“Most people are hurting,” Tommy’s grandmother told him. He was too young to understand at the time but he listened. He had already learned grandmothers know lots of things and you can set your watch by what tell you. He was spending the summer with her, her last. He didn’t know it. She did. That’s was why she asked her daughter and son-in-law if Tommy could visit that summer.
“To help me with my garden,” was what she told them. Not sure how much work she would be able to wring out of their restless little boy they agreed.
“All summer?” Tommy asked excited. His parents worked a lot. Most summers he ended up at one of his aunt’s or a neighbors getting left behind by the older kids when they went to town.
“All summer,” his grandmother told him, her voice old and sweet through the phone lines which stretched the miles between the two. “And bring you some church clothes too.” He did. His mother made sure.
In some ways that summer seemed as short as the beating of a sparrow’s wing and in other ways it seemed to last a life time. Some summers are like that. Not all, but some.
Tommy’s grandma lived in good town, a small town, and an old town. A town as older than her she told him which left him scratching his head. Tommy and his parent lived in a new town, with new schools, and roads and places to shop. His grandmother only had Main Street, two rows of building divided by a tired stretch of highway that had once been the only road to anywhere.
In and out of those shops and stores on Main Street they went every Saturday afternoon. That was after Tommy’s grandmother finished washing her clothes and had them on the line flapping in the summer sunshine and after they stopped off at Miss Willameena’s Beauty shop for his grandmother to get her hair done, rolled and curled. While her and Miss Willameena talked old lady talk and while his grandmother sat under the space age looking hair dry complete with face shield Tommy listened and squirmed. He tried to be still it was impossible.
Those few hours before they got to go wander the stores of Main Street seemed as long as the summer itself. His grandmother insisted on keeping her hair, ‘just so,’ and clean sheets on her bed. It wasn’t until he was older that he would understand. At the time he was too busy thinking about the cap pistol or jack rocks or a new coloring book waiting on him.
Miss Willameena had lost her husband the year before and her daughter was out of work. Tommy learned that from listening.
At the Five and Dime which he liked best even though it only had one self full of toys there was the woman his grandma called Dotty. His grandma told him the tall thin woman, with the beehive hairdo and pointy eyeglasses, was kin to them someway. Another thing Tommy didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out.
She had lost her husband too and her son had just been sent overseas. Her son was in the Army. His picture was taped to the old time cash register where she totaled up the things Tommy’s grandmother laid on the counter to be paid for from money in the old bill fold which used to being to Tommy’s grandfather. She kept it in her pocketbook.
She told Tommy it would be his one day and made him promise he would only ever put honest money in it. Just the way his grandpa did. He promised.
Next it was off to Escoe’s. Escoe’s was a pharmacy. There his grandmother would pick up her pills and treat Tommy to an ice cream cone or and orangeade and buy herself one, if her pills didn’t cost too much.
“How are you feeling Hon,” old Mr. Escoe would always ask Tommy’s grandmother. He called everyone Hon. He called Tommy, “Buzz,” on account of his hair cut and always put sprinkles on Tommy’s ice cream even though Tommy didn’t ask.
Mr. Escoe’s little boy died when his young his grandmother told Tommy when he asked about the tiny pair of brass shoe which caught his eye every time they visited the old drug store.
“Claude never got over that,” Tommy’s grandmother told her listening grandson not hiding the sadness in her voice. “That was a long time ago he was so young.”
Tommy figured out how young one day when he and his grandmother stopped by the cemetery. He saw the grave site with the little lamb. He did the math eight years old, same as him.
After he finished his ice cream and his grandmother got her pills and caught up on the latest news on Mr. Escoe’s wife who was undergoing treatments, Tommy would follow his grandmother down out the street and down to the corner where she had parked her in the city lot. They would drop of their things and then walk to the church.
He dusted while she vacuumed. He was careful to dust everything like she told him and not miss a spot especially since it was they worked by what sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows, pictures of Jesus and lambs, and old men with beards and shepherd’s walking sticks.
The preacher would always give him Tommy a piece of bubble gum if he passed through and then remind him not to stick it under the benches. Tommy had seen under those benches, from the looks of it not many people listened to the preacher. But Tommy did.
It was scary in the church was empty and full of shadows. His grandma said the Lord was always home so there were as nothing to be afraid of when she noticed him staying close to her, hesitating to venture to the front of the sanctuary by himself.
After they finished up dusting and vacuuming they headed to the supermarket. Ice pops was the only thing he asked for when his grandma make a request. He told her they cooled him down when he was working. She liked them too but made sure he always the grape ones when they two came in out of the garden to sit a spell and cool off.
Having only cooked for herself so long she didn’t quite know what to feed her grandson besides Ice Pops but he was easy to please. She soon found that tomato sandwiches were his favorite and corn on the cob and fried bologna. He didn’t get that kind of stuff at home. Her daughter was a meal in a box kind of mom.
Tommy’s eyes told her he wanted ice cream too, and potato chips as they pushed their way up and down the dark and ancient hardwood floors of the smoothed by time. Seeing this his grandma always put them, ice cream, chips and cookies, in her shopping cart pretending they were for her.
When Tommy asked who the pretty girl at the checkout was his grandma she told him was she was Viola’s daughter. She was home from college. The pretty girl had asked his grandmother who her handsome little helper was and made his face red and his ears burn.
She was trying to earn the money to go to college and his grandmother always gave her a folded bill to help out which the girl thanked her.
“Her mama’s bad off and she had to quit college to come home to take care of her,” Tommy’s grandma told him when they were down the street a good ways.
All summer long, the two worked in the garden, played checkers, and made their trips to town and waved at the neighbors from the front porch when they passed by. And they went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesdays and when there was a revival he and his grandma were there every night. Once there was a singing and they went to that too. Back home he only went on Sundays.
“Most people are hurting,” his grandma told him but he didn’t understand. He was too young. Time passes so fast, that summer and all the years since. Still he remembered and always would and of how no one complained and everyone smiled right through their hurt and pain and sorrow, like he had learned to do too.
His grandma told him that their lives were a testimony. He hadn’t understood what she meant at the time about that either.
This is a work of fiction.
Copyright 2018 Edward Reed