by Eloise Hawking
Dad was grumpy, Sam was whiny, Hope had already left for school, and I was ready to escape. A little time with my grandparents sounded quite nice this morning. I bid everyone a fond farewell, although no one heard me, and I headed out to wait for the bus with my grandparents.
I first took a turn west and brought my bacon scraps to Rocky. Bacon scraps were his very favorite. What a nice way to start his Friday! Rocky greeted me with the thumping of his tail, too lazy to even stand up. I crouched beside him, cupped my hands together to make a bowl, and let Rocky eat the bacon from my hands. His long, pink tongue tickled my palms.
“Happy Friday, Rocky!” I said smiling. “Oh,yeah. You love bacon, dontcha Old Boy?”
I gave Rocky a couple more pats on the head and told him I’d see him after school. “I need you to guard the place while we’re gone today, Rocky. Bark loud if you see something out of the ordinary.”
Rocky was the most docile dog in the world and wouldn’t scare a mosquito away. Plus he was continually chained to his dog house so it wasn’t like he could actually chase down a burglar or anything. It’s always nice to feel needed though. Everyone needs to feel needed.
I walked back up the hill and through my yard to my grandparent’s yard. Grandma was watching out the window and saw me coming this time. There was no need for loud shouts and big arm movements today. She greeted me with, “Did I just see your mother drive by wearing a dog suit?”
I didn’t have time to answer because Grandpa spoke overtop of the end of her sentence and said, “Oh no! She didn’t forget you again, did she? I’m going out to stand guard in the driveway. I used my last good wheel on the garbage can,” and out the door he ran.
The house smelled like hot coffee, cinnamon, and cigarettes. The three smells blended together and they were actually comforting to me. Even with all the fuss about cigarettes in school, there is something I find calming about them. In reality I know smoking is bad for you and smoking is something I’d never do.
Mom says she knows I won’t ever smoke because I will be too cheap to waste my money on something that gets lit on fire. She’s right—I’m a saver. I work too hard for my money babysitting Sam and Hope.
It is what happens after the cigarette is lit that comforts me.
Things can be tense at times when you live next door to your family. There just seem to be more to argue about. But in the midst of a disagreement, after the snap of a match and long draw on a cigarette, I can always count on things getting calmer. Calm is comforting to me and something I don’t get to experience much of when living with my family.
“What will it be today, Ellen?” said Grandma regarding my breakfast.
“It’s Friday, Grandma. I already had Dad’s Breakfast Special,” I reminded her.
“Oh yes, that’s right,” said Grandma. “How about you try a taste of my applesauce that I am making?”
That must have been where the cinnamon smell was coming from. I walked over to the large pot on the stove and peeked in. There were some apples cooking down, almost ready to be mushed up. I saw the peelings of the skins in a big pile, next to a steaming bowl that appeared to be already finished.
“Here, try the first batch. Tell me if I need to add more cinnamon.”
I inhaled the warm, delicious smell, savoring it for a bit before I dipped the end of a teaspoon into the smooth, tan mixture. I blew on the steam away from the spoon tip and tried a bite. My taste buds did a little dance, pleased with the concoction.
“Oh Grandma! This is so good!” I said. “What kind of apples are these?”
“Those are the local Cortlands. Farmer Richter gave us a big bushel basketful,” Grandma replied. “The key to perfect applesauce is using the local apples picked straight from the tree.”
I had another few bites and my stomach told me to stop although my brain wanted some more. Grandma promised to send us over a jarful after school. I helped grandma wash out the bowls and the big pot. When I went to throw away the apple peelings, Grandma stopped me. She said, “Wait! Did you ever play the game with the apple peels?”
This should be good. What kind of game could be played with an apple skin? I took a chance and bravely shook my head “No.”
“Here. Let me show you,” said Grandma. “You have to find an apple peeling that didn’t break—the complete skin that unwound from the flesh of the apple---here, like this one,” she said, delicately picking up a long, coiled piece of apple skin between her thumb and pointer finger. It dangled and bounced like a spring. “Now, you take it and throw it over your left shoulder and let it land on the floor behind you. See, like this.”
Grandma took the skin of the apple and gave it a toss. It landed on the kitchen floor.
“You see, Ellen, the shape that the peel lands in is the initial of the person you are going to marry.”
We both stared at the apple peel for a few seconds in silence. We turned our heads this way and that. Finally, I broke the quiet.
“That looks like a J. Isn’t Grandpa’s first name Richard?”
Grandma looked perturbed because she does not like to be wrong. Her eyes lit up as something seemed to click in her brain. “Ahhh, yes, his first name is Richard, sometimes I call him a Jack. That’s short for Jacka…..Oh, never mind, Ellen!”
She handed me the knife. “Here, you try it.”
I smiled, not really believing she called Grandpa a Jerk, although I had seen him crabby many times, most times they usually involve my mother.
Together Grandma and I searched through the pile for an unbroken piece. We were about to give up when we found one, last perfectly unbroken piece at the bottom of the heap. Grandma must have been more careful with her peeling at the start of this project than at the end. I tossed it over my shoulder and we turned to look at it. It too, landed in a perfect J.
“Well, there you go Ellen, looks like you are going to marry a Jack…… someday, too, ” she said, winking at me.
Grandma and I laughed out loud together. I gave her a hug and told her I was going to wait out for the bus at the end of her driveway.
As I made my way through the outside door I saw Grandpa standing at the end of the driveway holding what looked like a spear of some sort. As I got closer, I could see the object which he grasped in his hand. It was like a walking stick.
The bottom end looked like it was part of an old, rusted campfire fork—the kind that you roast hot dogs with over a campfire with. The top was I recognized as an arm from one of my old plastic dolls. The hand at the end of the arm had a pointer finger extending out from it. Grandpa had filed the finger to a sharp point. Add to the morbidity of breakfasting with a decapitated Husky, now I had to wait for the bus with a dismembered doll. It bore an amazing likeness to Mother Eloise’s Handy Pointer she used in our classroom. Like father, like daughter.
“Did your mother forget you again, Ellen? Racing around in the mornings like that girl does,” Grandpa continued without even giving me the chance to answer. “I’ve told her time and time again, when you hurry, it just takes you longer. Don’t hurry, Ellen. Remember that. Take your time. The turtle always wins at the end of the long race. Rabbits get run over by cars.”
I processed that thought for a second or two, but it gave way to the monstrosity before me. I had to know what Grandpa’s new tool was. “Grandpa, what did you make?” I inquired.
“Oh, this?” Grandpa replied. “Why I call this my Polly Pick-R-Upper. I get so darn tired of picking up the garbage from when your mother uprights the cans. Keen eyesight she has, that’s for sure, but what good is it with absolutely no depth perception. Never had it. Couldn’t shoot a basket to save her life when she was a kid. I invented this to help save my back. Look here, watch.”
Grandpa inverted Polly’s arm and stabbed a brown, crinkly leaf on the ground. He extended Polly’s arm to me, impaled leaf now around her dear departed wrist.
“Cool,” I said. It was all I got out before I heard the window slide open from my Grandmother’s kitchen. I saw the outline of her head and a thin trail of smoke coming from the window out into the morning air.
“Hey, Ellen,” Grandma yelled. “Maybe the J stands for that teen heart throb of yours, Joe Jonas. Tell Emily that one! Or maybe it’s Jethro. That would be a good one!” I could hear the laughter in the tone of her voice.
“Or maybe it’s Jehosephat or Jeremiah,” I yelled back smiling.
Grandpa was standing there with his feet crossed, balancing himself in the way he does when he’s thinking about something. His head was cocked to the side when he asked me, “What are you two up to now Ellen?”
“Oh, that?” I said to Grandpa, trying to think of a way I could explain quickly. “Grandma and I were trying to think of boys’ names that began with the letter J.”
“Hmmph,” Grandpa muttered. “That sounds like one of your mother’s hair brained assignments. I betcha she’s got you reading the Bible again from the sound of those names, doesn’t she ? Remember Ellen, those are just stories, told and retold over and over again until someone finally wrote them down. Jesus, what will that girl think of next?”
The loud rumble of the school bus rounding the corner saved me from any further explanation. I was saved once again from a tricky conversation that I sensed would be better off left alone.
I smiled and waved to Gradnpa as the school bus rolled to a stop at the driveway’s end. Grandpa shook Polly’s hand back and forth making a waving motion. The brown leaf was still stuck to her finger. What an ingenious idea! A little ingenuity—perhaps that was the Key to All Things.