By: Edith Gallagher Boyd
Ricky marked his calendar when the visits drew near. Sometimes Momma stayed for cousins’ week, and sometimes she left us in Nana’s care. We brought our sleeping bags as we never knew how many young people would show up, and Nana didn’t have a bed for everybody.
When Momma’s car pulled into the gravel entrance, I tightened my fists hoping I could will my cousin Lizzy to be there. She didn’t always come, as she had discovered boys which nearly wrecked everything.
Whether she was staying or not, Momma helped us with our belongings and walked with us to the front door where Ricky liked to bang the big bell which was next to Nana’s door.
The other kids ran into the kitchen to hug us, and Nana directed us to the blackboard in the hallway where we saw our chores.
I loved when my job was to rake the back yard. It took a long time, but I liked the earthy smell of the leaves which had gathered and threw big scoops of them into the basket near the shed. It was prettier in the fall when the leaves were rusty red, but school kept Ricky and me busy and our visits to Nana were short, except for our summer cousins’ reunion.
When twilight set in, Nana checked to make sure each grandchild had a place to sleep, before she gathered us into the living room for story time. Ricky and cousin Jed loved Nana’s ghost stories and tales about Pop Pop’s adventures at sea. He was a captain of a boat and Ricky usually interrupted Nana’s story by saying,
“Did Pop Pop ever see a shark?” Ricky would say, as he placed his cup of cider on the table near him.
“Pirates,” Nana said. “Pop Pop had so many good stories about pirates, that he never got around to mentioning sharks. ‘Millie,’ Pop Pop would say, ‘I was afraid I’d never see you and the kids again.’”
One night, I noticed Momma’s face look sad, when Nana was talking about pirates. Something soured in me about Nana’s stories cause I couldn’t stand for Momma to be sad.
Plus, Lizzy and I preferred to explore Nana’s messy reading room. There were books scattered about and piles of magazines and newspapers. Momma tried to get Nana to straighten this room, but Nana held firm that she liked it that way.
Lizzy and I didn’t always wander away from Nana’s story time, as we loved Nana and appreciated her vivid imagination and her apple cider. And we hoped to find a love like Nana and Pop Pop’s. We never met him but had seen pictures of him on their wedding day, both looking so thrilled with one another. One of the frames held an engraved name card that said Richard and Amelia Colton.
One late summer evening, Lizzy and I browsed through the reading room, and Lizzy opened a trunk filled with books and newspapers. Lizzy pulled out a photo album of the family and we loved seeing pictures of our mothers, aunts and uncles as little kids. Stuck to the back of the album was a faded newspaper with a picture of Pop Pop on the front page.
“Armed robber Richard Colton sentenced to twenty years at Seymour state prison. He surrendered to police without a struggle.”
The article went on and mentioned his wife Amelia and her five children, and just when we got to this part, Nana called us back to story time and Lizzy whispered,
“I won’t tell, if you don’t,” and we locked our pinkie fingers together in a vow.
As the years have passed, and I mourn the loss of my cousin Lizzy, I wonder if Nana and Momma and the others visited Pop Pop in prison all those years while we listened to tales of the high seas. I could never bring myself to break my vow to Lizzy, and I felt Ricky’s life turned out better than it would have, if he’d known our grandfather was a criminal. I understood the pained look on my mother’s face, and have been tempted more than once to get it all out in the open.
When Ricky’s children and the cousins gather in Ricky’s living room for story time, I’m struck with fiercely protective feelings for the healing power of magic, the lure of stories well- told, in the company of those whom we love.
Edith Gallagher Boyd is a graduate of Temple University and a former French teacher. She and her family live in Jupiter, Florida.