By Susan M. Vilardo
PROMPT—I am grateful for ...
My eyes kept darting up to the large clock that hung in our stark grade school classroom. My trained ears could hear the sticky, metronome, secondhand ticking. My tartan plaid Catholic uniform smelled musty from consecutive wear. The heavy wool had itched body parts to raw restlessness. This often caused for teacher’s scolding of me to sit still.
“Hmph! She ought to don one of these uniforms, get a pair made as underwear.” This naughty vision brought on spontaneous giggles causing the instant evil eye from Sister Agatha, so I did my best to look studious and refocus on my pathetic long division.
It was hopeless, I could not concentrate. I had been working on a great plan that was going to happen during today’s lunch break. Who could concentrate with this kind of a scheme about to happen? It had taken weeks of planning. I peek at the clock again. I am certain it is broken. The big hand has not moved at all. The bell will sound at precisely noon which is the designated time when our lunch recess begins. The anticipated hour of launching Friends Lunching at Grandma’s-My-Great-Plan.
I live one block from school, so I get to go home for lunch each day, while my friends must remain here and eat in the cafeteria. Today, five of my friends and I are going to my Grandma’s house for lunch with me. I spend time shuttling between two households. Grandma lives one block on this side of school and mom and dad live one block on the other side of school.
Grandma has a huge two story house. It has a great big upstairs, a huger downstairs with a ballroom in it. I make up plays about famous-ladies and get to act out all of the singing parts. The ballroom has a piano in it and lots of space to dance, twirl, and try to do the flips I am learning without running into too much furniture. I must be extra-special careful when there is a dead body resting in the ballroom when I am there. Then Grandma says, “Don’t play too near the casket today, Dearie, the family will be here this afternoon and we have to keep the room looking some-bree” or a word that sounds like that. But even if I can’t pronounce it, I know what Grandma means. She does not want me to mess up the dead person.
Today, I have invited my friends to Grandma’s house to eat with me because Mom’s belly is big again and she is too tired to fix lunch for me and my friends. When I asked her, Mom got that funny look on her face and I just quickly said, “That is OK, how about I ask Grandma instead.” Mom patted her big tummy and told me that was a better idea. At first, I thought Mom was going to tell me the whole scheme was dumb and that I could not do it and that would have been the end of my whole great, big caper I had been sorting out up in my head.
The bell! Here I am daydreaming and the time has passed by while I have not finished my long division. I am just making up the numbers and handing up my paper. It will be more trouble for me to sort out later but that will be for tomorrow’s figuring out. Today I have The Great Lunch Plan with my friends and they are calling my name. Oh, golly, does that ever feel good. “Susan, Come On!”
We all run over, arms, legs, screeches, and laughter to my Grandma’s house. It is actually a mansion-like structure compared to the other homes on the street. I think of it as a white, magic palace where I get to escape from my tiny house that feels like it is too over-crowded with brothers and sisters who are still babies who are always crying and smell sour.
The rule at Grandma’s is to come in through the back entrance. I am in the lead and I hold the door wide open for my pals. “Here we are, everybody come on in.” I stand with the door hanging open and look at worried faces. My friends are all huddled together looking like someone just pooped in their pants and by their expressions I can tell their glum is aimed at me. I try to ward off the pee-u feeling that is crashing down on my plan.
“We only have a little bit of time and Grandma made us her special sandwiches and those little butter cookies.” Nancy speaks up with a mean edge, “Are there dead people in there? If there are, we can’t go in.” I can see the others are too scaredy-cat frozen to move.
“Uh, I don’t know. Want me to yell in there and ask them?” And I start to laugh as I find this funny. I am almost ten years old and this has been my home-away-from-home for all my growing years. This has been my space, my refuge, my place to be who I am, my extra-attentive mother. I even have my own dresser drawer for when I spend the night, which is often. I love this place. Dead people stay on the bottom. My Grandma, Grandpa and I live upstairs.
My friends are starting to turn away. They are afraid of Dead People.
I stop holding the open door and feel my whole, big idea begin to crumble. I see myself as a side-show freak in their eyes. Tears begin to drip. I hide my head in my heads because now I am so ashamed of my tears and my zest for wanting them to be my companions for lunch. How could I have been so utterly simple-minded to have this idea?
That is when I feel a gentle and familiar hand on my shoulder, patting me. I hear her sing-song, soothing voice saying, “Hello Lambie Dear.” Oh, my Grandma. Her trademark expression. She calls most of us by that endearment but at this moment, it has wrapped me up in a Grandma Blanket. “I have a little picnic prepared for all of you in the back yard. I thought you might all enjoy the sweet sunshine and some time to frolic.”
That Grandma of mine. She had a way of talking with picture words. Later, when I got back to school, I was going to look up the meaning of that word. It sounded like something important.
As Grandma hovered around us during that luncheon feast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, she actually buttered the bread, cut off the crust, and gave us her special, little, fancy iced butter cookies, each of my friends began to warm to Grandma’s gentle nurturing. I munched in contentment as I observed her inviting ways of drawing my friends closer and closer. Grandma was winning the race for me and I was loving her even more for this victory for my benefit.
As one friend shyly began to ask questions about the dead bodies and the funeral home being “haunted” Grandma deflected the question with a quiet gesture, and simply stated, “I think you girls may have grown up with silly, old wife’s tales being told to you. Our Susan has practically grown up in our home. She has played in about every room of this house and has been so eager to share it with each of you. There are still a few minutes remaining before you are due back at school. Susan would like her friends to see the place that she calls home. The Grand Ballroom is one of her favorite rooms.”
Grandma could weave magic with her words. One minute we were all outside with smeared PBJ faces and the next minute we floated like one collective amoeba inside the funeral home and into the grand ballroom now devoid of any bodies or caskets. Just wide open space where six young ladies shrieked, danced, and frolicked together in their matching tartan plaid uniforms before heading back to school.
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After Note: Frolic means To Play. Thank-you for allowing me to play all those years, Grandma Dear.
Susan Vilardo has been an emerging writer since she could hold a crayon in her hand, since the time scribbles could shape words. Writing is her Elixir, her pathway of emerging and creating a place of inner peace and tranquility. Writing is also a place of allowing the "truths" to come to the surface and find voice. Over the past several years, Susan has been taking her writing much more seriously, carving out the time to pen personal stories and turn the finished pieces into performance storytelling. This new journey has her spinning out of control but flying with a heart of wild abandon and hope. Susan writes from Milford, Ohio.