“Building Bridges,” Friend, Nov. 1996, 16
On a crisp autumn Saturday, I went to spend a day with my grandfather. He lives in a small town, in a small house on Sixth Street.
There are a lot of things I like about Grandfather, especially his twinkly eyes and merry laugh. He has an interesting house, and he tells the best stories. I like to have him all to myself sometimes. I was really happy to spend that day with him all alone.
He had called on the telephone and asked if I could come help him do something special. Mom and Dad said I could. They always let me go to Grandfather’s when he has something special to do. I get to help him with all sorts of things. I like to help out!
On this particular Saturday, my mom dropped me off at his house in the morning. He welcomed me, and we waved good-bye to Mom. Then he told me in a cheerful voice, “Grandson, today you are going to help me build a bridge—one that’s been wanted on both sides of it for a long time. Does that sound OK to you?”
“Oh yes! I like to build things!”
“Good!” he said, and we went into his house.
Well, the more I thought about it, the more excited I became! I imagined myself erecting a great bridge that would span a raging river or a gorge of great depths. Then the thought popped into my mind that there were no rivers around. In fact, there weren’t any gorges or even ravines around. So I asked, “Where are we going to build our bridge, Grandfather?”
“Not very far away.”
“But there isn’t any place to put a bridge, is there?”
He just looked at me and said, “You’d be surprised, Grandson!”
Sometimes he says things like that, and I don’t understand what he means. But Grandfather is wise, and I believe him when he tells me things.
“Will we need tools, Grandfather?”
“Indeed we will! I think we should go get them right away. Follow me!”
He led me to a tiny shed behind his house. He took a key out of a pocket in his overalls and unlocked the door. We stepped inside, and it was very dark. When he turned on a single light bulb, the shed seemed sort of yellow and gray and fuzzy combined.
“Now, let’s see.” Grandfather began rummaging through the clutter. “Here, Grandson, hold these!” He handed me two pairs of gloves.
Yes, I thought, we will certainly need gloves when we are building our bridge!
“And, of course, we will need these.” Grandfather handed me two big metal buckets.
As he handed them to me, I accidentally dropped them. Clang! Clang! Clong! Oh, they made a dreadfully loud noise! I picked them up and tried to be more careful when Grandfather handed me a garden rake.
“What will we need this for?” I asked him.
“Oh, that’s a most important tool!” he exclaimed. He smiled at me and said, “Come, my wondering grandson. Let’s go build our bridge.”
“But we don’t have any wood!”
“We won’t need any,” he said.
“We don’t have a hammer and nails, either.”
“We’ll not be needing any of those things. Come, young man. Let’s go build that bridge.”
Grandfather walked out of the shed and into the cool, clean morning air. I followed him, still wondering how on earth we were going to build a bridge without supplies.
Soon I discovered that we were in the neighbor’s yard. I remembered the yard well, and I did not want to be there one bit! It was old Mr. Jenkins’s yard. I thought back to last year at Thanksgiving time. My whole family was at Grandfather’s, and after the meal, we children played behind the house.
During an exciting game of hide-and-seek, some of us had gone into Mr. Jenkins’s yard to hide. His house looked empty and lonesome, and we were sure that nobody was home. But he came out, waving his cane in the air and shouting for us to leave! He even called me a scalawag!
“Grandfather,” I asked now, “why are we in this yard?”
“Why, this is where we will build our bridge!” When I looked at him with questioning eyes, he said, “Do you trust me, Grandson?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“And if I ask you to do something, will you do it?”
“I will, Grandfather.”
“Good!” He handed me a pair of gloves and asked me to go down to Mr. Jenkins’s big garden. “Do you see those pumpkins?”
Of course I saw them! There were lots of bright orange pumpkins scattered all over the ground, surrounded by their withered vines from the last frost.
“I would like you to pick them and put them in a pile over by the house. Be very careful, and don’t carry them by the stems!”
“OK, Grandfather.” I went to the task. I had never seen so many pumpkins! Some of them were skinny and tall. Others were round and fat. They were all heavy! I worked very hard for a long time. After I got that done, Grandfather asked me to rake the fallen leaves in the yard.
I told him I would, but when I looked around, I was stunned! There must have been thousands of leaves surrounding me! The huge cottonwood trees in the backyard had certainly had a lot of leaves that year! It took me two hours to rake them. All the while, I kept thinking, Maybe when I’m done with this, we will build a bridge.
Grandfather was busy too. He had brought a shovel, and he dug up all the potatoes in the garden, put them into the buckets, and carried them to the porch. When he noticed that one of the stairs leading to the porch was sagging, he set to fixing it. Then he helped me bag the leaves.
Well, when we were finished with Mr. Jenkins’s yard and garden, it looked great! It felt nice to look at it and see what a good job we had done. I knew Mr. Jenkins saw what a good job we had done, too, because once I saw him peeking through a window—and he wasn’t scowling!
By this time, I felt hungry. I was glad when Grandfather said, “How would you like it if we went home now and made some of my famous potato soup?”
“Hurrah! I love your potato soup!”
We went into the house and made a great big batch of it. And as we were cooking it, I thought that maybe after lunch we would start building that bridge.
The soup was delicious, and we had a fun time eating and talking. Grandfather told me interesting stories that made me laugh. When we were all done, there was a lot of soup left. Grandfather put it in a big bowl and said, “Now, Grandson, I want you to take this over to Mr. Jenkins.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “I can’t do that! He’s mean, and he doesn’t like me.”
Grandfather just looked me in the eyes and said, “Please.”
So I got all my courage together and walked over to Mr. Jenkins’s front door with a bowl of warm soup in my hands. I rang the doorbell and waited a long time. Finally he came to the door. He had a broken leg and was on crutches!
“Hello, young man,” he said. He didn’t look mean at all—in fact, he even smiled at me!
“My grandfather asked me to bring this over to you.”
“I thank you for it. Tell me, could you carry it just a wee bit farther and put it on my table?”
“Sure.” As I walked through the house, I noticed that it was very messy. I suspected that he couldn’t get around well enough to take care of it. I put the soup on the table and told him I had to go. As I was leaving, I thought I saw tears in his eyes.
“Young man, you don’t know what you and your grandfather did today means to me! Thank you, from the bottom of a cranky old man’s heart!”
I smiled big and said, “You’re welcome!” Then I went back to Grandfather’s house. When I told him what had happened, he seemed very pleased. Then I asked him if we could build our bridge.
“Why, Grandson, we have already built it!”
“We have? Really?”
“Yes indeed! We built a very wonderful bridge today: the bridge of friendship, my boy. Mr. Jenkins may be a cranky old fellow sometimes, but as you could see, he needed some help. And he was glad to get it. All it took to warm his old heart was just being a good neighbor and friend. Our helping him showed him that we were his friends. Building bridges between people and making friends is one of the strongest bridges we could ever build!”
Well, it took me a minute to understand what Grandfather had said. But once I realized that we actually had built a bridge, I couldn’t help but smile. Then I remembered how Mr. Jenkins’s house was so messy, and it gave me a great idea. “Grandfather? Do you think we could add a little bit to that bridge today?”
Grandfather smiled, winked at me, and said, “Yes, Grandson, I believe we could!”