Song & Story
By: Mariann Reinke
The screaming tea kettle and the smell of baking apples fills the tiny pink kitchen as Zelda, my 94-year-old grandmother, bends down to look into the oven. Her back, stooped by osteoporosis, makes her four-feet-five-inch frame appear even shorter. As a farmer's child in Indiana, she didn't drink cows' milk -- she traded it for flour and salt instead.
As always, she uses her bare hands to remove the pie then drops it on top of the stove to cool. Finally hearing the teapot for the first time, she takes it off the burner and pours a cup of boiling water. She dips the tea bag once in her cup then throws it away.
Grandma hobbles toward the living room, her asthma making the journey slow. I turn off the oven and follow. Her knees pop and crack like hard drum taps while she heads to her forest green rocking chair. It hits the wall with a thud as it accepts her weight. Her white hair is fine and sparse, like a newborn's. Static electricity makes it stick straight out, but she doesn't mind. Her piercing black eyes search my face for the slightest sign of guilt, a habit remaining from years of teaching elementary school.
"The Indiana folks are coming next week," she says.
"How long are they staying?" I ask.
"Only a few days. Are you coming up?"
"Please do. They are bringing Joshua Kemp. Do you remember him?"
"Yes you do. The last time he was here was before you were born."
I try not to look puzzled. Maybe I heard wrong. "Huh?" I ask.
"He was here for your parent's wedding in 1962."
"No, Grandma, I don't remember him."
"Mariann, don't argue with me."
"But Grandma, you just said yourself that his last visit was before I was born." I stare into her eyes expecting clouds. They twinkle instead. Is she joking?
"He brought a date. They danced before your parents did. That caused quite a stir; family talked about it for years. Surely you remember that."
What's going on? She sounded so positive in her memory, I knew she wasn't joking. My mind reached back in time. I remembered hearing the dance story, but I wasn't there. "Grandma, I was born two years after the wedding." Maybe she just needs a hearing aid?
"No sense in upsetting yourself. It isn't important. It's been a long time since you've seen him, Arlene."
Arlene is my mother.
I grip my knees. She has a habit of calling my brother by my father's name, but I never thought much about it. Was it a sign?
"Remember the ten gallons of maple syrup he gave you at the reception?"
Maple syrup? Where did that come from? "That's a lot of syrup." I don't know what else to say.
"Yep, folks said my Dad could squeeze sap from a dead maple." She chuckles. "The trees surrounded the house. His syrup was so good and sweet." Her lips smack, tasting memories mingled together in a labyrinth.
"You remember him now, don't you, Arlene?"
What I remembered was the help she gave me with my history homework. She knew everything; after all, she'd lived through most of it. She taught me special ways of keeping dates and names straight for my lessons. Where was that woman now? Would I be able to remember her?
"Grandma, it's Mariann. You called me Arlene."
Her face contracts in confusion. "I did?" The wrinkles dig deep into her face. "Did I tell you Joshua Kemp is coming from Indiana?"
"Yes, Grandma, you did." I try to sound calm. How long can a person's brain work, anyway? Maybe it's getting tired--94 years is a long time. So many memories; I doubt I could keep them straight myself.
"He had ugly long hair," she says, trying to jog my memory.
Seeing Grandma's confusion haunts me. I couldn't help but regret questioning her.
"Oh yeah, I remember him now."
"I knew you would."
"Is the pie ready yet?"
"No, honey, it's too hot." Her eyelids droop slightly and her voice softens. "I don't want you to burn yourself."
Grandpa walks into the living room, laughing. While she naps we sneak a piece of pie.
Mariann Reinke originally from Michigan, lives in Cape Coral, Florida with her husband, cat, and dog. In addition to writing short stories, she is working on a suspense novel set in the Caribbean, her favorite travel destination. E-mail Scaptn@aol.com
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