My husband likes to mow the lawn. I’m not sure what strange pleasure he gets from it but in spring it becomes an obsession. My grandfather is the same way except where he lives in North Carolina, it’s a year-round job.
“Your papaw is out cutting the grass again,” my grandmother will say. “He can’t stand it if gets more than about an inch tall.” She’s right. He keeps the grass trim and short even during the hottest times of the year when we’d all prefer he just stay inside rather than chasing his lawn mower around in the 95 degree heat of the South. But he doesn’t listen to us.
Last year he didn’t feel well for a while. So long that, at some point, my aunt hired someone to cut the grass. It all felt a little like a canary in the mine that he couldn’t cut his own grass and no one wanted to say it. No one could ever remember a time when he’d hired out the job and no one wanted to think of a time when my grandmother would have to. He was not pleased when he went out to inspect and a few weeks later he was feeling well enough to do it himself. Thank God.
Seth and my grandfather have a lot in common. They are both kind, gentle souls. My grandfather whistles and sings as he makes his way through the house. I caught Seth whistling tonight. There’s never been a baby that my grandfather couldn’t rock to sleep and Seth is known among our friends as the baby whisperer. My grandmother is, um, spirited and my grandfather has put up with her for more than 60 years. I’m, well, let’s just say, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up and one might draw a few similarities between the two of us. So far, Seth has hung in there putting up with me all these years.
When I was little my grandfather used to work third shift at the local textile mill and I spent every Friday at his house with my grandmother. When I’d wake up on Saturdays he’d be asleep but on the kitchen table he would have left me a Peppermint Pattie. Or m&ms. Or some other treat he’d gotten in the vending machine at work. It would be lying beside a note to grandmother asking her to wake him at 2 p.m.
The other night we were in the ER with Eliza. She’d had her tonsils out and was running a fever. While doctors were trying to figure out why, Seth started telling her stories to pass the time. He told her one story, then another. Making them up as he went, his stories twisted and turned as Eliza looked at him wide-eyed from her hospital bed. At one point, he hung his hand on the bed rail so he could rest his head and finish one particularly winding tale of two horses named Rank and Hank. Eliza rested her head to the side as she lay staring at him, riveted.
Today we drove to our neighbor’s house with two hot pans of food. He was trying to start his four-wheeler and couldn’t get the engine to turn over. When he saw us pull up he swung one leg over the machine and walked slowly, hunched over and limping, toward us.
“That’s not him,” I said to Seth as we walked over.
“It’s him,” he said.
As our neighbor of twelve years came toward us he had tears in his eyes.
“We’re so sorry,” I said. “We just heard.”
“Thank you kids. Thank you,” he said.
His wife of 54 years had been killed in a car accident and our potpie seemed a little insignificant in the face of it.
“It’s been a month,” he said. “And it still feels like yesterday.”
As we walked back to our car I thought about my grandfather, his singing and his warm surprise when he finds me sitting at his kitchen table.
He turned 85 this year. The same day our neighbor’s wife crossed the center line while driving back from the doctor’s office.
Sometimes our lives feel so harried and I feel like we are in the thick of it. I wonder if our neighbor watched us walk away thinking that we are so young, just kids, how we are only at the beginning.