This is another old writing that I found in a journal and enjoyed reworking a little. I had to edit it a bit to remove the specific details.
This piece has a special place in my heart. At least in my mind, it captures a bit of Grandma and Grandpa’s essence. As I read it, I can hear my grandparents’ voices all over again and see the whole scene playing out before me. When I am old and gray, I have a feeling I’ll read this and be transported, once again, to 2012.
Grandparents and Gab
I was sitting in front of the lab over lunch break with my back up against a tree alongside L— Avenue, facing towards A— Street. Looking up, I noticed a dark billow of smoke rising from the general direction of my grandparents’ neighborhood. Sirens screeched as trucks raced to the scene. Alarmed, I rushed into the lab office building and told Sharon what I’d seen.
“Did you call them?”
Distracted, I decided she meant the firemen.
“No, trucks were already on the way. I heard lots of sirens.”
“I meant your grandparents.”
“Oh…right… I don’t have their number. I don’t know it off the top of my head,” I replied.
Why does technology insist on making it so easy NOT to remember important things? Seriously. I suppose I could look it up online… I groaned mentally. That old dinosaur will take forever!. I eyed the only available office computer warily. It had probably seen its best days a decade ago. Just then, I caught sight of a phonebook tucked under a magazine on the lowest shelve of a tiny bookcase to the right of the computer desk.
“Yes! This will work!” I quickly flipped the book open to the appropriate section, spelling my grandparents’ last name in a breathless mumble.
“Ah, ha! Found it!”
It was odd to use a phone book. Stepping into the break room, book in hand, I dialed the number: 5-5-5-2-6-0-7. Huh. I recognized it, should have known it, in fact. If it weren’t for cell phones…
My mental rants were interrupted on the third ring.
“Hi, Grandpa, it’s Ama.”
“Well, hello there, Ama. How are you?”
“Pretty good. I’m actually calling to check on you guys. I was sitting outside for lunch and saw a huge dark cloud of smoke coming from what appeared to be your neighborhood, so I just wanted to make sure you are okay.”
“Yep. It isn’t our house, unless I just haven’t noticed it yet,” he said with a hint of a drawl and a chuckle wrapped together. I heard my father’s voice in the joke and couldn’t quite suppress a grin. In years gone by, Dad had been more distant and Grandpa, more sharply cynical; now, I pleasantly anticipate conversations with both of them. They’ve mellowed and aged like fine wine.
“I’m guessing you’re okay. I’m PRETTY sure you would have noticed the smoke.”
“I heard sirens, but I didn’t see where they went…somewhere in the neighborhood… I suppose I’ll have to go out and look around,” he added in a voice that didn’t entirely convince me that the armchair he occupied was in any serious danger of getting cold. It’s not that he is lazy. Grandpa always enjoyed gardening and woodworking, although his bad hip slows him a lot these days. But beyond that, he just doesn’t seem to equate the goings-on of the neighborhood with his personal business. I suppose that’s why he married Grandma—for balance. As long as I can recall, she has known every detail of every neighbor’s life, all the latest news, a connection to someone involved with any activity around town… How she manages to be quite so thorough, I’ve never figured out.
Today is Friday afternoon; that means Grandma is volunteering downtown at the hospital gift shop. Otherwise, I’m sure she’d be following the sirens, or at the very least, making phone calls of the investigatory nature while standing out on the front sidewalk, peering up and down the street.
“Okay, well, I’m glad you are alright. I just wanted to make sure.”
“It was good talking to you. Bye-bye, Ama.”
“You too, Grandpa.”
I hung up the wall phone.
“They’re fine!” I shouted to Sharon across the hall, although I’m sure she’d already caught bits and pieces of my conversation.
“He’s gonna look around and try to figure out what it is. I don’t know if he’ll call back and let me know or not.”
Deep down, however, I knew he wouldn’t.
I was right, Grandpa didn’t call, but several hours later when my husband checked the phone he passed on a message.”
“Hey, Am, your grandma called. She said, and I quote, ‘Oh…hey Ama. Grandpa said you called earlier about the fire down the street? Give me a call back if you want to know the details. Well…okay… Bye.’” He relayed the message in Grandma’s voice, inserting all the correct intonations, vocal fluctuations, and pauses.
“Stop it! Give me the phone!” I said with a laugh.
I found the call and hit redial. Sure enough, Grandma knew each and every detail, and it sounded like she’d gathered them all on her own. As expected, Grandpa had held true more to the tone of his voice than to the words he’d spoken.
“Grandpa told me you called about the smoke. The fire was one block south of us. The M—- family, oh, your dad will know them. It was one of their garages. The firemen said they were very lucky it wasn’t that gorgeous old home of theirs. Well, the garage had a classic 1970s Volkswagon and some tools. I don’t know how the fire started, but with heat like we have today, I’d suppose spontaneous combustion. It was the smaller of their two garages, and, it really is fortunate that it was just the garage, you see, because they also own the lot behind theirs. They use the house as a sort of guesthouse when family and such come into town and they have people coming soon. They just turned the water and gas on in that house. When the firemen found out that there was a car in the garage, they made everyone stand even farther back away, you see, because they were afraid it might explode. It didn’t…”
Five minutes later, I closed the phone with a spinning head and an insuppressible laugh.
“Just as I suspected! Grandma’s report was as good as any newspaper reporter could have done. The M—- family may be short one garage, but all is normal in Grandparent Land!”
(Originally published in my old blog, Interim Arts on May 24, 2013)