Home. This is where it all began.
Thistledown. The letters creaked on rusty iron rings, the ivory paint dusty and chipped, yet the very name held a charm no other place could reach, in time, feeling, or memory. I stood for a few moments on the top of that hill at Grandpa’s farm, soaking up the last rays of evening sun. The breeze felt cool, filled with the scent of evening rain. I turned to the north and saw the clouds were beginning to darken. Best hurry to Gran’s.
I pulled into the drive and made it to Gran’s door just as the sun fell behind the horizon. The flicker of candlelight behind the lace curtains brought a glow to my heart, reminding me of the warmth of the gentle soul within—these special souls who never quite change with the times, but stand resolute and sure, even in tempests.
Following a moment’s hesitation, I knocked, wondering how long it had been. My conscience was sharp to answer—four Christmases ago. Long had it been since I thought of someone other than myself, yet those I loved could not wait forever. A Christmas card and a phone call at Easter are hardly enough to keep the hearth fires burning among family.
I pinned a smile on my face, determined to make a go of it. This city girl (or so Gran must have thought after so long a time), ready to return to her roots. Yet I was not entirely sure I had ever really left them.
The door opened. An elderly woman with dark brown hair streaked with silver, and humble brown eyes that lit up upon meeting mine, made me feel instantly at home again. Dear, kind Annie, Gran’s neighbor for more than fifty years. It was a loving and familiar face, but not the one I expected to see.
“Why, Bethy! What are you doin’ knockin’? You’ve a might place to just walk on in here.” She laughed a free, sweet sound as I dropped my bag and gave her a hug.
“Dearest Annie, whatever finds you here, in your apron and house slippers? Gran is well, I hope?”
In that unguarded moment, I thought to have seen uncertainty in her eyes, but then she smiled again, like sunlight pushing the clouds away. “Well, as can be expected. She took a weak spell a few months back. But wouldn’t you know, she’s already planning her garden for the spring! Come on in and lay off your things,” she said suddenly. “Your room’s waiting for you, and I know how delighted your grandmother will be to see you.”
She went before me across the living room, the air filled with the scent of spiced apples and chestnuts. Somewhere above me, music swelled in the air. Gran’s old waltz records. They always took her back, she said once. I asked her what it had been like, dancing with Grandpa. “In later years, your grandpa would sooner sow oats than dance to a tune. But no matter,” she had added softly, “there are finer memories one does not care to announce.” Then away she would go, humming her tune as the back door swung open before closing behind her with a bang. The matter had been closed. As was much of Gran’s past, or so others believed.
“Let me just step in and be sure she’s awake,” Annie whispered softly. She stepped into Gran’s room, slightly closing the door behind her. The door had long ago been painted a buttercream yellow—Gran’s favorite color. As a child I was permitted, after much debate, to paint a narrow, lengthy vine along the doorframe. An occasional hollyhock or two was added, in shades of pink and blue. I touched them now, ever so gently, surprised they were still there, though a trifle faded after all these years.
“Bethy!” The exclamation darted my attention to the door. “Come in here,” she called, with her usual spunk and lilt of tone.
I gingerly pushed open the door as Annie walked past with a grin.
There she lay, heart of my heart, undefeatable to all my standards. I froze a moment, seeing her in bed, her cheeks a bit sunken and definitively pale. Her hair was full silver, no longer streaked with gray. Her blue eyes, however, sparked with delight when she saw me. And though I smiled with warmth for this soul, I knew, too, that red crept into my face for the years that could not be retraced.
“Bethy, sweet Bethy,” she cried, reaching her arms high to hug me.
I hastened to her waiting arms. While there was still a subtle strength in her aged frame, it was of a more fragile nature than I remembered. It panged my heart that any so good must grow old.
“Come now, let me have a look at you.” She slid over in the bed, allowing me room to sit beside her. Her body lay shrouded with blankets and quilts, a few homespun, while several pillows of varying designs supported her against the ivory, iron headboard. Her wooden cross stood on the bedside table to her left, beside a large hurricane lamp and a picture of Grandpa in his uniform, fresh home from World War II. His was a handsome face, with a straight jaw, dark hair, and glistening eyes that sparkled as though they held a secret and dared one to learn it.
“People keep secrets, Bethy. Only God sees all,” Gran used to say, “Another thing that makes God so special. He knows my wrongdoings and failures and vain, selfish thoughts, yet he loves me through it all. I must give something back somehow. Just not sure how to do it.” Raising godly children became her prerogative, and while they were slow to understand, in time they each found the Lord in their own way, in the way God laid before them. When would my time come? Or was it only just beginning?
“Now, Gran, are those tears in your eyes?” I asked gently. She simply smiled a radiant glow and grasped my hand, patting it before drawing hers away again.
“Oh, child, how I’ve missed you. I’ve missed my Bethy. Now tell me, how’ve you been?”
“Well, Gran, you know, work and the like.”
Suddenly I looked away, unable to meet all the love that shown in those eyes. Gran sensed it, all my regret, the sorrow and shame. “I should have come sooner,” I whispered, choking on the last word.
She came to my rescue at that moment. Something she had never failed to do.
“Look at me, Bethy,” she whispered, grasping my hand.
Tears swelled in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. Still, I could not bring myself to turn to her.
All the love in her heart seemed lifted to me in that one breath, spoken with such gentleness from her heart to mine. I leaned over, laid my head on her lap, and wept. She stroked my hair and hummed softly, whispering a prayer until the tears subsided. I raised her precious hand and held it to my cheek. “I love you so, Gran. I know I haven’t shown it much of late.”
“Sure, you have. You’ve been laboring right where the Lord planted you. I knew you would return when you were ready.”
She leaned back and gave a sudden holler for Annie, whose steps soon approached the banister below. “Yes, Maybelle?”
“What say we have an early supper?” asked Gran.
“Sure. Soup’s hot and bread will be out of the oven in a few minutes.”
“There, you, see? You’re just in time to have dinner with two of the sassiest—I mean classiest—ladies in town.”
We both laughed, and I hugged her again before running down to fetch my things.
The Reason Why
Gran had finished eating, and as I reached to take her bowl, she stopped me, her hand on my wrist. “Why, what do you do, child?” she asked. “You’re trembling.”
I looked down, astonished as she was. My hand was trembling, rattling Gran’s spoon against the China bowl.
“I-I’m fine, Gran, just a little stressed lately, I suppose.”
“See, here now, I knew you weren’t quite yourself. Come, pull up that lavender ottoman you love and let’s talk things through a bit. Would that be to your liking?”
Those silver-blue eyes I could scarce deny, so much love brimmed in them. “Yes, ma’am, if you have the time.”
Gran seemed pleased as I pulled the ottoman up beside her. “Do tell what’s ailing you, child,” she coaxed. There was kindness, but a deeper curiosity, that drove the question.
“A gentleman has proposed, Gran. I suppose I should be happy about it.”
“Proposed?” Her expression was one of delight before simmering to a solemn reserve. “Well, that depends on how you feel about it, and more importantly, how you feel about him.”
“I’m not really sure. I thought perhaps coming home might open my heart… to something I’ve been searching for. I’m just not quite sure what that is.”
Gran simply smiled a look of understanding. “Would you care to peruse some old lecturer’s thoughts on time, the waste of frivolous emotions, or… something more?”
“Something more, perhaps.”
Gran bit her lip. A hopeful gleam sparked in her eyes. “Jacob?” she asked.
The name triggered many memories. Yet I was too ashamed to tell Gran that I had hurt the man whom she had long intended for me, hurt him too deeply to expect him to wait any longer.
Gran raised a suspicious eyebrow, but to my surprise, said nothing. A dear friend whom she had known since childhood, Ellie Braebur, had passed recently, leaving cause for Jacob and me to meet, and part, once more. He, her only grandchild, and I, the closest to Gran. We had seen a lot of each other throughout childhood—church functions and picnics, holiday gatherings. One day, we walked on the hill behind Gran’s house. We watched as gleaming white clouds warmed into sunset gold. Then, to my astonishment, he took my hand and turned his cornflower blue eyes down into mine, his gaze so humble and earnest, and proposed.
I was of an immature nature and turn of mind then, and little knew what was best for me. I had little reason to be sure of my heart, though he felt certain of his. I left him waiting—for far too long, till at last he could wait no longer.
I saw a tinge of uncertainty in Gran’s eyes, which had been hopeful before, that it might be Jacob who proposed. But no, that door had closed. Time had moved me on. Now I was at a crossroads, with nowhere to turn but home.
“Well, then?” she said after a long pause. “Are you going to tell me his name? Cobble Falls is no trifle of a city. We are a village if ever there was one.”
“No, Gran. His name I will keep… for now.”
“Hmmm…” She then rose suddenly, threw back her ivory coverlet, and swung her feet over the edge of the bed.
“Is there something I can get for you?” I asked.
“No, child. But there is something I mean to get for you.”
She was at the grand old dresser now. It creaked as Gran removed an alabaster box, trimmed with silver, which I knew held some of her most precious treasures.
“Bethy,” she said, “do be a dear and fetch me my watch. I believe I left it in the kitchen.”
I hastened to fetch Gran’s leather banded watch, and on my way back drew near the last door on the landing. Mine was the attic room, with a low ceiling that made things cozy. I peered in for a moment. All was just as I had left it. A soft violet wallpaper, printed with small daisies, had been there before my time. In its simplistic way it added charm, set aglow by hurricane lamps. There was a small window that looked out over the side garden, and I wondered briefly if Jacob remembered. The time he first proposed to me was there, a few feet below my window, with a beaming sunflower in his hand. I was only eleven years old, and he was thirteen. He was practicing for a school play, and I was his counter for rehearsals. My heartbeat rapidly, even then, proving that one may indeed be wiser in youth, if only in a few ways.
“Now, where is it?” I heard Gran whisper as I returned to her room.
My grandmother was up to something. I could feel it.
“Now, Bethy! You’re staring at me a might thoughtful,” she said, turning suddenly.
I happened to be biting my lip in my usual considerate turn of mind. Gran had caught it. I feared it might knock the wind out of her sails, but she merely returned my smile and, with a small lap table in her hands, proceeded with her lulling hum as she returned to the bedside.
Up she was, ankles tucked beneath the covers as I pulled the blanket across her lap. Then the lap table, and lastly, the alabaster box.
“Now, what do you suppose we may find in here?” she asked with a sparkle in her eye.
“Your treasures,” I replied dutifully. “There isn’t a hop square between here and the city that isn’t aware of how special your box is.”
“That would be thanks to Izzy,” she sighed. “Still, she hasn’t ever seen what’s inside. But you have, haven’t you, Bethy?”
“Once,” I said, a little sheepishly. “I came in as you were sorting through, I guess.”
Gran smiled, a trifle wistfully. “Yes, I suppose I did. I often do that, you know. We old folks look into the mirror, and all’s a bit strange. Inside you feel nineteen, not a day older. Then you catch a glimpse in the mirror, and there’s this gray-haired lady you’ve never quite known before. You wonder where she came from, and what happened to her dreams. Then you reach for something special, something magical that takes you back to your youth once more. And that’s how it happens, a sigh, and a tear or two, and you find yourself the relic you once watched your own grandparents become.”
I tried not to laugh but couldn’t stop myself. “Now, Grandmama, you are not an old relic!”
“Now, Bethy, let me have my turn, will you? You’ll likely be saying the same thing to your own grandchildren someday.”
I did not wish to tell Gran that I thought it unlikely but chose to keep silent and allow her time for what appeared a much needed reminisce.
“You’ll recall Isabelle Lathey?” she began. “Dearest Izzy. She lives not a mile from here now, off Old Jumper Road.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve always loved Izzy!”
“And right you should. You’re much like her, in your youth that is, and perhaps in other ways. But there is one way, I hope, you’ll be a bit more like your old Gran. See here what I’m holding?” she asked.
I looked in surprise to the element of fascination, the first, possibly, of many. “Why, Gran, I didn’t even see you open the lid! And what’s this, a tiny key and lock? Whatever made you—”
“Now, Bethy, one has a might many reasons to go protecting such things as deemed special to them. Why should mine be any different from ol’ sushel-shoes, who keeps half the bank reserves in his lower basement? What? Under lock and key? Yes, that’s right. Don’t you be giving your Gran those big, incredulous eyes.”
I laughed again, noticing the key hanging on a small silver chain around her neck.
“Now where was I? Oh! Yes, here we are now. See this picture?”
Gran held a small wallet sized photograph. There was a rose pink mark on the beige backing—possibly lipstick. No name or year or writing of any kind.
“I think it’s rather what I don’t see,” I responded.
She shook her head. “That’s right. But before this week’s over, you’ll have a guess at it. And see if I’m right, if we chose as we should.”
“Chose what?” I asked.
“The man for you.”
“Gran,” I said, a little exasperated, “how do you suppose a sixty-year-old photograph is going to solve a very present turn of decision today?”
“You’ll see now. Be patient. I’ve an idea, and I mean to see it through. You go cozy up with a cup of cocoa and leave your Gran to it. We’ll begin first thing tomorrow.”
She ushered me out of the room without another word. I couldn’t help feeling warm all the way through, even without the hot chocolate; being reminded how much you can love a person, just the way you should, when they allow you to.