“Mom, how was Grampa today?”
“Well, Jake, he’s not feeling too well.”
“Does he have a cold?”
“No,” answered Jacob’s mother as she pulled the comforter up to his chin. “No, he has a different kind of illness.”
“Like the flu?” Jacob’s eyes were wide as he watched his mother in the low light.
“He has trouble remembering things. Sometimes he forgets where he is. Other times he forgets peoples’ names…”
“Does he forget your name, Mom?”
“Sometimes, yes.” Jacob’s mother got up from the edge of the bed and stooped by the door to switch on the fish nightlight. A dull glow fought to be seen, then won the battle when the ceiling light turned off, sending a long shadow across the bed as Jacob’s mother walked over to his small desk.
“How can he forget a name like Mom?”
“I don’t know how he forgets. Some people just forget when they grow older.”
“Oh.” Jacob watched as his mother tidied up his desktop and put his folders into his backpack. She plucked from one of the pockets a plastic pencil sharpener which she popped open over the trash can, tapping the side to release the day’s shavings.
“Will you tell me a story about Grampa?”
“Maybe another night.”
“Please.” Jacob shuffled beneath the blankets, acting restless to get his mother’s attention.
“Will you tell me one about when he was your dad?”
“He still is my dad, Jacob.” The blankets were straightened once more.
“I mean when you were a little girl.”
“Maybe if you tell me, I can remember it for Grampa.” Jacob’s mother sat back down on the bed and brushed the hair from his forehead before folding her hands in her lap. Her face bore the sadness of her father; the sweetness of her son.
“Well, I guess I can tell you one quick story. You know the old playhouse at Grandma and Grampa’s house? The one where Goliath lived?”
“Yeah,” Jacob’s face lit up at the name of the Rottweiler.
“Well, when your aunts and I were little girls, I guess I was about 5, Grampa told us he was going to build us our very own log cabin. It was going to have real windows and a door, which locked and a shelf inside for each of us. He had already built us a little table with chairs, and we were all so excited that we could finally have tea in our own little cottage with our own little garden beside. Well, one Sunday Grandma took us to church, and we stopped at my grandma’s house and ate lunch before going home. When we got home, Grampa had all four walls up and the roof nearly done.”
“Grampa didn’t go to church?” Jacob asked.
“No,” his mother replied, “Grampa didn’t go to church back then.”
“Was he Jewish?”
“Why would you think Grampa was Jewish?”
Jacob thought for a minute, then answered with, “David Schneider is Jewish and he doesn’t go to church. He goes to a temple.”
“Oh, I see. No, Grampa wasn’t Jewish like David Schneider.”
“Did he believe in God?”
“Yes. He just didn’t go to church.”
“Would you like me to finish the story?” his mother asked.
“Okay. Anyway, Grampa had the roof nearly done, and we wanted to go inside and start playing. He told us we had to wait in the house because there could be nails on the ground and he didn’t want us stepping on them. I think he really just wanted to be alone while he worked.” Jacob’s mother looked down at him, snuggled up under the covers.
“So, we went inside as we were told and stood at the back window and watched as he nailed shingles onto the plywood roof. It was so exciting to see that little house coming together. The three of us standing there felt as princesses about to get our very own castle. We watched and waited and soon the door was up, then the windows. When he finished hanging planter boxes in front of the windows, Grampa gathered up his tools and put them back in the garage. Returning, he got down on his hands and knees and picked up any errant nail or splinter he could find. He made his way around the corner of our little log cabin, and we stood there thinking he would jump out and tell us we could come out and play. What happened instead was Grampa came running from behind the cabin doing a strange dance.”
“What happened? Why was he dancing?” Jacob’s eyes, tired as he was, grew wider upon hearing that his grandfather would do anything so wild and untamed.
“Well, Grampa danced around and kicked up dirt and was hootin’ and hollerin’ and swatting his legs. Gramma ran out from the kitchen just before he trampled her vegetable garden. Grandma swatted Grampa’s legs, too, and then Grampa ripped his shirt clean off. We couldn’t see what the problem was from the window, but he was covered in ants. He kicked off his pants and the two of them whirled about as they slapped and swatted and swiped until every last ant was off of him. We had never seen anything like it. We ran to the kitchen door as Grandma and Grampa came in; his legs were covered with red bumps, and he was out of breath. Grandma plopped him down in his seat at the table and fetched him a glass of lemonade.”
“What happened next?” Jacob asked. “Was Grampa okay?”
“Being Grampa, he shrugged off what had to be a lot of pain and discomfort and he went back to the bedroom and threw on some fresh, ant-free clothes before heading down to the barn for something to spray on the ants. Again, playtime was delayed. Grandma didn’t want us getting covered in bug killer.
“A couple hours later, though, when Grandma was doing laundry, Grampa ushered the three of us out to our cabin. We were so excited to see the inside. He had even hung up a couple of pictures for us. Grampa could only stand up without hitting his head on the ceiling in the center of the cabin, but the table he made sat there, so he had to stoop when he was inside. We invited him to tea and he accepted our invitation. We had so much fun as he told us about the ants from his point-of-view. Hearing him tell it, you would have thought it was a comedy act.”
“I wish Grampa could remember that story.”
“Me, too, Jake. He wasn’t having fun when all those ants were biting him, but he told that story every chance he got. It’s not everyday you get ants in your pants.”
Jacob lay there with his head sunk into the pillow as his mother reminisced. She placed her hands on the bed, about to get up, when Jacob spoke.
“Was Grampa always nice before he got sick?”
“He was like any dad, I guess. He was as kind and loving as they come. He spoiled us and made gifts for us in his workshop, and he helped us with our homework. He could be stern, too, if he needed to be. He was a good dad.”
“Was he like Dad?” Jacob rolled onto his side.
“In many ways, yes. In other ways, they are completely different.”
“What ways are they different?”
“Well, your Grampa could play instruments.”
“Dad can’t play any.”
“That’s true now, though your dad played the trombone all the way through high school.”
“Yes. I think that was one of the things Grampa liked about your dad when we first started dating. He thought a man should be able to read and play music.”
“What did Grampa play?”
“Oh, there was the harmonica and the banjo and the mandolin and the piano and, my favorite, the fiddle.” Jacob’s mother played an invisible violin while she spoke. “He would play at parties and family gatherings. My favorite time was always at Christmas. Every year he and I would put on a little show and we would play Christmas carols and hymns. I would play the piano as accompaniment to his fiddle. That was one of those things I had with my dad that my sisters didn’t. It’s kind of like how you and your dad go hiking and camping, while your sister and your dad have the sailboat.
“Anyway, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Grampa and I would practice together whenever we had the chance. We would play for hours some days. Christmas Eve, though, was our big concert. All of the family from all over would come for dinner, and we would play afterward and people would dance and sing along. Even with so many people there, I still had my dad all to myself. Those few weeks every year of practicing together, and that one night performance, are my favorite memories of Grampa.”
Jacob’s mother looked sad and tired as she bent to kiss his forehead. She gave his blankets one last adjustment, and stood up to leave.
“It’s time for you to get to sleep.”
“But, Mom,” Jake paused, waiting for his mother to turn around in the doorway. “I think Grampa will be happy that we won’t forget his stories.”
“Me, too, Jake. Me, too.”