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Safe Haven

December 23rd, 2014 No Comments
Edith & Carl Gast

Grandma Edith & Grandpa Carl Gast

Snow had drifted in last night.  Dad was up at day break to drag my barely awakened body out of bed.  I peeked out the kitchen window.  Trees limbs were bent over by the wind and held down with the weight of fresh wet snow.  I hated facing the bone chilling cold.   After a bite of toast, and a few sips of juice, we bundled up to face the daunting white mounds of fresh snow that had accumulated behind the garage, shovels in hand.

 

Dad looked at me and grinned, “A little exercise is good for you Missy!  Keeps the blood moving this time of year.”

“This miserable weather can also freeze my toes, Dad!”  His muffler covered what could well have been another telling smile, which I didn’t return.  My snow boots and an extra pair of socks could not ward off the intense and prolonged cold.  Sometimes the blood just stopped moving.

An hour later, Dad drove us across the ice covered roads to my grandparent’s apartment above the Rexall Drug store on North Main Street.  There was little traffic, and what there was moved at a snails’ pace.  Parking on Main wasn’t a problem.  The street was desolate. He watched as I opened the outside door, and climbed the dimly lit stairway. “Have fun honey, and say Hi to Carl and Eddie.”

It was still early in the day when I opened their apartment screen door.  The hallway was chilly, but they’d left the inner door open for me. The smell of bacon frying, even before I reached their apartment, made my mouth water.  Grandpa was watching the news while Gram toasted a few slices of home baked bread and fried some eggs.  I was still deeply chilled.  The old wall radiator was making sizzling noises as its steaming warmth filled the living room.  Before taking my coat off, I huddled next to it like a puppy would its mom.

Gram peered around the kitchen doorway.  “Breakfast is ready.” I was hesitant to leave the warmth behind, but my earlier snack was no longer satisfied my hunger.  I got up and joined her in the kitchen to help bring the food to the table.  Gram noticed that I hadn’t taken off my coat.  “Are you still cold honey?”

“I’m trying to thaw out Gram, but it’s freezing out there.  We had to shovel the whole driveway, and part of the alley, to drive the car out.”

“You and your dad, right?”  “Didn’t your brother help out?”

“No, Gram, he’s never around.  I always help Dad, even though I hate shoveling.”

“This is delicious Grandma.  I always look forward to your breakfasts.  I love bacon. Mom hates eggs, so we never have a real breakfast at home.”

Gram looked at me and shook her head.  “She’s always hated eggs, and I don’t know why.  Maybe living on the farm and seeing the chickens lay them turned her stomach, and that thought still does.”  She grinned.

Breakfast was devoured quickly; the dishes were washed, dried and put away.  Grandpa moved to his overstuffed recliner that had conformed perfectly to his extremities over the years. Gram graced the faded flower-patterned couch, and I plopped into the oversized chair across from the TV.  There were several hours before the football game would fill the living room with Grandpa’s favorite weekend pass-time.

* * *

“Did you both have fun last night?  I wondered if many people showed up with snow coming down so heavily.”

Grandma and Grandpa had gone dancing at the Moose Lodge outside of town, on Friday night.  This was their ritual, even during the winter months.

Grandpa smiled, “Sure, we had a great time.  There were more people there than we thought would show up, but they love to dance.  A little snow wouldn’t be enough to keep um away.”

I guess my question jarred Grandpa’s memory, and he followed up by asking, “Is your ballet lesson scheduled for next Saturday?”

Not wanting to answer, I pretending not to hear him.  Bypassing his question, “Is it ok if my friend Karen stops by?”

Gram’s smile implied “yes”, but she knew I was avoiding Grandpa’s question.

Grandpa’s eyes were fixed intently on me. “I asked you a question honey.”

“Yes Grandpa, but I’m not going.” I finally responded in a reticent voice.

“Why not?”  He coaxed. “You love ballet.”

“I know, but Mom’s mad as a hornet about it.”  I blurted out.

Already the pressure of pending tears was building.  “There’s no good reason why Mom won’t let me go to ballet lessons, except to get back at Grandma.”

Gram’s ears perked up. “What’s this all about?”  She laid the recently received letter from her sister down, and looked at both Grandpa and me.

Gram didn’t immediately recall the conversation she’d with Mom a week prior, when she’d accidentally spilled the beans that they had driving me to ballet class, and paying for my lessons.

Their actions infuriated Mom. “Dance lessons are a waste of Shari’s time, and your money.  You’ve all gone behind my back.  No ballet lessons, do you understand me?”  Mom’s words were harsh, and unrelenting.  Gram was hurt by her remarks, and they made her angry, but she didn’t share them with Grandpa.

“You know how she is Grandma.  Mom’s always has to have the last word, you both know that.” I could no longer hold back my anger.  I knew I’d raised my voice and I felt terrible.

“She’s not going to have the last word this time.”  Grandpa was fuming.  He rose from the recliner, got to his feet and headed for the phone.

Gram moved as quickly as she could to grab the receiver from Grandpa’s hand.  “This isn’t going to solve anything.”  Gram’s words were stern, but Grandpa held out one hand to block hers, and grabbed the receiver in the other.

Tears began to run down my cheek, and trickle onto my neck.  I wanted to run into their bedroom, close the door and pretend this wasn’t happening.  This can’t happen!  As he was dialing the phone number, I had to stop him.  “Grandpa, please don’t call Mom!  She’ll just get angrier and make me come home.”

He dialed the first three digits.  “Please Grandpa!” I pleaded.

He dialed the last two with a solid grip on the receiver.   When he looked over at me I saw both anger, and heartache.

As the phone rang Grandpa paced around the living room as far as the cord allowed.  It must have rung eight times or more before he slammed the receiver onto its cradle.  His face was flush with frustration, and he kept pacing.

I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but I felt horrible.  I’d ruined our morning.  I know he wanted to make things right, but if he had reached Mom their heated conversation would have hurt us all deeply.

Grandma watched until Grandpa finally settled back into his recliner.  She could tell he was very upset, but breathed a subtle sigh of relief.  She glanced at me with a look that signified war had just been averted.

“One of these days I’ll put her in her place.” Grandpa wasn’t ready to let this issue go.

“I’m sorry honey, but she needs to learn a few things.”

“Thanks Grandpa.  I know you’re trying to help, but she’s just mean and stubborn.  If you don’t let it go, it will make things worse, and I still have to live with her.”

He looked at me with a sense of defeat in his eyes, and so somber it nearly brought back my tears.

There was heaviness in the air, yet a sense of relief when the silence was broken by a call from Karen. Having picked up the newspaper to calm his nerves, Grandpa’s focus would be elsewhere for awhile. I watched, from the window for Karen’s mom’s car to appear, coming down Main Street.

After hugging my grandparents goodbye, I grabbed my wool coat and Gram’s hand-knit scarf and ran down the stairs.  In a matter of seconds Karen and I were headed downtown, trying to keep our balance on the ice covered sidewalk.  I was still shaking inside from what had just taken place, but thankful I had company and could leave it all behind for awhile.

* * *

At the soda shop, Karen and I bought Cokes and French fries.  The jukebox played popular 50’s music, a nickel at a time, while friends filled other booths.  We caught up on the boy infatuations and plans for Christmas.  Affluent families would be heading to Florida during the holiday school break for a reprieve from the winter’s harshness.  Karen’s family and mine would stay home and endure the blizzards while watching the icicles drip, and reform, from the intermittent water dripping over the eves.

“I’ve never been to Florida.  I’ve seen kids on TV swimming in the ocean, and even though it scares me, I’d still love to walk on the beach with sand squishing between my toes.  At least it would be a break from winter.  I’d rather be doing anything in a warm, sunny place this time of the year than traipse around here in the snow.  I can’t ice skate for a couple more weeks until my knee gets better, and now Mom won’t let me go to ballet.

“Maybe someday we’ll get out of here during the winter….do you think?” Karen wondered.

“No, not with my family.  We never leave Iowa unless we visit Grandma’s sisters in Minneapolis.  Not much better than staying at home, really.  We never go shopping or do anything fun, they just talk for hours, and then we eat.  I’m glad her sisters are good cooks or it would all be a total waste of time.”

The wind finally eased up.  The thermometer that hung outside the soda shop registered 25 degree; still cold, but tolerable.  Karen and I bundled up and walked a few blocks to the park.  Finding an empty bench we brushed last night’s snow to the side, sat and complained about our lives.  We always shared things that we didn’t want to talk about around the rest of the kids.  They didn’t know how strict and mean my mom was, and I wasn’t interested in them knowing.  I preferred to pretend that my life was normal, and wanted to be treated that way.

Karen was adopted, and had her own family struggles and sadness to bear.  She couldn’t really identify with her parents, and had no siblings to bounce things off of. It was a lonely feeling that I didn’t really understand, but could sense none the less.  We were kindred spirits, able to safely share our thoughts, knowing they would go no further.

* * *

When we got back to the apartment, Karen called for a ride home.  Football was over and Gramps was off to the pool hall for a quick game, and a couple of beers.  He seemed to have put the earlier issues behind him, even though they’d caused him much anguish.

Gram’s crochet hooks and colorful cotton thread were already in hand; her intricate doily nearly finished after days of patient attention.  By her side was an extra hook and yarn awaiting my return.

Gram tried to align my crocheting materials in the least clumsy position.  She’d determined that a small pot holder would be an easy pattern for me to follow. I didn’t take crocheting seriously, but I loved Gram’s tenderness in guiding my fingers.

After an hour or so she noticed my mind wandering, and went to the kitchen to find her well seasoned iron skillet to make popcorn.  I was reminded that my grandparents had been farmers, and everything was used as long as it functioned.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t hungry.  I sat awaiting the warm buttery treat to be placed in my lap; my ill-formed crocheting set aside.  “Someday, when you have a family, you’ll wish you knew how to do needle work.”

“If I do I’ll ask you to teach me.”  We both laughed.

* * *

Later that afternoon Grandpa’s snow covered boots could be heard coming up the hall way.  As he came through the door, his hair glistening with a light dusting of flakes.  With rosy cheeks from the beer and cold, he gave Gram a loving peck, and told her about seeing Clarence, his old friend. Clarence had stories to relay about his farm equipment freezing up, and how much his grandkids hating their winter trek to school.  He loved his grandkids and spoiled them whenever he had a chance.  Clarence and Grandpa had met for a beer, and played pool together, for years.  They would reminisce about the old days, and how things have changed.

After sharing their conversation with Grandma, he settled into his recliner and picked up the paper.  He hadn’t finished the sport section due to the conversation that had ensued about the ballet lessons.

* * *

I’d wandered into their bedroom to sneak a look through Gram’s treasure box.  Her costume jewels, and glistening gold rings, were near the top. I thumbed though hoping for something new to try on.  Gram was pounding the floured beef steak when I glanced past the kitchen door.  She saw my blushing face, knowing what I’d been up to, and laughed. “One of these days my treasure box will be yours, and you will always have my jewels to remember me.”

“Thanks Gram.  I love to look at your beautiful jewelry, but I prefer imagining you wearing it forever.”

I set the table when dinner was ready.  Gram brought over the food, and we all talked about our day.  “It wasn’t much of a football game Eddie, but they’ll come around. They always do.”  Gram looked at Gramps and grinned.

“Apparently you know something the Bears don’t?  Looks to me like they may have a rotten season.”  Grandpa passed on her remarks.  He was a die-hard fan, and in his estimation, they would do just fine.

“Did you have fun with Karen honey?” Gramps asked.

“We went to the soda shop Gramps, and a bunch of our friends were there having pop and fries, listening to music, and catching up on gossip.  It was fun, but Karen and I decided to go to the park for awhile.  Boy was it cold.”

“Did you get caught in the flurry, or get home before it started coming down?”

“No Gramps, we made it back in time, but the wind was starting to kick up.  We had a good time though, and it was nice to get outside for a bit.”

* * *

Gram had decided it was time to check on the Christmas fruitcake she’d made early in September.  It took months to soak up the Brandy, and for the variety of dried fruits to soften and flavor the cake.  It was stowed away on the closet shelf, and Gram knew when to drizzle just the right amount of Brandy over the cheesecloth as it slept.  She was more than a stellar baker, and prided herself in using the freshest farm bought ingredients.  Just before Christmas there would be German Stolen, frosted butter cookies and brown sugar fudge yet to be made.

Gramps reserved a large goose at the local butchers that would be delivered to my home on Christmas Eve in a thick white gunny sack, tied securely at the top.  Gramps would stop by, take it out behind the house, wring its neck, chop it off, clean out the entrails, and put it in the big copper boiler that he lifted to the huge stovetop.

Gram boiled the bird until she could easily pluck a couple of its feathers, and then set it aside to cool.  When the goose was cool, she’d remove all of the feathers, clean out the cavity, and put it back into the boiler.  It would be set outside, cover on, in the snow to keep it fresh until morning when it would be stuffed, and put into the oven for hours.  It was quite an ordeal, but no one thought of it that way.  It was really a very special treat that we enjoyed only one day each year.

* * *

It was nearly time for the Sunday night movie.  We’d all settled down in the living room.  I looked forward to just relaxing, and being absorbed by an enjoyable distraction from a day of mixed blessings, and one very upsetting discussion.  My pillow, sheet and comforter had already been laid out on the couch.  I made up my bed and cuddled up in a cozy clump.  It wasn’t long before Grandpa fell asleep in his recliner.  His snoring was not to be missed.  It was like a rumbling burst of air that came out with gusto.  Gram and I laughed at him, but she finally woke him up and gradually coaxed him into the bedroom.

“Did you have a nice day honey?” She said, after gently closing the bedroom door and returning to the chair that I’d left vacant.

“Sure Grandma.  Well, it was mostly good.”

“I know….it had a rough spot, but we were lucky that Grandpa wasn’t able to reach your Mom.  I know how rough that situation is for you, and it’s hard on us too.”

“I wish things were different around my house, Grandma, but I always have the weekends to look forward to.  I’m lucky to have you and Grandpa to come to my rescue.”

There was a somber moment before Gram and I turned our attention to the movie that had unintentionally slipped into the background of our thoughts.

“Do you need anything honey, before I go to bed?”  Gram asked when the movie ended.

“I think I’ll use the bathroom so I don’t have to get up later and disturb your sleep.”

“Good idea, and then you can settle in for the night.”

Gram put on her nightgown, and climbed into bed.  She poked Grandpa and he rolled on his side.  His snoring stopped briefly, but soon came back with full force.

I said goodnight to Gram, quietly closed the bedroom door, and went back to my nest on the couch.  Wrapped in my warm quilt, and love, I drifted peacefully off to sleep in the safety of this little haven.

© Shari Adams

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