Wednesday 28 March 2018

Remembrance Day

by James Bates

elderflower cordial  

"Allie, come here, a minute. Look at this." The old man said and pointed, "It's a special kind of wild flower called a trillium."
Intrigued, the little girl ran to his side and fell to her knees, face only inches from the white petals.
            "Pretty," she said, and bent closer to smell.
            "There's usually not much of an aroma," the old man said, as he stiffly got down on the ground, joining his granddaughter.
            "But, Grandpa, I can smell it," she said, excitedly, moving over to make room for him, "You smell. It smells good."
            He bent down and took a whiff of the imaginary scent. "Oh, you were right," he said, looking with affection at the little girl, "I can smell it now. It does smell good."
            They were just coming out of a small woodland near the park where they'd been playing on the swings. A moving shadow on the ground caught their attention. The little girl looked up and spied a large bird.
             "Crow," she dutifully recited. The old man grinned with the memory of when he'd taught her to not only identify the bird, but also say its name. Then a sudden movement on the ground to the left captured her attention. She turned quickly and spied a robin hoping nearby on a sunlit patch of grass. "Look at that," she said, pointing excitedly, "Rrrrr...rrrr...Robin." She looked at her grandfather and smiled. It was their little joke about how he'd taught her to identify this particular early spring bird and pronounce its name with r's for both robin and red breast.
            God, the affection he felt toward this little girl; his son's daughter, the youngest of his and his wife's four kids.
            Suddenly, nearby, a dog yipped. Allie stood up quickly and pointed, "Look Grandpa. A doggy."
            He stiffly got to his feet and turned. Coming down the street was a lady in a blue sweat suit walking a small white dog that was straining on its leash. "Stand behind me," he said to Allie, and moved her out of the way, protecting her. As the lady approached, he said politely, "Nice dog you've got there. What kind is it?"
            She gave him an odd look, sizing him up before answering, "It's a Westie."
            He turned to his granddaughter, "Did you hear that? Can you say 'Westie,' honey?"
            Allie didn't answer, only watched, shyly, as the lady and the dog walked by, hurrying a little, it seemed to the old man. He watched until they were out of range and then asked, "Did you like the doggy?"
            "I did, Grandpa, I did. He was so cute," she exclaimed, smiling, "I loved it."
            "Maybe someday your mom and dad can get you a doggy," he said, starting to walk down the street toward his son's home.
            She reached up and took his hand. "Maybe," she said, doubtfully. Then she had a thought and visibly cheered, "But, if they don't, will you get one for me, Grandpa? Please?"
            He smiled to himself before answering. "Well, it's really up to your mom and dad." Then he glanced at her, and, seeing the disappointment in her eyes, quickly added, "But, we'll see, sweetheart. We'll see."
            "Good," she said, smiling. Then she started humming to herself. The old man didn't recognize the tune, but that was alright; it was just good to be together. They walked along for half a block, taking their time, until Allie let go of his hand and pointed, "Look Grandpa, tulips," she called out, "Come with me. Hurry." She ran ahead to the next yard.
            The old man followed behind, his steps slow but steady. In a minute he caught up to her. She was squatting down, studying the bright spring flower. "Two, two, two lips," he said, pointing to his mouth as he approached her.
            She turned and laughed. "No, Grandpa. Tu...lips," she said, emphasizing each of the two syllables. He smiled, remembering how much fun it had been teaching her letters and words throughout her young life. She moved over to a different flower. "Look grandpa, your favorite color. Orange."
            "Yes, it is, honey." Then he paused and rubbed the whiskers on his chin in mock contemplation, "Say, what's your favorite color again?" he asked, pretending he'd forgotten.
            "Purple and pink," she said, standing up and poking at him. "You know that." She giggled and then added, "You're so silly, Grandpa.
            They started walking again, her soft, small hand in his large, callused one. She was five years old, average height, and was way too skinny, even though she ate like a horse at every meal. She was fun loving and had a unique personality all her own. Her mother let her dress however she wanted and, today, she was wearing yellow and red striped tights under a white and black striped short sleeve dress covered with pink hearts. On her feet were purple socks and pink tennis shoes. Her long red hair fell past her shoulders and freckles dotted her checks. When they were together they talked and laughed and she was a true joy in his life.
            The next house up ahead was his son's home. He pointed, "Let's go into your folks' back yard and play."
            "Sure," she agreed and ran off, the old man following as fast as he could, which wasn't saying much. He was eighty-six years old and wasn't getting any younger.
            A few minutes later his son Steve, who was standing at the window and looking into the backyard, called to his wife, "There he is. I see him. There's Dad."
            "Finally," she said, somewhat annoyed, "He's lived with us for ten years. Today of all days he should know we'd be eating by 6:00."
            Steve checked his wristwatch and said, "He still has a few minutes."
            "What's he doing out there anyway?"
            "Looks like he's dancing."
            "Dancing." Steve shook his head grinned to himself. He liked that his father was a bit of an eccentric. It kept things interesting. Most of the time, anyway, but not today. Today different. "Never mind. I'll go get him."
            "Please hurry. I'm putting the food on the table."
            In the dining room were Steve and Emma's other three kids and two young grandchildren. This was the family's Remembrance Day. The day they set aside every year to remember the short life of Alisha Ann Drayton, Steve and Emma's youngest daughter, who, fifteen years ago today, had died at the age of five from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
            Steve went downstairs and out the back door. "Hey Dad," he called, "Come on in. Dinner's on the table."
            Out in the yard, the old man stopped running around and playing tag with Allie. She was wearing him out and he was getting tired. He wasn't as young as he used to be.
            He turned toward his son, "Alright. Just give me a minute."
            "Sure, Dad," Steve said, walking over. He put his arm affectionately around his father's shoulder, "You doing okay?"
            "Yeah, son, I am." He was quiet for a moment, "I just miss her, you know. I miss being with her. Playing with her. We were close. She was one of the best things that ever happened to me." He paused a moment and then added, "It's not just today, son, but every day. Every day is Remembrance Day. At least it is for me." His eyes suddenly became moist as tears formed.
            Steve sighed and gave his dad a compassionate hug. "Me, too, Dad," he said, "Me, too."
            Then they walked slowly toward the back door. The old man didn't want to go inside just yet, but knew he had to. Emma had dinner ready and he didn't want to be rude. After all, it was generous of his son and wife to have him live with them. More than generous.
            Over his shoulder the old man turned and waved to Allie, standing in the middle of the yard. The wind blew through her hair and the sun caught her freckles just right, making them seem to sparkle. She smiled at her granddad and waved back, locked forever in the old man's memory.
            "I'll see you soon," he said to his granddaughter as he turned and started for the door.
            "What'd you say, Dad?" Steve asked.
            "Nothing," the old man said. "It must have been the wind."
            Then he turned and waved at Allie one more time before finally going inside.

About the author

James lives in Long Lake, Minnesota. He  enjoys gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, walking, bike riding and spending time with his four grandkids. He  has two great sons. He is retired after working for many years as a course developer and training instructor for Honeywell, Inc. He has also worked at a family owned garden center and, more recently, owned and operated a gift shop in Wayzata, Minnesota. He  collects vintage marbles, vintage radios and old pocket knives. He  also makes hand tooled leather goods that sell on line. 


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