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- The Long Ago - 6/6 -
Do you remember the day she lost her glasses? My, such a commotion! Everybody turned in to hunt for them. Grandmother tramped from one end of the house to the other - we all searched - upstairs and down - with no success.
They weren't in the big Bible (we turned the leaves carefully many times - it was the most likely place). They weren't in either of her sewing baskets, nor in the cook-book in the kitchen. Grandfather said she could use one pair of his gold-bowed ones - but shucks! She couldn't see with anything except those old steel-bowed specs! . . .
And then, when she finally sat down and said for the fiftieth time: "I wonder where those specs are!" . . . and put the corner of her apron to her eyes - I happened to look up, and there they were - on the top of her head! Been there all the time . . . And she enjoyed the joke as much as we did - a joke that went around the little town and followed her through all the years within my memory of her.
Sometimes (as often as expedient), you asked her for a penny - never more, and then:
"Now, Willie, what do you want with a penny? I haven't got it. Run along now."
"Aw, Gran'ma, don't make a feller tell what he's goin' to buy. I know you got one - Look'n see! Please, Gran'ma!"
Slowly the wrinkled hand would fumble for that skirt-pocket which was always so hard to locate - and from its depths there would come the old worn leather wallet with a strap around it - and slowly, (gee! how s-l-o-w-l-y), - after much fumbling, during which you were never sure whether you were going to get it or not . . . the penny would come forth and be placed (with seeming reluctance) in the grimy, dirty boy-hand. And usually, just as you reached the door on your hurried way to the nearest candy-shop, she would scare you almost stiff by calling you back, and say:
Wait a minute, Willie, I found another one that I didn't know was in here!"
And then you kissed her wrinkled, soft check and ran away thinking, after all, grandmother was pretty good.
Can a woman stick to a man through sixty-odd years - and keep his linen and his broadcloth - and bear him children - and make them into fine wives and husbands - and take them back to her bosom when their mates turn against them - and raise a bunch of riotous grandchildren - and manage such a household as ours with never a complaint - get up at five o'clock every morning and sit up till half-after nine o'clock every night - busy all the time - and nurse her own and other folks' ailments without a murmur - and submerge self completely in her constant doing for others - can a frail woman so live for eighty-six years and be anything less than good?
And then, at the end of the long journey she was still trudging patiently and gladly along, side by side with Grandfather - making less fuss over the years - old pain in her knees than we make now over a splinter in a finger - going daily and uncomplainingly about her manifold duties.
And at night, about an hour before bedtime, she would sit down in the black-upholstered rocker almost behind the big base burner - her first quiet moment in all the long day - head resting against the chair's high back - and doze and listen to the fitful conversation in the room, or to someone reading - giving everything, demanding nothing - as had been her wont all the long years!
And Christmas eve . . . (I'll have to go a bit slow now) . . . On Christmas eve, you remember, when out-of-doors the big snow-flakes were slowly and softly fluttering down, grandmother would get the huge Bible and her treasure-box and bring them up to the little round table covered with its red cloth . . . And you'd get a chair and come up close ('cause you knew what was happening) . . . Then she would read you a wonderful story out of the Bible about the love of God so great that He sent His only-begotten Son to be a Light unto the World . . . and then she'd go down into that little old card-board treasure-box and find some Christmas carols printed in beautiful colors on lace-edged cards folded up just like a fan. She would look down at you over the top of her specs and tell you how the street minstrels in England used to stand out in the snow and sing, and be brought into the house and given a warm mug and a bite to eat - going from house to house all through the early night . . .
And then she would close her eyes and begin to sing the dear old carols . . . with the tremble in her voice . . . and tapping on the table with her finger-ends in rhythm . . . and Memory's tears dropping on the wrinkled checks . . . and the tremulous voice, still soft and sweet, chanting:
"God rest you, merrie gentlemen! Let nothing you dismay; For Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas Day!" . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Aye and amen, dear soul! God rest you - and He does!
When Day is Done
If the page blurs, as it may do if you were ever a child and if you have been tempered in the cruel furnace of the years, maybe the mists that fill the eyes will bathe the soul of you in their hallowed flood until the world-ache is soothed, and you can start up the big road again with some of the same wonderful exultation that sped you onward and forward in the Long Ago . . . One touch of that, and the burden of Today, grown great in the years of struggle, slips from your shoulders as lightly as the wild-rose petal drops upon the bosom of the stream and floats away to the music of the riffles.
Only a strong man can go back over the Old Road to the beginning-point - facing the memories that throng the path - meeting the surging emotions that sweep away all our carefully-laid defenses - braving the grim spectre that puts the white seal of age upon our heads.
Once more, in the cool of the late twilight, we'll sit with chin in hand on grandfather's front steps and watch the stars come out . . . and hear the loon calling weirdly across the water . . . and catch the perfume of the lilacs and narcissus from the garden . . . and gather at grandmother's knee to feel her soft fingers in our curls and hear her bedtime story. Half asleep, but ever reluctant, we will trudge stumblingly to the little room with its deep feather bed, and get into our red-flannel nightie. Down on our knees, with our face in the soft edges of the mattress and tiny hands uplifted, we will say our prayers, and end them in the same old way: "God bless father and mother, and grandfather and grandmother . . . and ev-ery-body . . . else in . . . the . . . world . . amen . . . " and feel those strong mother-arms lifting our sleepy form into the downy depths!
Never until now have we known the reality of the boy-days, or paused to receive their hallowed touch.
Grandfather and grandmother, and the garden, and the river, and the song of the robin in the appletree, and all the myriad experiences of the boy-time, are glorified now as never before. In the halcyon Then they were but incidents of the day; in the mellowed Now we learn the truth of them, and catch their wondrous meaning.
The flower blossoms are gleaming as colorful and fragrant today as they did in the Long Ago. The bird-songs are as tuneful now as they were then. The sun is shining just as golden and as genial this moment as it did when we sat on the beams of the mill-race and felt on our faces the spray of tumbling waters sun-warmed in the air.
We need only open our hearts and let the sunshine in!
And Youth and Age, blended and rejoicing, will go hand in hand along the path of life to its far goal bestowing upon us all the freshness of the dew-damp morning, all the vigor of the strenuous noon, and all the peace and calm assurance of the star-lit night.
*END THE SMALL PRINT! FOR PUBLIC DOMAIN EBOOKS*Ver.02/11/02*END*
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