Short Stories

Weezy’s Grandma

The short story, Weezy’s Grandma, won second prize in the Scribes Valley short story contest and will be included in their anthology to be
published in 2017.

Weezy came to visit her grandma who lived in the dilapidated little house on the dirt road side of the bridge that spanned the creek running from the hill behind Kuglak’s farm to Schoharie Creek. The bridge, old and wooden, connected the road in front of the house with the highway that led to town some eight miles away. It announced every arrival and departure of vehicles with the clatter of loose boards. Grandma English, as she was called by everyone, lived alone, that is, until her younger son, Clyde, dropped off Weezy, his eight year old daughter one day for a few hours but didn’t return for several weeks.

Grandma English was a little woman, no bigger than a seventh grader and not much heavier than a grain sack filled with wet goose down. She had come to the place in her life where her hair was entirely grey and so wispy that it was hard to keep it tucked into the small bun that hugged the back of her head. The brown spots on her frail arms had long ago stopped multiplying and, as the years rolled by, folks swore she never looked a day older. Some said she was around seventy; others figured she was closer to ninety. Despite her frail body and many years, she took in Weezy with the same equanimity with which she sheltered the hens that strayed each summer from the city folks’ house up on the hill or any feral cat that sought warmth during the icy winter.

Weezy, on her part, took to Grandma English like every one of the stragglers that came to shelter in or around the little house. The regularity with which Weezy and her grandma lived was something the youngster hadn’t known since her ma died: up earlier than the sun, off on the school bus by seven-thirty, dinner before dark, and back in bed at sunset. The orderly life gave such comfort to Weezy that she happily looked forward to every day. Her thin voice chirped through the house reminding Grandma English of the song sparrows mating call in early spring. It filled the old lady’s heart with a fullness it hadn’t possessed for many years.

“When’s Clyde coming back?” Weezy had asked a week or so after she’d been left.

“Don’t set right by me when you go about calling your pa by his first name.”

Weezy was reading the book Clyde had bought for her just before he left her with his mother. It was about a small Chinese boy who lived on a houseboat on the Li River. The teacher had read the story to the class the first month of school and, since Weezy first heard it, she had pestered Clyde to buy the book for her.

She placed one finger on the sentence she had been reading and looked up twisting her long blondish hair into a tight curl with the fingers on her other hand. “That’s the way he wants it,” she said. “Clyde likes the ladies to think that I’m his little sister that come on late in his momma’s life and got left orphaned early.”

Grandma English watched Weezy’s pale blue eyes fold into a tight squint as she spoke. Lord, she looked so much like Clyde when he was a boy. As far as she could remember, both Weezy and her son showed a strong resemblance to Sanford, her husband. But he had passed on so long ago, she had trouble calling up his face. She looked away, snorted, and went over to the wood stove, her slipper-shod feet shuffled across the rough floor boards. She shook down the dead ashes and shoveled them into the scuttle. “Well,” she muttered, “Seems like everybody here about knows I never had a girl-child, and that I ain’t dead yet.” She picked up several pieces of kindling and threw them into the firebox.

“Got to fill the stove’s reservoir so we can have hot water to wash up in tonight,” she said, picking up a pail and heading toward the creek.

Weezy followed her grandmother onto the porch, watched her scoop up the water and struggle up the creek bank with a full pail. Her back was bent low and the water sloshed over the edge soaking her apron, the front of her dress, and her thick cotton stockings that sagged around her knees and ankles. The wet spots on her dress revived some of its original color making it look as though the faded fabric was springing back to life.

“Why are you fetching water from the creek?” Weezy called down to her.

“Pump’s broke.”

“What’ll you do when winter comes and the creek freezes?”

“Same’s last. Chip the ice and melt it on the stove. You come on over here now and help me tote this into the house.”

Several weeks later, just when the chill of fall was beginning to creep into the last of Indian summer, Clyde returned with a bag of groceries in one arm and a young lady on his other. Weezy was at school and Grandma English was out in the city folks’ lower field collecting milkweed pods for dinner. She heard the boards on the wooden bridge set up a storm. When she looked up she saw his faded blue Chevy that tilted toward the driver’s side swing around and stop in front of her house, raising a cloud of dust and scattering the city folks’ chickens that were roosting on the woodpile. By the time she came close, Clyde and his young lady had settled into the rocking chairs on the front porch.

As Grandma English walked up the steps, Clyde smashed his cigarette underfoot and stood. “Brought you and Weezy some groceries,” he said, putting his arm across his mother’s thin shoulders. She wobbled slightly from its weight, then wiggled out from under his embrace and placed the basin of milk weed pods on the porch railing. She tucked some loose strands of hair into her bun, bent over, and peered closely at Clyde’s new girl.

“Who’s this little puppy you’re dragging around with you now?” She pointed her finger at the girl. “Why, it looks like she just come off suckling her ma’s tit.”

The girl giggled, reached out, and took hold of Grandma English’s outstretched hand.

“This here’s Ida, one of them Hanson’s from up around Fultonham,” Clyde said. “Ida, say hello to Ma. Talk up now, she ain’t been hearing like she used to.”

Ida giggled again. “Pleased to meet ya, ma’am.” She covered her bright red mouth with her other hand and lowered her eyes.

Grandma English turned her back on Ida, picked up the basin of milkweed pods, and hobbled into the house, favoring her sore hip and clucking like an old hen. Clyde and Ida could hear her cleaning out the milkweed silk and washing the pods. She hummed “The Old Rugged Cross” as she worked.

After a while Clyde followed his mother inside. “There’s a side of bacon in here,” he said as he emptied the groceries onto the table. “And a candy bar for Weezy. She been minding you good?”

Grandma English nodded. “Reach up there and get down that spider,” she said, motioning toward the cast iron frying pan hanging on a hook over the stove. “She’s doing ‘bout good as can be expected.” She cut a slice off the side of bacon, placed it in the pan and set it on the wood stove. “Them milkweed pods’ll be tasting mighty fine after I fry them in this here bacon fat. You having something to eat?”

“I’d like to, Ma, but I got to go.” The spider warmed, the grease crackled, and the sweet aroma of frying bacon filled the room.

“Now?”

Clyde nodded. He shifted from one foot to the other, and scratched the back of his neck.

“Weezy’s gonna to be real sad if’n you don’t wait ‘til she gets back from school. She pesters me about you every day.”

“I got to get down to Barber’s Ranch before dark. I hear he’s hiring field hands to pick the last of the summer’s table corn. I want to be there before all the jobs are gone.”

Grandma English turned the bacon. Globules of grease escaped the skillet, skated across the hot stovetop until they cooled, leaving shiny black spots on the cast iron. “Not like you to be in a hurry to get a job.” She added the milkweed pods to the frying bacon and a cupful of hot water from the stove’s reservoir.

Clyde waited for his mother to say something more about his getting a job. When she didn’t, he continued. “I’m marrying that little gal setting out there on the porch, and I want some spending money to take her on a honeymoon to Albany. Maybe show her the capitol building and go on as far as the Hudson.”

“Why she ain’t much older than Weezy.” Grandma English shook her head. “What’s she gonna say about having a youngster for a mother?”

“Weezy’d rather have a sister than a ma,” Clyde said. “Anyway, it’s all been settled. I asked Ida and she wants to come with me.” He played around with the groceries he brought, making a pyramid out of the canned goods. After a short silence, he began pacing.

“What you got yourself all worked up over?” Grandma English asked.

“I was thinking that Ida could stay here until the job gives out.” He stopped pacing and took hold of his mother’s arm. “I have to sleep in the car—to save money—you know how it is. Not right for Ida to be sleeping out with a bunch of hired men.”

“That why you brought them groceries?”

“It’ll be no more than a week.”

Grandma English grunted. “Ain’t even a week’s groceries.”

When Clyde left, Ida stood on the porch waving good-bye with a white handkerchief. “I’ll be missing you something terrible,” she called. Her voice was drowned out by bridge boards thundering under the wheels of Clyde’s departing car.

Grandma English hobbled out of the house and, without saying anything to Ida, walked onto the city folks’ lower field, searching the high grass for eggs their hens might have left behind. Her head was so full of misery that she didn’t hear the school bus stop to let Weezy out.

Weezy bypassed the house and walked to where Grandma English was bending over and picking up a clutch of eggs. “Clyde leave that here?” she asked, pointing to the porch where Ida was sitting in one of the rocking chairs.

Grandma English nodded.

“What did he go and do that for?”

Grandma English shrugged. “Here, take these back to the house and put them in the bowl of water I set out.” She handed Weezy the dish of eggs. “And throw out the ones that float minding not to break the shells.”

“When’s he coming back?”

“Go on now, do as I told you.”

Weezy skipped back toward the house while Grandma English hobbled off toward the far end of the field. That boy’ll be the death of me yet. As she walked, she parted the tall grass, looking for more eggs. If it isn’t one thing with him it’s another ever since he returned from that war in Korea. Never gives a body time to get over one of his stunts before he starts right on in with another. She picked a bunch of tender dandelion leaves and pushed them into her apron pocket.

That night at dinner, Ida sat smiling and picking at her food. “I ain’t very hungry,” she said. “Even though Clyde and me ain’t had nothing all day.”

“Eat then and stop fussing with the food.” Grandma English bent her head over her plate and mopped up some of the bacon grease with a slice of bread.

“How long you staying?” Weezy asked.

“Until Clyde comes back for me.”

“When’s that?”

“Soon’s he can,” Ida said. “Then we’re gonna get married and he’s taking me on a honeymoon to Albany.”

Weezy got up and cleared the dishes, taking Ida’s plate away without asking if she was finished.

The next morning, after Orrin Franchel had delivered his full milk cans to the stand on the highway side of the bridge and loaded up the empty ones onto his wagon, he stopped to pass some time with Grandma English. Weezy was inside getting ready for school and Ida was still in bed.

“Morning, Orrin,” Grandma English said as she came out of the house. She looked up at the sky. “More’n likely rain today as not. I can feel it in my hip.” She settled herself into one of the rocking chairs.

“Has that feeling to it. Bad for the haying. If it holds off until tomorrow, we might get it in.” Orrin pushed his straw hat back on his head, and steadied the horses with a small tching sound.

“Come on in and set a spell,” Grandma English said. “I’m frying up a rasher of that side of bacon Clyde brought by.”

“Not this morning, thank you kindly. Trace Bellinger’s coming over to help bring in the last of the hay. He should be showing up soon.”

“What’s got into him? Never knew him to be agreeable about helping around less’n there’s something in it for him.”

“He knows my corn’s ripe today, hisn’ll be ripe tomorrow. Just thought I’d drop by to tell you the city folks asked to use my plow next spring.” As he spoke, he pointed to the house up on the hill with the willow whip he held in his hand.

“What are they fixing to do with a plow?”

“Says he’s gonna plant a vegetable garden on this lower field.”

Grandma English shaded her eyes with her hand, looked out over the lower field and thought about that for a few minutes. Plowing up the field meant she couldn’t gather dandelion greens or milkweed pods, and that the hens would go off and lay their eggs somewhere else. “That sure sets me up with a dry well, don’t it?” she said.

“I wouldn’t worry much about it,” Orrin said. “It’s a long way off and, come spring, it may turn out like Bill’s maple sugar idea.”

“How’s that?”

“He tapped the black walnut trees on the fence line thinking they were maples. Boiled the sap for days and wondered why he didn’t get no sugar. He looked pretty foolish when I told him Bellinger was the only one with sugar maples worth tapping around here.”

“City folks,” Grandma English shook her head, rocked harder and giggled like a young girl. “Never can tell what they’ll be thinking of next.”

Orrin laughed and nodded.

“How they gonna pull the plow?” Grandma English asked. “Harness it up to that wild young’un of theirs?”

“Said he’ll use that jeep he bought last winter. Has what they call four-wheel drive. Yesterday, he showed me how it works.”

“My, my. I hope to live long enough to see that.” Grandma English shook her head at the thought of a jeep pulling a plow. “Yes sir, I surely want to see that.”

“Ruth’s digging potatoes today. I’ll send her down with a sack of them for you and Weezy.” Orrin tipped his hat, pulled it firmly on his head so that his ears pointed forward, and clicked his tongue. The horses set off toward home. The empty milk cans in the back of the wagon set up a racket that sounded like the world was coming to an end.

After Orrin left, Grandma English thought about the potatoes that would be coming later that day. She’d save the bacon grease from this morning and use it to fry the potatoes for supper. Maybe open one of those cans of beans Clyde brought for a side dish. Mercy, she never knew where the next blessing was coming from, but somehow they just kept coming.

It was over three weeks before Clyde returned. And when he did, it was one of the Slater boys from Summit Corners that dropped him off at the house. Grandma English had been inside washing the elderberries she’d gathered from the Vandenburg property a mile or so down the dirt road and thinking about the wine her father used to make from them. She sure could use a bottle of that now. It’d ease her bone aches and make her nights easier.

When the Ford truck stopped in front of the house, Grandma English recognized the popping sound it always made just before the motor died. She went out on the porch to see what Harlan Slater had to say for himself. His arm hung out the window and, when he turned toward her, he had that sly, hang-dog grin of his, like something was wrong but it wasn’t his fault. He waved. “Morning, ma’am. Look what I brung home.” He pointed his thumb in the direction of the passenger seat.

Grandma English knew what he had brought home without looking. “Bring him on in. I’ll get some coffee ready.” She disappeared inside the house and put the pot on the stove. Weezy,” she called up the stairwell, “your pa’s finally come.”

Harlan got Clyde as far as the front porch and pushed him into one of the rocking chairs. “Your ma’s fixin some coffee,” Grandma English heard him say. “You’ll be feeling better after you get some of that into you.” He stuck his head inside door. “Got to be going,” he called.

Grandma English went to the door. “What trouble you fixing to get into now?” she asked Harlan.

He laughed as he headed for the truck. The Ford’s engine turned over several times before it caught. Harlan called out the window to Clyde. “I’ll come by for you tomorrow. Get yourself looking pretty by then.”

Clyde’s head was sunk into his chest and he was slumped over in the chair. He didn’t raise it when his mother sat next to him. She sat in silence, glad that Harlan had left. She had little use for him since he married her older son’s daughter, Faith, and fathered seven children in just as many years. He spent most of that time loafing at Kenny’s used equipment shop in West Fulton, bragging about what a gilt-edged life he’s led since marrying Faith and having the children.

“Those young’uns are gold,” he’d brag to anyone who’d listen. “All I gotta do is keep Faith producing, and the government money comes in.”

Weezy came out on the porch. “Clyde,” she said, “you’re here.”

Her father raised his head and gave her a weak smile, then turned to his mother. “That coffee ready yet?”

“You ain’t looking so good,” Weezy said.

“I ain’t feeling so good.”

“How’d your face get all cut up like that?”

Grandma English returned to the porch and handed him the coffee. He smelled like alcohol, cigarettes, and unwashed clothing. “Sure got yourself in a mess of troubles this time, didn’t you?”

He raised the cup and sunk his nose into it. His hands were shaking so he had to brace it against his lips to keep it steady.

“Where’ve you been?” Weezy asked. “We’ve been expecting you to show up for more than a week.”

He brushed her words away with his hand.

“Answer the child,” Grandma English said. “After being gone so long, you right enough owe her that.”

“Ain’t no use in asking because there’s no way I can remember much of it.” He closed his eyes.

“Where’s the car?” Weezy asked.

“Sold for scrap.”

“Sold it?”

“Weren’t nothing left after the accident.”

“Accident?” Weezy’s pale little face became almost translucent and tears filled her bright blue eyes. “You mean we got no car?”

“Weezy,” Grandma English said, “better be getting your breakfast. Willie will be here soon and you know he doesn’t like any of the youngsters keeping the school bus on hold.”

She gave her father a disgusted look and went into the house. Poor girl, Grandma English thought. A father shouldn’t be such a burden on a child. That’s not how the Lord planned it.

Clyde was still on the porch when Grandma English went off with Clara to collect black walnuts. Clara was never one to speak, at least not since she was little, but that didn’t worry Grandma English none. She was accustomed to quiet. Besides, her neighbor from down the dirt road was a good one for helping her through the barbed wire fencing and filling the sacks. They worked silently, collecting all the nuts from the ground and reaching up for the ones on the low hanging branches, enjoying the early autumn sun and each other’s company. It was around noon when Grandma English, dragging a full burlap bag behind, got back to the house.

Clyde was still on the porch and Ida was sitting next to him. She had on her square-dancing dress with petticoats that hung below its hemline and socks that had a lacey fringe around the cuffs. Her white handkerchief was tear-wet and streaked with face powder and lipstick. She was sitting on the edge of the rocker, her one hand holding the handkerchief to her eyes and the other massaging Clyde’s back. He was bent forward, his hands covering his face.

“But you said you were going to get a job picking the last of the table corn,” Ida was saying.

“That’s so,” Clyde mumbled through his hands. He squirmed, as if trying to shake her hand off.

“If you been working all this time, you must’ve got some money.”

Clyde didn’t answer.

“You’re saying there’s no money?”

Clyde nodded.

“Where’d it all go? And where’s the car?” Ida stood and stamped her foot. “You promised me a wedding and was gonna take me on a honeymoon.”

Grandma English passed them and went into the house. The sound of a hammer pounding off the outer husk of the black walnuts covered Ida’s wailing. She had seen this before; she regretted having to live it again.

The next morning, Harlan arrived around eleven. Grandma English was out back spreading the black walnuts in the sun to dry so they wouldn’t mildew before she got around to cracking them and taking out the meat. She heard Harlan call into the house, “Clyde, you around?” She came back into the kitchen just as Clyde went out on the porch.

“How’s she taking it?” Harlan was asking Clyde.

“Not going to set well with her.”

“You mean you haven’t said nothing yet?”

Ida came down the stairs and into the kitchen where Grandma English was sifting flour into a bowl. Ida’s uncombed hair and puffy eyes made her look like a little girl who was recovering from a wupping. She sat at the table and watched while Grandma English stirred up the biscuit batter.

“Don’t look like you got a powerful lot of sleep last night,” Grandma English said.

Ida shook her head.

“Coffee’s made. Want some?”

Ida nodded. “Clyde’s money is all gone. So’s his car. What’s gonna happen now?” she asked.

“Seems like you better be talking to him ‘stead of me.” Grandma English poured a cup of coffee and pushed it toward Ida. “Might want to see what them two are talking about.” Grandma English pointed to the porch with the rolling pin, then began to roll out the biscuit dough. If she spread it thin, they’d be some extra in case Harlan stayed on for breakfast.

The men fell silent when Ida came out onto the porch. Grandma English followed her with coffee for the men. The late morning sun had burned off the last of the mist, and a cottontail scurried out of tall grass and disappeared into the blackberry bushes. Grandma English watched some redwing blackbirds land among the tall reeds that grew on the highway side of creek. It was about as nice a day as you could want except for the storm brewing on the front porch. Weezy came out in her pajamas and sat on the steps.

“What’s gonna happen now, Clyde?” Weezy asked.

“You, me and Harlan’s taking Ida back to her folks in Fultonham.”

Ida screamed. “I ain’t going back.”

“Ida, honey,” Clyde wheedled. Overnight his left eye had turned purple and scabs were beginning to harden the cuts on his face. “There ain’t nothing left for me to do but to take you back to where you come from.”

“But I can’t go back. What with my pa all mad at us for you coming and taking me away and now, me having a baby.”

“Nice going,” Harlan said. He snickered and leaned over, punching Clyde’s shoulder with his fist. “Looking for some of that easy government money?”

Grandma English smacked her knees with her two hands. That boy never did pay no mind to what he was doing. She went into the house to check on her morning’s baking. All this carrying on was going to make everyone hungry. She took the baking pan from the oven and sifted a light cover of flour over the golden brown biscuits. Weezy came stomping into the kitchen.

“What’s got you all wrought up?”

“Clyde says to pack. He’s taking me away.”

Grandma English looked at Weezy’s pale blue eyes. They were all fired up from holding back tears. She nodded and turned away, placing the biscuits onto a white plate with brown cracks running every which way through the glaze. Neither spoke. The only sound was the creek rushing by and Ida’s occasional sniffing.

After breakfast, Ida, looking pale as death, and Weezy, angry as a child can get, climbed into the bed of Harlan’s truck and sat next to his dog, their backs pressed against the cab. Harlan whistled as he revved the engine and waited. Clyde came out of the house carrying Weezy’s things in a cardboard box. He put his arm around his mother’s shoulders and squeezed. She staggered a little under the pressure. Without saying anything, he walked around to the passenger side and climbed in.

Before the noise of the bridge boards gave way to the bird talk and insect trills, Grandma English was making her way to Tingue’s apple orchard to pick up the fallen fruit. She’d bring back as many as she could carry and dry them for winter. She’d boil them up with some walnuts, a little sugar and, if she could get Mary Hilts to buy some in town, cinnamon. That’d make a fine breakfast when winter came on strong and the weather turned too cold to go out. She crossed the bridge and headed down the highway toward Tingues, glad for the sun’s warmth on her tired bones. But where the fullness in her heart had recently taken hold, there was a small ache.