This story is by Renette Steele and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Marybeth sat curled up, a view of the Colorado Rockies before her, she was ready to push the send button on this week’s blog post. A message flashed across the screen indicating her mother was calling. She tapped the earpiece. “Hi, Mom. what’s up?”
Several blocks away Elizabeth gathered up her keys as she spoke, “Hi honey. I’m on my way to take your father to the dentist he broke a tooth yesterday. Not sure how long we will need to wait. I wondered if you could do me a favor and go see Papa today?”
“Awe, Mom, you know I hate visiting old people. They give me a sense of dread. It’s hard seeing Papa this way. Besides I need to pick up Susie in an hour.” She said.
“Perfect dear, you’ll already be out. Papa is so proud you named Susie after Grams. You both look so much like her, of all days today would mean so much for you to see him. For forty-eight years he told their story on September twenty-eighth. Grams helped him remember a couple of years. But someone needs to help him remember today because it is their anniversary. Besides, you love their story, and it is one of the reasons we all love fall,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh, all right I will go,” Marybeth replied.
“Thank you, I do appreciate it,” Elizabeth said.
Marybeth picked up little Susie, her daughter from kindergarten. They drove ten miles up the hill to Colorado Eagles Nest Nursing Home. The fenced acre housed an old Victorian home, and grounds manicured to look like an English garden where the twenty residents could often be found sitting outside. She watched as little Susie skipped ahead.
Marybeth spotted the nurses assistant as she wheeled James (Jimmy) Hudson out to the courtyard and settled him by his favorite old oak tree. Jimmy sat in his chair with his chin resting on his chest, a vacant stare in his sad eyes. His 87-year-old trembling hands pulled the blanket about his shoulders a bit tighter.
“Mr. Hudson, are you warm enough?” the CNA asked, tucking the lap blanket a little snugger around his legs, “I think you have some company. I’m going to let you sit outside for a while, okay? ”
Marybeth knew her Papa wanted to answer, but the words wouldn’t come. She was sure he sensed something special about today but didn’t think his mind could recall what it might be, most of the time he wasn’t sure who he was.
Upon seeing his great-granddaughter playing in the leaves, Jimmy called out, “Susie, is that my sweet Susie?”
His old voice reminded her of a bullfrog trying to croak and not quite getting it out. She loved her Papa so much or at least she loved the six foot six, broad shouldered, piercing blue-eyed, and gentle spirit he used to be. He liked to tease the kids, but loved to razz Grams until she could spit nails, but then Papa would dance her about, and everyone would laugh.
This shell of a man so feeble in mind and body, who was he? Not her beloved Papa. Taking tentative steps to him, kneeling in front of his wheelchair, she said, “Papa it’s Marybeth, your granddaughter and little Susie your great-granddaughter. We came to help you remember your love story. Tell me how you met Grams.”
Jimmy watched his great granddaughter play. He began to speak. A little weak at first and then stronger.
“I was ten in 1932 when we moved to Colorado. I peeked around the trunk of the old maple tree that stood in my front yard.
That day, Susie shuffled along singing, and every few feet she scooped up an armload of leaves, throwing them in the air and squealing with delight. Her ringlets were a mix of red and browns that tumbled about her waist. Her clothes matched the yellow and green hues which clung to the trees. Her laughter, like music dancing on the wind.”
“That’s when I crossed the street and pushed her into a pile of leaves. I fell in love with all things autumn that day and head over heels for six-year-old Susanna (Susie) Weimer. I knew one day I’d marry her.”
“Jimmy Hudson I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth,” Susie shouted.”
““Maybe not today but one day I’ll change your mind.” I chuckled. We played all afternoon. I find it’s hard to be mad when you’re laughing.”
“Me too Papa. I learned that from you. Did Grams ever say that again to you?” She asked.
“Many times.Think we were ten and fourteen the year I collected leaves for a school project. I was proud of my grade. I left my heart shaped display on Susie’s porch. It was a bit dried up and crumpled. She threw it at me and said, “Jimmy Hudson I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last person on earth.””
“Next thing I knew, I was a senior and Susie a freshman in high school. I peered around the tree. Susie was raking the yard. I dashed over to help. The piles grew, and with a grin, I circled her waist and deposited her in the largest pile of leaves.”
““Jimmy Hudson I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth,” She squealed.”
“I plopped down beside her and dusted a few leaves over her. I knew she had loved me since she was six.”
““Okay, we won’t marry today. But you promised to go to the homecoming dance with me. I happen to know you’ll be crowned Queen, which means I’ll be your King.””
“How did you propose Papa?” Marybeth asked.
“Four years later, home on break from my junior year of college. I couldn’t wait for the homecoming game to end so I could walk Susie home. We shuffled along making trails through the crunchy foliage. I whirled five foot two Susie about in a little dance and dropped both of us in a pile of leaves.”
Susie giggled, looked into my eyes and asked, “What’s this all about?”
““I’ve loved you since you were six years old, Susie. I’ve been waiting for the year you were all grown up. You graduate this spring and come next Fall I want you to be my wife.” Jimmy said.”
“ We married in the Fall. Each autumn, we tell anyone who will listen how beautiful this time of year can be because that is when a ten-year-old Jimmy fell deeply in love with six-year-old Susie.”
She didn’t realize she’d been holding the wheelchair so tight until her hands cramped. Today there was no mistaking the cheerful voice of laughter from her Papa that Marybeth loved. She pictured Papa and Grams as their love grew.
“ Papa I remember three years ago Grams stared out the window, two different years, praying the leaves would begin to fall soon. She prayed for one more autumn with you. Fall is when Grams parked your wheelchair by the big old tree. She’d gather an armload of leaves, toss them in the air, then and only then you’d remember her and fall in love all over again. Three weeks out of the year is all you had, but it was a wondrous few weeks. Grams got her wish but then died.” She said.
Papa’s bright shiny eyes embraced Marybeth. “ I still love you. These old bones are too weak to throw you in a pile of leaves and still get back up, but I love you, Susie.”
Marybeth placed a small pile of leaves in his lap. Her heart ached for this gentle soul she loved so much. Today she was her Grams to him, what a compliment. She choked back the tears and smiled at Papa. “ I know you do.”
“It’s time to go inside,” she called to her daughter. Marybeth noticed the minute they started towards the building the light in Papa’s eyes disappeared. He didn’t speak another word for the next half hour.
The next morning, before Marybeth got out of bed, her phone buzzed.
“Morning dear, your visit meant so much to Papa. Last night was his final Autumn. He and Grams are together, dancing in the leaves.” Elizabeth choked out.
Marybeth swallowed the lump in her throat, “ I still don’t like going to see old people, but I will forever cherish that one more Autumn spent with Papa.”