Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Inner Strength (04/20/06)
TITLE: Grandma, Billy Graham, and Red Tomato Jam
By Sandra Petersen
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A droning fly tickles the inside screen, then lofts its body upward to join two others. They dance together in the sun-soaked window before settling on the sill. I hear no other movement from inside but know that Grandma must be in there. She doesn't leave the house unless we take her into town. Perhaps she hasn't heard my initial knock. The other possibility is unthinkable. I rap louder.
“Grandma?” My voice invades the silence like a trespasser.
Just as I crack open the door, the voice of Billy Graham booms out a welcome. I smile and shake my head. I hadn't noticed the time. Grandma must have just turned on the radio.
The rich baritone of George Beverly Shea belts out, “I'd rather have Jesus...” from the living room where Grandma sits.
I shouldn't interrupt her when she's enjoying her favorite program, but Dad has sent me. One month ago, Dad discovered that Grandma had forgotten to take her insulin. He came home pale and shaky. It was that incident that prompted him to initiate the daily visits. Written on the calendar square at home corresponding to this date is my name, Joy. Tomorrow Dad will take his turn.
I step into the entryway. The screen door slips from my hand and slams shut. I know Grandma hasn't heard the sound above Billy's message, but I call out anyway, “It's just me, Grandma.”
I walk through the kitchen with its massive black iron wood stove. Two loaves of homemade white bread cool on the sideboard beside a jar of this year's red tomato jam, an unbroken paraffin seal topping the contents. Tomato jam sandwiches and Grandma's calming presence soothed many childhood fears and dried several tears. These things and Billy Graham's messages were a reassuring constant in my childhood. I smile at the thought.
When Momma died, Grandma cared and prayed for both Dad and me. She spoke with the Lord at mealtime and bedtime with confidence and trust, her silver head bowed over folded hands. I used to wonder how she could see inside Dad to know that his heart was broken. She had walked with the Lord many years, and I hoped to someday have that same inner strength she possessed.
I peek into the living room. Grandma sits in her favorite overstuffed chair, her eyes vacantly staring out the window. I clear my throat to get her attention. When she sees me, she struggles to her feet and reaches for the radio's off button.
“Leave it on, Grandma. I like Mr. Graham.”
“Joy,” she says and clasps my hand. Her lips tremble and her eyes glisten.
As if reminded of something important, she drops my hand and shuffles past me to the kitchen. “Let me get us something to eat.”
I follow her, knowing it will do me no good to protest. She loves to offer hospitality to visitors, something she doesn't get to do very often anymore. Everyone is way too busy to visit for long.
Grandma has drawn the knife from the block and is sawing at one of the loaves. I notice that the slices are too thick and her movements seem careless.
Sucking in my breath, I caution, “Grandma, slow down. Let me do it.”
I take her bone-thin wrist in one hand and the knife with the other. She fights for a moment before surrendering.
We gaze at each other and I observe in the depths of her eyes something I am unaccustomed to seeing. What I am looking at has crept into her life like a cancer. She has either hidden it well, or maybe we were all too busy to notice. I see confusion and fear.
Tears threaten to spill from her eyes and mine as I place the knife on the sideboard and hug her to myself. My Grandma clings to me until her shuddering sobs cease. Stroking her hair, I silently pray for wisdom. Confidence and strength not my own courses through me as I become the caregiver and she the one in need of care.
And Billy Graham preaches on and black flies drone in the calm that descends upon us.
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