Liz reached into her housecoat and squeezed a Kleenex as she held onto a wooden rail and slowly made her way down the stairs. The arthritis in her hands was getting more painful by the day and the aching seemed to be spreading into her legs like water seeping through coffee grinds.
She turned on the hallway light by pushing a black button at the top of a brass light switch. For more than a forty years she pestered her husband and begged that he change that old switch to one of the modern ones where turning on and off the light was simple—either up or down. He was dead now. Her handyman was gone.
It was too late for a new switch. She would have to learn to live with those buttons that tormented her wrinkled hands. That old house wouldn’t be the same without those switches, Liz knew that. Even though there was an electrical short, Liz really didn’t mind that it often took several pushes just to get the light to turn on, even with her gnarled limbs. That old light switch was part of her daily routine. She squeezed the used tissue into a tiny ball and pushed the button numerous times. Eventually the light came on.
The old stairs creaked just as they had every morning for fifty years, yet it sounded like a new piece of wood was rotting under her feet midway down the flight and on any given morning she may just find herself in the basement laying atop the cold cement next to the coal furnace, but she didn’t really care. If it happens, it happens—when the Good Lord is ready, he will take us, Liz realized as she finally made it to the last stair where she turned off of light by pushing another button. She entered into the dinning room, flooded with morning sunshine and was ready to face another day. There was so much to get done. The tub needed a good scrubbing and Liz wanted to get a load of laundry washed and hung out to dry before running the sweeper.
Smiles of her grandchildren greeted her as she reached inside a cupboard that her husband Bill bought from Wolf Furniture in Huntingdon in 1972 right after a tributary to the Juniata River had overflowed its banks and brown dirty water filled the first floor of their house. The filthy water, the color of coffee with cream, made its way all the way to the third stair. They lost everything on the first floor—the sofa, kitchen table and an old wringer washing machine that Liz’s mother Rachel gave the couple for their wedding anniversary in 1971. They bought that cupboard right after the flood with a relief check issued by the state of Pennsylvania.
There were so many photographs of grandchildren and great-grandchildren hanging on that old cupboard that Liz had no idea exactly how many there were at the time of her husband death in 2002, but she was certain that she had a photograph of every last one of them posted somewhere on her antique cupboard. They all favored Liz’s side of the family, the Amish side. It was like looking in the mirror when reaching inside for dishes.
Her favorite coffee cup was stored on the far right side, on the bottom shelf right behind the glass door that held the photograph of one of her favorite grandchildren, Charlie—Lou’s boy.
What a unique grandchild he was, Liz thought as she wished he would call her again. She pulled out the white cup with the pretty sunflower and remembered how he liked to play ‘beauty shop’ as a little boy. She still had a scar on her forehead just above her eyebrow where Charlie burnt her with a curling iron when he was only five. She smiled at him and said ‘good morning, Charlie’ as she looked at her reflection in the cupboard glass wishing she had the money to go have her hair done or at least enough to afford to call him long distance.
Charlie only called her about once every two months. She wished he would give her a ring more often but she could tell he was going through the change of life too—the same thing she experienced when she was about his age—35 after she had a miscarriage on the same day that JFK was shot. He seemed like he didn’t want to be bothered with anyone in the family and was pissed off at the world. There wasn’t a lot she could say to explain it all to him the day he called her after he went through it. It was like having arthritis of the mind. She knew that.
“Hi grandma. I’m home and I’m doing a little better. But it really hurts. It really, really hurts.”
“Oh, I know it does, Charlie. You are going through the change of life. I’ve been there too. It will get better. Just hang in there. I love you, Charlie, okay.”
“Okay grandma. I love you too. What happened Grandma? I only remember Pap Pap in the hospital room when we said that prayer for him, after I said that prayer I forgot everything. It was like I had amnesia or something.”
“Your grandfather made it home, Charlie—just like we prayed. He died when you was in the hospital Charlie, do you know that?”
“I know grandma. Mom told me. But I knew that. I knew it was happening when I was in the hospital. He was talking to me, grandma. He was trying to tell me something.”
“What did he say to you?”
(To be continued….)