A Grandmother's Love!
A Grandmother’s Love!
June Atwood was 23 years old and working in the only café in Salina, Kansas when the army soldier came walking through the front door carrying the green duffle bag over his shoulder and sat down at a nearby table. As she shyly glanced over at him she saw the greyhound bus pass by outside the front window headed out of town. Salina, Kansas was a small town and as soon as her eyes looked at him she recognized him.
His name was Jeremy Chalfont and he had come back from Iraq. June hoped it was for good this time as she picked up a menu and walked up to his table shyly. He looked handsome and when Jeremy raised his head, she saw his tired eyes as he smiled up at her. Immediately June began to feel herself begin to blush as he said good morning June. She was shocked that he remembered her name.
She tried to compose herself as she sat the menu and glass of water down on the table and replied, “Good morning Jeremy. How long was your bus ride?” He looked down and pulled his sleeve of his shirt up as he felt himself yawn again and said, “Almost 36 hours.” as he smiled up at her. Neither one of them thought that the other person would remember their name. They hadn’t dated or even went to a school dance as a couple.
When June asked him how long he was staying in town Jeremy said, “For good I hope. I just got out of the army and I feel lucky to be one of the soldier’s coming home alive.” in a serious voice. June knew that was the truth. The headlines on TV, radio and in newspapers broke the sad news of many a soldier who came home in a casket. As Jeremy looked down and picked up the menu, June reached down and touched his arm.
“Breakfast is on the house for ya Jeremy. “Welcome home.” she said with a warm smile as she quickly turned around, smiled and hurried back to the counter to help another customer. June hadn’t been married before and Jeremy was the only boy she had a crush on when she was in school. She had been working at the Main Street café for the last three years and even though many a guy had hit on her, she politely told each one no.
It wasn’t because she didn’t want to have a man on her arm, go out and maybe one day settle down and raise a family with. It was just the opposite. She did want those things but not with just anyone. She wanted the man she gave her heart to, to be special and Jeremy was. By the time June had returned to his table three times and refilled his coffee cup the second time he asked her if she was married or had a boyfriend.
June was blushing now and she didn’t turn away when she shyly told him no. The young man took a chance at being rejected as he asked her after he got himself settled in town if maybe he could take her out to a movie or dinner sometime. One look in June’s eyes told him she’d like that very much. Jeremy’s mother’s name was Cassandra and she was a quiet, soft spoken woman. She was tall and petite and active in her church.
His parents had been married for more than 20 years but there was a dark side to Jeremy’s father. He loved to drink as much as he loved his wife, perhaps more at times. He had a violent temper and customers found it difficult to talk to Charles when he had been drinking. But there wasn’t anywhere else to go for tractor repair for folks around Salina. Charles never got rich helping others or he might have had he had a different temperament.
But he did provide for him and his wife. Jeremy didn’t send word to his parents of him getting out of the service. After he bought a beat up Dodge truck, he tossed his duffle bag in the bed and headed for their farm. He was smiling more and more as he drove down the long dusty road. When he parked near the front porch, he closed the trucks door quietly and walked up to the front door and knocked.
Cassandra was used to hearing people knock on her door and expected it to be another one of her husband’s customers. But when she opened the door she put her hand over her heart and tears filled her eyes. Her look of surprise turned to a wonderful smile as she opened her arms and hugged her son as she began to sob. She was so grateful her son had returned home. As she stepped back and looked into his bright blue eyes she asked him how long he could stay this time.
Jeremy smiled back and told her he hadn’t re-enlisted and had come back to stay. “I thought I would let pa teach me how to make a living fixing tractors if my room is still empty?” Jeremy asked as he let out a small laugh. “Son, you know your room is just the way ya left it. Your dad is gonna be so surprised when you walk through that barn door.” Cassandra said and suddenly the smile he saw in her eyes disappeared. Jeremy knew why and he asked his mother if his pa was still drinking.
Cassandra didn’t answer. She just nodded her head. Charles was an alcoholic with a bad temper. It made being married to her husband difficult to say the least. He had hit his wife more than once but she had no bruises at least none that Jeremy ever see. He hugged his mother once more and she hugged him tight before she looked up into his eyes and asked a very important question.
Seeing no wedding ring on his finger she asked him if he had a sweetheart. Jeremy shook his head no, but paused for just a moment and told his mother he had met a nice gal working down at a café next to the bus station. “I met a nice waitress named June Atwood, momma. Perhaps you know her?” he asked. But she shook her head no as she smiled. I don’t know any Atwood’s son. Does she attend the Catholic Church?” she asked curiously.
“I don’t know momma, but I asked her out on a date this Friday evening. We’ll have dinner and a movie.” he said with a mixture of excitement and insecurity. Cassandra touched her sons arm and told him if he wanted to, she’d love to meet the gal one day. Jeremy nodded as he laughed and said, “We’ll see momma, we’ll see.” That was the moment June looked down towards the barn and her eyes lit up.
“If you don’t get yerself down to that barn and let your dad see you’ve come home, he’ll be fit to be tied and throw a wrench at me for not telling him.” June said as she began to laugh. Charles had never hit her with anything but his hand or with hurtful words. Love makes someone endure a lot when their married to someone, even when it isn’t the best of marriages.
But throughout the years of being married to her husband she had learned to recognize Charles’s many different moods. She learned when to kid, when to speak, when to keep silent and when to fear his anger when he vented on her about work. But she kept herself busy volunteering at the Catholic Church and keeping the house up. It was an old two story house built in the 1930’s by Charles parents.
In spite of the countless tornados that passed close to Salina, not one had hit their farm. Most of the tornados she had seen were small ones. Some were the most fearsome F4 or F5 tornados. She counted her blessings that the usual path they followed was from north to south, not east headed for them. Jeremy kissed his mothers cheek and told her he was going to walk down to the barn and surprise his pa.
June’s eyes beamed with happiness to know that it was her son who knocked on her door, not some other serviceman bringing her news of her son’s death in Iraq. Just as Jeremy was about to head off the porch he heard a anxious bark and “Buster”, a five year old golden lab pushed his way past Cassandra and jumped up on Jeremy and frantically began yelping and wagging its tail.
Jeremy knelt down and hugged the dog as Buster licked his face again and again. Cassandra put her hands on her hip and laughed as she shook her head at how excited Buster was to see Jeremy. He stood up and patted the dogs back before saying, “Come on Buster, let’s go down to the barn.” as he waved goodbye to his mother. When Jeremy reached the barn he saw one of the two barn doors was open and he peeked inside.
Charles had his head leaned down over a John Deere tractor with a socket wrench trying to free a frozen spark plug when he lost his grip and skinned his knuckle as he cursed. “Son of a bitch!” he yelled out as he shook his hand and looked down at his skinned knuckle. When Charles heard a voice say, “Hurt yer hand bad pa?” followed by a laugh, Charles spun around with a look of disbelief on his face.
“Son!” Charles shouted out as a grin came across his face as he made his way to his son. “Boy is it good to see ya. Yer ma and me feared the worst son. With each report on the evening news or headlines in the newspaper of another soldier killed by either an Iraqi soldier or damned cell phone bomb, we worried one day someone from the army would come knocking on our door giving us bad news. I’m sure glad that soldier was you son.
You look great son. Glad to see the army put some meat on yer bones.” Charles bellowed as he shook his son’s hand. Quickly Charles broke the handshake from pain and looked over at the work bench for a towel. He wiped the blood and grease off his hands and proudly looked up at his son. “Does yer ma know your back son?” Jeremy’s dad asked. “Yes pa, I knocked on the front door before I came down her.” Jeremy said as he reached down and patted Buster’s head as he felt him nudging his hand impatiently.
“I can see Buster’s missed ya son.” Charles said with a laugh as Jeremy shook his head and grinned. “Come on up to the house son. I needed a break anyways.” he said and the two men headed for the house. But halfway to the house Charles happened to look to his left, beyond the garden and saw the tornado moving south. It wasn’t a huge one, but one that held both men’s attention for a moment.
“Son, your ma and I have been blessed to live out of the path of most of them tornados. It doesn’t mean that one won’t swirl west and come right for us though. If that happens we’ll head for that storm cellar door and hope for the best.” Charles said and Jeremy nodded. “Now come on, let’s get inside and sit down and have a drink.” he said as he put his arm on his sons shoulder. Jeremy wasn’t much of a drinker and definitely didn’t have a taste for whiskey. But his father did.
When the two men came inside, Cassandra already had fixed a pitcher of lemonade for her son and put ice in a glass and filled it with whiskey for her husband. As both men sat down she handed their glasses to them. That afternoon was a time of celebration and reminiscing about old times growing up. By the time it was beginning to get dark Charles headed for the barn to put things away and Jeremy got his duffle bag out of the back of his truck.
Over the next year Jacob’s life was divided between helping to fix up his parents farm, learning how to repair tractors and seeing June. From the moment Cassandra and Charles met June they liked everything about her. Nine months later the young couple was married. Four months later Jeremy’s mother passed away peacefully in her bed. She was buried in a small cemetery behind the family’s house.
Her death hurt Jeremy and June terribly, but it hurt Charles the most and he turned to his whiskey bottle even heavier. June was pregnant four months with her first child and the stress of being around her husband’s father after he had been drinking put her under a lot of stress. She feared the stress she felt would make her lose her baby but when she gave birth to her daughter Ivory, she looked down at a beautiful six pound three ounce blonde haired, blue eyed child.
June wished her Cassandra could have seen her granddaughter before she passed away. Having a baby around the house Charles at first and his drinking slowed and he embraced the fact he was now a grandfather. But that was only temporary to the disappointment of the young couple. The following year June gave birth to another beautiful baby girl she named Cathy.
The couple and their two children lived on Charles farm and as the years passed, Charles drinking grew worse. His customers began looking elsewhere for their tractor repair needs in spite of Jeremy trying to greet them and handle their complaints. After the couple came home from church Jeremy asked his father if he could watch Ivory and Cathy while he and June took a drive over to Smolin, which was 11 miles from Salina in his truck.
Charles told them he’d be happy to watch them. Neither of them realized that less than an hour later a stolen Camaro whose driver was running red lights to get away from the two police cars in hot pursuit would slam into their truck broadside. Both of them were killed. It was a devastating loss to Charles. He had lost his wife and now the couple’s daughters had lost their mother and father.
Jeremy had a $100,000 life insurance policy in which left his wife was the designated his beneficiary. In the event of her death, the policy stipulated that his daughter’s Ivory and Cathy were to be given the money when they turned 18. Jeremy appointed his father Charles as the trustee of the child’s funds. During dependency hearings, the Superior Court judge awarded custody of Ivory and Cathy to their grandfather since he was their only blood relative.
Charles had his son and his wife buried next to his wife Cassandra in the cemetery behind his house. After the couple’s deaths, life for the two children turned for the worse. Ivory was now six years old and her sister Cathy had just turned five. Ivory loved her sister very much and she did her best to protect her from their grandfather when he was drinking. Charles quit his tractor repair business and began siphoning off some of the children’s insurance money to live on.
Charles world slipped into the hazy world of drunkenness, hangovers and bitterness of having his wife pass away, then his son and wife and finally his tractor repair business fail. He found himself saddled with two small children that he wasn’t prepared to raise by himself. But he wasn’t about to give up custody and access to the money that was meant for them when they grew up. Many times the two girls slept out by their parent’s graves on a blanket and hugged Buster for comfort.
Ivory and Cathy had to rely on themselves to dressing or when they had to get food to eat from cupboards or the refrigerator when their grandfather was passed out. It wasn’t unusual for the girls to see their grandfather passed out on the couch with a bottle of whiskey in his hand or tipped over on the floor. One afternoon Ivory was walking toward the garden as she held her sisters hand when they saw a huge tornado in the distance.
It was larger than any tornado they had seen before. As they stopped and started at it, it suddenly changed direction and looked like it was coming right at them. Both children hugged each other as they watched the tornado come closer and closer. They could feel the winds growing stronger and the roar they heard made them cling to each other even tighter.
Suddenly Ivory took her sisters hand and told her they had to go tell grandpa. They ran as fast as they could to the back door and ran through the kitchen to the living room. Charles was stretched out on the couch passed out. Frantically, Ivory shook her grandpa again and again. By now the tornado’s wind was howling outside as tears fell from both girls eyes as the curtains from the open windows flew in the air. Now they were they both shouting, “Grandpa! Wake up, wake up!”
To Ivory’s relief, Charles blood shot eyes opened and he squinted up at both children. “Grandpa, a huge tornado is headed right for us. Come quick and see!” Ivory begged as she took hold of his arm. Instead of getting up, he pushed Ivory back and she knocked her sister to the floor when she fell backwards. Tears were rolling down their eyes as they stared up and watched their grandfather close his eyes. Ivory helped her sister up and as they looked at their grandfather, Ivory decided to try one last time to wake him up.
If he didn’t get off the couch and take them to the root cellar, she would take Buster and her sister to the cemetery where their mother and father were buried and hold onto each other. But this time Charles did wake up and get on his feet as he staggered to the back door of his house and look out past the barn. Charles eyes grew huge when he saw the size of the tornado 200 yards behind his barn.
There was only enough time to reach the root cellar and Charles ran for the door, falling twice. When he reached the door, the wind was terrible and he pulled open the door with one hand as he gripped the whiskey bottle in his other hand. He looked back only once at the two little girls right behind him. He gave them a mean glare and told them they couldn’t come in with him. At that moment, Cathy hugged her sister as they stared at their grandfather and tears formed in their eyes.
The wind was so loud neither of them heard the sound of the root cellar door slamming shut as they saw the barn being ripped to pieces. Suddenly, Cassandra’s ghostly spirit appeared at the cemetery and she ran to the grand children she had never seen. She stood between them and the tornado and she thrust up her left hand at the massive storm.
With a grandmother’s love, she held back the storm, but she couldn’t hold it back for long. Desperately she looked to her right and saw the root cellar door. Angrily she looked at the door and raised her right hand. Instantly, she ripped off the door and threw it into the tornado. When Charles peeked his head out, with her hand, she pulled him up into the air as she looked at him with hateful eyes.
“I deserved better than the hell you put me through as your wife.” she shouted above the tornados thundering roar. “Your son deserved better too. You never loved these children and I won’t let you kill them!” she shouted as her head motioned toward the tornado and his whiskey bottle flew into the tornado. Before Charles could utter an insult, he felt himself being thrown into the eye of the hurricane! Now the tornado was coming closer to Cassandra’s grand children now and she waved her left hand towards the farm house.
As Ivory and Cathy clinged to Cassandra’s dress, the children watched the tornado destroy the farm house as it moved further and further away. When Cassandra turned around, she knelt down and hugged both girls as they hugged her tightly and sobbed. Cassandra brushed back their hair as she looked into their eyes as she asked them if they knew who she was.
Ivory was the first to shake her head followed by her sister as they said, “You’re our grandma!” in unison before they put their arms around her. Momma showed us pictures of you grandma.” Ivory said as she hugged Cassandra around the neck. Tears flowed freely at that moment as the three of them cried. When Cassandra stood up, she looked around and saw the entire farm had been blown away.
Other then bits and pieces of boards here and there one would ever know a farm had been here. Cassandra looked down at her grand children and asked them if they would like to go to a place where they would always be loved? A place where they would see their mother and father again and the two girls nodded and smiled up at her as they wiped their eyes. Cassandra reached down and put her hands in Ivory and Cathy’s hands and the three of them headed for what once was the cemetery.
The headstones for Cassandra, her son Jeremy and his wife June were gone now as was the white picket fence that once surrounded their graves. When they reached the cemetery, the three of them disappeared and went to a place where love, not hate awaited them.
© 2013 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)