At one time or another, everyone’s life feels like macaroni and cheese without the cheese or Hamburger Helper without the hamburger. I know mine does, and quite often it seems, as I make my way along in a world where everyone seems to know the way, but me.
When I was a kid, and I felt like that, I would just grab hold of my grandfather’s coat tail and follow him, and that feeling would go away. Not so easy nowadays, with no grandfather’s coat tail to hold to, only memories.
“Don’t slip off,” I remember him saying more than once, when we went to town. It was something he really didn’t have to say. I stayed closer than his shadow, taking every step with him. When he paused and pulled off his old straw hat and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, so did I. The handkerchief was one of his old hand-me downs, he dug out of his sock drawer when I insisted my brow was sweating pretty bad.
“Check it for boogers,” I remember him saying that Saturday morning he gave me the old handkerchief. It was the same morning he gave me one of his pocket knives. He made me promise not to tell my grandma and that I couldn’t take it home and keep it full time until I turned nine. Only seven at the time, I promised, hiding the knife deep in my pocket and making a second promise not to cut off any of my fingers or carve my initials into the porch steps like my daddy did when he was my age.
It was hot that Saturday; and it wasn’t even July yet, something I heard some old timer say to my grandpa at the seed store. The seed store was where my grandpa bought his garden seeds, and where he always bought me a Popsicle which kept me busy while he gossiped with the other old men gathered around. That’s what grandma said he did, and why it took us so long to get back home with the things she sent us after.
After we checked out the fishing rods and hunting knives and I finished my Popsicle where it was cool, my grandpa steered us outside in the bright sunshine. Next we went straight to the drugstore, so we didn’t forget the things on grandma’s list. The old man behind the counter and grandpa would gossip too, about people up in Washington. This gave me time to look at all the toys on the toy rack, and make sure the cap gun that my grandpa promised me for my birthday was still there.
With the things we had come to town for under our arms, we made one last stop that Saturday morning, at the Gently Used Thrift Shop, where my grandpa did his clothes shopping.
“I might just find me a shirt,” my grandpa would say as I followed him into the friendly little store where the radio always played church music and the tall man who ran the place was always glad to see us. He even knew my name, which made me feel important as I tagged along behind my grandpa.
“Mostly looking,” my grandpa would say, when the tall man offered his help which was true. There was a lot to look at in that store: books, toys, furniture, pictures, and just about anything else a body could want.
They even had a superhero watch that my grandpa saw catch my eye. I would get it as a present the next Christmas. That morning though, I only tried it on, while my grandpa picked out a shirt from the rack which was spilling over with used shirts, “gently used,” like everything else in the store, including us.
That’s what my grandpa told me on the way home, after he and the tall man talked about the Lord and Heaven and Jesus. I listened and remember, like it was yesterday.
“We are all gently used, and meant for passing on goodness,” my grandpa told me as we walked past a mill pond filling with singing bull frogs which warmed in a summer sun that had the honey suckle smelling sweet as ever.
I remember our reflections in the dark shiny water, that old man and me; a little boy, both wiping our brows as we speculated on what might be swimming in the deep cool.
One hour glass with sand running out, the other with sand hardly even running in; we stood there, my grandpa admiring his new shirt, me helping.
I wanted a shirt too, I told him, but he said, “No,” and that my grandma would take me to the big store, and buy me a brand new shirt. He said, old shirts were for old men, but I knew he didn’t mean it. I know it even better now that I’m old like he was then.
On those days when it seems like there is more mac than cheese and Helper than hamburger, I remember back to what my grandpa told me about all of us being, “Gently used and meant for passing on goodness.” With my favorite gently used shirt for company, I think of the one who wore it before me and what my grandpa said.
“You never know what kind of man wore this shirt before you. He could have been a billionaire or a bandit. The main thing is, you’re wearing it now, and you got to treat it with this best care you can, like the man who had it before you. So when you pass it on, there will still be some good left in it.”
This is a work for fiction dedicated to my friend Tommy. Edward Reed 2020