“Upstairs at Grandpa’s House,” Friend, Feb. 1987, 14
On Saturday mornings Mama and I get up early, put on our clothes, and eat a quick breakfast. Then Mama half-fills a tall glass with water, and we walk real fast to Tony’s flower stand.
“Hello, Mrs. Nelson. Hi, Emily,” he says and sells us a dozen of his brightest daisies.
Mama puts the daisies into the glass, and we walk even faster to catch the bus. Mama lets me sit by the window. It’s a very long ride.
When we get off the bus, we’re in a small town instead of the big city. As Mama and I walk along, we see people working in their yards and boys and girls riding their bikes. One time we saw three silly chickens running in circles and squawking.
Finally we reach Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma kisses us and hugs us as though we haven’t seen each other for a year. Next she exclaims, “Daisies! They’re Papa’s favorites! You go upstairs and see him while I put them in a vase.”
We climb the high, wide stairs, make a half turn on the landing, and open the door at the top. Grandpa is the same as he was last week. He lies on his back. Sometimes his eyes are open; sometimes they are shut. Sometimes he breathes normally; other times he makes poof noises. He never moves.
Mama kisses him and says, “Hello, Papa.”
I say, “Hi, Grandpa,” and kiss him too.
It used to be that when we came to visit Grandpa he would be all over the house and the yard. He’d untie Grandma’s apron, then chuckle when she pretended to scold him. Sometimes he’d lift me onto his shoulders and prance through the house, and he always remembered to duck when we went through the doorways. He’d give me rides in the wheelbarrow, or he’d push me in the rope swing as high as the leaves in the old tree. Then we’d sit on the steps while he told me stories about long, long ago when he visited his grandpa. Sometimes we’d go downtown for ice cream or some other treat for Grandma.
That was how it used to be. Now Grandpa’s hands don’t move, and his feet don’t move.
Today Mama sits on the chair by his bed and picks up the thick history book from Grandpa’s table. Finding the right place, she begins to read aloud. Grandpa loves history.
Mama turns the page and smiles at me, and I know that it’s all right to go play, so I do. Downstairs, I talk to Grandma while she makes cookies. Then I go outside and around the house to the gravel walkway. There, hanging from the biggest old tree, is the rope swing that Grandpa put up before Mama was born. I swing and wonder what the world was like before Mama. I can’t imagine it. And once there was a world without Grandpa! That’s even harder to imagine.
Later Grandma calls me inside. “I’ve made oatmeal scones,” Grandma says, “and I have hot soup ready. Where shall we eat, Emily?”
“Out here,” I answer.
She puts food on the picnic table, and I carry out bowls and things. Then she calls upstairs to Mama.
Mama stops reading, and she comes down. As we eat, she and Grandma talk about something that Grandpa did when Mama was as young as I am now. It helps me remember when Grandpa still acted like everybody else.
One time, early in the morning after Mama and I had spent the night with him and Grandma, Grandpa and I went to buy a morning newspaper because the funnies are the best thing to read before breakfast. On the way, he found a big broken branch that made a good walking stick. He pretended to hobble with it, then did a silly hop, skip, and jump. We had more fun than anything!
When we got home, Grandma took one look at Grandpa’s stick and said, “You get that dirty old thing out of the house!” Grandpa just laughed. He lifted her off the floor and swung her around.
“Put me down!” she screeched, but she was laughing too.
Grandpa kissed her before we went into the living room to read the funnies to each other.
That’s the way it used to be.
After we finish the soup and scones, we all go upstairs again. The daisies sit beside Grandpa’s book. Grandma pats his foot. “I’ll bring your lunch up,” she says.
Mama kisses him goodbye. “I’ll come next Saturday,” she promises.
“I’ll be back, too,” I tell him.
And then the greatest thing happens: Grandpa blinks!
All three of us see both his eyes slowly close and open. We look at each other and laugh. Then we pat Grandpa’s shoulder.
Downstairs, everybody kisses and hugs. Even Mama and I kiss and hug each other as if one of us is going and one is staying behind. When we leave, Grandma stands on the front steps to wave. As we turn the corner a block away, we see her still lifting her arm high.
We catch the bus. Mama puts our glass for daisies into her purse and her arm over the back of my seat. We look out the window. It’s getting late. We see lights here and there. At last we are in the city. Lights and noise and people and cars are everywhere.