Jenny's mom served us graham crackers smothered in chocolate frosting for a snack. I wanted to ask her if she always got to eat like that, or if her mom was being nice because our Grandpa was dying.
Her house was the third place we stayed this week. On Monday, we were with Tommy's friend Conrad--which I hated, because it was two boys against me. On Tuesday, we went across the street to Gretchen and Cara's house. Cara and I pretended we were making Hershey bars using wet sand and her slide.
But Jenny's house was the best yet because she had all of the Barbies, even the dream house. Mrs. Remensberger checked in on us a few times. She stroked my hair and said, "Nancy, sweetie, if you want to talk about your Grandpa, I would be happy to listen." She smiled, but it was one of those fake smiles because she looked like she was about to cry.
I didn't want to talk about Grandpa. I just wanted to brush Barbie's hair and drive her around in her pink Corvette. I wanted Mom and Dad to be normal again, instead of gone all the time, visiting him at the hospital.
Grandpa's lung cancer came because he smoked a pipe. Dad said he started when he didn't know that it was bad for him, and that smoking used to be something that everybody did. I hated the smell of that pipe, because it was just like burning spices and flowers. Dad said that when he was a little boy, he used to sit in the backseat of the car with Aunt Alice, freezing in the Chicago winter, waiting for Grandpa to light up and finally start the car.
Grandpa and Grandma moved out to Arizona a few years ago, to be close to us. Grandma missed Chicago, because she liked cities and culture, but Grandpa loved it here. He wore bolo ties and checkered golf pants, and picked tangerines and lemons off the trees in his backyard.There was a pool in his community, and when he took Tommy and me there, he waded in the water and gazed up at the sun, a soft little smile on his face.
That's before his hair fell out from the chemotherapy and he had to sit in a wheelchair when he got tired.
When Mom and Dad picked me up from Jenny's house, I told them about the chocolate graham crackers, and Mom said, "That's nice, sweetie." She didn't even talk to me about sugar and the importance of eating fruit and veggies, like she normally did. She just told me to go to bed, and that she would see me in the morning.
"Tomorrow is my birthday!" I reminded her, "I'll be ten!"
She squeezed her eyes like she was trying to hold back a sneeze. That's really hard to do, and it hurts. I've tried it many times. I don't think she was holding back a sneeze, though.
"I know, honey. Tomorrow you'll be in the two digit club!" She gave me a tight squeeze and said, "You're growing up so fast."
I don't know why grown-ups think it's sad when kids grow up. I've waited to grow up my whole life.
The phone rang early that morning. I sat straight up in my bed, and strained to hear what Dad was saying. All I heard was "Okay," and "See you in the morning," and the final click of the phone against the receiver. But I knew it. Grandpa had gone to Heaven.
He died. On my birthday. Now the day was ruined---forever. I looked at the wallpaper, with its red, yellow and blue stripes. I picked out the paper because I was sick of the baby-ish Strawberry Shortcake, and Grandpa and Dad had put it up. That was only three weeks ago. And now he was dead, and looking at the wallpaper reminded me of him, made my heart hurt.
The bed I rested on used to belong to my Grandma Neuhaus. She died two years ago. The end table, with the cigarette burn? That came from my Grandpa Neuhaus. He died when I was a baby.
No reminders. No crying. I just wanted everything to be normal. I sat in my bed, and waited for morning.
Some of my friends have great-grandmas and lots of cousins. I would rather have that than some junky inherited furniture. Life wasn't fair.
The only grandma left was going to be really sad, and on my birthday. I heard Mom's footsteps padding up the hallway, and I knew that she was about to tell me. She was going to be sad, and Tommy would be sad and Dad would probably cry.
I didn't want to hear her say it, but it was going to happen no matter what I wanted. I guessed part of being ten was not being a baby and crying about it. It was just a birthday.
Grandpa and I would always be connected. My birthday would be his birthday in Heaven. When Mom came in, that's what I decided to tell her. Maybe that would make her happy. That's all I wanted.
I heard her knock on the door, and forced myself to smile when she sang, "Happy Birthday to you!"
This Saturday, March 5th, will mark the 26th anniversary of my Grandfather's passing.
This is in response to The Red Dress Club's memoir challenge---to write a snapshot of a setting--specifically a room.
Constructive criticism is welcome. This is my first attempt to write from a child's point of view, and it was a challenge.