronically, and not feel so disabled and lonely. She’s a good typist, and I could gradually set her up with a blog and links to other blogs, a Facebook account, and email.”
“What good is it?” Papa scowled when confronted with the idea. “Dratted technology.” But the family persisted, and on Nana’s birthday a rectangular box appeared on the couch where she sat propped with tattered pillows - the humble queen of her family members’ hearts.
“A new 9x13” baking pan, I bet!” Nana exclaimed loudly when she saw the gift’s shape. “Ah – you’ve all missed my county-fair-famous gingerbread with lemon sauce, haven’t you?”
The packed room grew hushed; everyone gawked and time stood still as she slowly slipped the pink ribbon from the box and unfolded the floral wrapping paper. Finally, she spoke: “Is it … it isn’t … no … but yes … it is … ” Nana gazed up as if stricken. “Really? A computer? For ME?”
An emotional rock filled my throat. I bent close so she could read my lips, and spoke slowly. “This is your new gateway to relationships, Nana. You can communicate with each of us, and even with old friends you haven’t seen in years, right here on the couch!”
The onlookers clapped and cheered.
Nana choked up. “You’ll help me?”
I smiled and nodded reassuringly as a rush of angel wings passed through the old house – or perhaps it was the shush-hush of the bulrushes announcing a forthcoming restful-but-interactive winter in the swamp.
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