Christmas Eve

The snow was light but persistent on the way home, the wet flurries firming up as the temperature fell. By the time he made it back, an inch had collected atop the couple from the day before. Pulling into the open shed, he shut off the engine. The motor pinged as it cooled. Big fluffy clumps floated around the eaves, skittered across the hood, then vanished into small puddles.

His thoughts drifted, and he lost time like he sometimes did. Next he knew the hood was flecked with ice.

Shaking off the cobwebs, he clamored out. Walking up the hill, he noticed Grandmother on the porch swing. She sat perfectly still, her eyes on the forest.

She jumped when he reached the steps. “Oh, dear! I must not have heard you drive up.”

“I, um, got back earlier. Are you cold?”

“Not with my new shawl,” she chuckled. “Come. Join me.”

He stomped up the snowy steps, then plopped down beside her, ignoring his own chill.
“Katie’s real nice,” she observed after a moment. “Sharp as a thorn too.”

“Yes, she is. She was at the head of our class.”

“And she does like the ring?”

“She does. And she loves family heirlooms, so it suits her. But you didn’t have to, Grandmother. I would have figured something out. I got my bonus check.”

“You’ll need that to get settled, and it won’t go far. This country doesn’t do enough for its veterans. It never has.” She shook her head. “Maybe we could if there weren’t so many. I’ll never understand it, the business of war, that is. It isn’t that I’m not proud of you, dear. I couldn’t be more so.”

“I understand.”

She leaned back to look him over. “You’ve matured so much. Scott has as well. I see your father in both of you.”

“You do?” He didn’t see Dad at all.

“Certainly. Scott has his music. And you’re as headstrong. I saw that the first time I visited, when you were but a tyke.” She smiled. “That’s a good thing. Your father, he was like a train once he decided something. Bright . . . driven. No one could tell him any different once he figured things out.”

He nodded, still not seeing it.

Her green eyes locked on his. “It’s the figuring out that’s tough.”

“Maybe that’s it,” he muttered, turning to watch the snow.

“It is. And it doesn’t get easier.” She let out a little laugh. “If anything it’s easier when you’re young.”

“How so?”

“Well, I can only speak for myself so it’s just an old lady rattling. But when I was young, I thought I knew how things would be. I didn’t have the music like your father, yet I’d always fancied myself an artist. As a child I used to draw, capturing the world . . . and the worlds inside my head.

My life was much the same. I harbored these images, fantasies on how it would all play out. I thought I had angels on my side.”

She sighed. “It was a lie, of course, but a convincing one. Even when things went off track, and did they ever, I clung to those pictures. They blinded me for so long.”

He struggled to make out the tree line, shrouded in thickening snow. The sketches in Lily’s studio crossed his mind. “Until?”

“Until I lost my son.”

He looked over. She wasn’t making sense.

She didn’t acknowledge him, absorbed in her thoughts. “Well, didn’t so much lose him as chase him off. I made his life so hard that he found it easier to run than to put up with me.”

“I don’t understand.”

She shivered. “Your father’s a capable man. But I raised him to cling to me. As he grew, I corralled his every dream. I shamed him into staying at home, giving up his music, starting at the mill.

“I dug at him. And for a long time he let me. He cared that much. He stayed home longer than any man ought to, especially one as gifted as your father.”

She clinched her jaw. It wasn’t clear she’d go on.

“So what happened?”

“Life happened. The more I clutched at my delusions, the more life caught up with me. When the panic hit in ’93, folks in Colchester thought we’d weather it. We always had before. But it wasn’t like the others. Farms failed. Banks failed. Even the millwork dried up. They let him go, and like a fool I blamed him for it.” She shuddered. “So your father left. Thank goodness he still had the gumption.

“After he was gone, I had all the time in the world to think it through. To see what I’d done, how selfish I’d been.”

He tried feeling sympathy for Dad, but couldn’t. The anger was too thick.

She patted his leg. “I know it’s hard with your father. I see how he is with you boys. But there’s more to know, Josh. There always is.”

He looked over. “I know you’re trying to help.”

“I don’t know about that. I just know the ideas you have now aren’t etched in stone. Life’s more random. It can be horrible. I imagine you’ve already seen more than your fair share of that. But it can be wondrous too.

“For over half my life I tried to force the world to fit me. I lost my husband in some godforsaken swamp. I chased off my only child. It was only when I thought my life was over that I found everything I needed. I had possessed it the whole time. It was in me.”

He looked away, unable to face her.

The porch swing moved. Grandmother rose and walked to the rail. She fidgeted, running her fingers along the top. A clump of snow tumbled off. “An old woman should know to keep her mouth shut.”

He joined her. “It’s not that. I appreciate the advice.”

She sighed. “And I appreciate the sentiment. But truth is my mind does wander. I spend more time these days looking back than forward. Sometimes I ought to be alone with my thoughts, or keep them to myself.”

“Is that why you came outside?”

“No. I figured your father needed some breathing room. I think it chaffed him to hear me praise Scott. He certainly never heard any from me.

“I was too bitter then, angry at being wronged, furious at how God had taken my Arthur. When what I should have done was cherished what I loved in him, and shared it with our son.”

She rocked in place. “Not much I can do about that now.”

She paused a moment then looked up. “That’s not the only reason I ventured out. I do love a snow, even now when it aches in my bones.”

He studied the lip of the quarry. It was nearly dark. The snow was heavier, but he could still make out the jagged surfaces. “I do too . . . always have.”

“My goodness,” she breathed. “You remind me of your grandfather standing there. You have the same look in your eyes.”

The thought startled him. He’d never considered what his grandfather looked like. There weren’t any photos, and Grandmother had rarely spoken of him at any length. But now he pressed. “What was he like?”

She tilted her head, reflecting. “Arthur? Well, he was handsome, lean like you and Scott. He had a real gentle nature. He lived up to his name, hunting whenever he could. He told me he found it calming, said being alone in the forest gave him time to think.”

He grinned. “You don’t say.”

“And he loved the wintertime.” She laughed. “I remember the two of us on a walk one season. We came upon a barn that had burned the summer before. The snow was fresh, and the sun had just come out. Arthur was a few steps ahead. When we came upon the ruins, he stopped in his tracks. I came up beside him and asked what he was looking at.”

“What was it?”

“Well, he simply pointed to the old barn. Snow had buried the burnt parts. What was still standing looked majestic, capped in all that powdery white. Your grandfather let out a little laugh. He said, ‘Ruth, there’s nothing like a fallen snow to open your eyes. It shows you the beauty all around, hiding in plain sight.’”

The image comforted Joshua. “Grandfather was right. Even the quarry looks pretty. See how a crown’s forming along the crest?”

She squinted. “I do indeed.”

They stood in silence, watching the drifting currents. The wind rustled the last clinging leaves while snow gathered like a blanket. They didn’t hear the door open behind them.

Scott poked his head out. “There you are! Mom was getting worried. She’s insisting on a few carols before Dad heads upstairs.”

“We’ll be right in,” Joshua assured him.

Grandmother waited until the door shut. “Thank you for spending time with me, dear. It occurs to me you share something else with your grandfather.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re a good listener. Arthur was always patient with me and my moods.”

“I wish I could have known him.”

She shook the snow from her shawl. “I wish you could have too. I surely do.”

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Could you ask Scott to get out his guitar for the carols?”

She looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Scott never plays at the house. Dad won’t let him.”

She pursed her lips. “I’d wondered. Are you sure I ought to? I nearly set him off earlier.”

Joshua shrugged. “None of us dares. I know Scott would like Dad to hear him play. Not sure why it even matters.”

“Oh, it matters. You always care what your parents think, even if you convince yourself otherwise.” She touched his arm before he opened the door. “I’ll ask, but I can’t make any promises.”

“I know, Grandmother. We never know just how things will play out.”

She gave a little laugh. “You’re a quick study, young man. A very quick study.”

________________________

Other scenes:

Joshua (Opening Scene)

On the Porch

Katie

Heading to Lorraine

Roses along the Seine

First Kill