by RACHEL COYER - March 27, 2019
As the car twisted through the snowy hills, Amy watched the familiar scenery roll by. Every Christmas, she and her parents traveled down to West Virginia to visit family. It used to be the best place on Earth. Her older relatives would let her stay up late and eat tons of candy and play with all her new toys-- but with every passing year, she began to notice the sorrows that decorated the house as plainly as the festive wreaths and angels.
As the small sedan pulled into the driveway, Amy saw the house that had greeted her every past Christmas. Built by her great-grandfather in which to raise his children, the house hadn’t changed for nearly a century. Despite many promptings from her son-in-law, Amy’s great-grandmother had refused to clean out the old attic over the garage or replace the stained kitchen tile.
“Now, really, Gary,” GG would say in her slow, sweet voice. “If the house isn’t fallin’ over yet, why would we need ta fix it?”
She thought about the black-and-white pictures that filled the walls of the sturdy house, telling stories from decades past; one featured Amy’s grandma in her school uniform; another, her great-grandparents’ wedding. She had heard stories of how her grandma and her younger siblings would get into all sorts of trouble, and GG would have to whip out the paddle. It was such a strange world to her, but Amy liked hearing their stories; they brought a little light into the wistful eyes of her relatives.
Finally, Amy’s dad put the car in park and turned the engine off. The trio climbed out of the car, stretched their sleepy muscles, and began to unload the trunk. Amy grabbed her duffel bag and climbed the steps up to the porch. Before she could knock, the door swung open and revealed her great-aunt, Sandy. A wide smile filled her face, but Amy could see that she had lost weight. She had started using a cane, and her bad ankle was swollen and bruised. Nevertheless, she reached out and hugged her favorite niece.
“Oh my goodness, Amy, look how beautiful you’ve gotten! We’ll have to keep you away from all those boys now, ya hear?” said Sandy, with a glint in her eye.
“Of course, Sandy! If they don’t, I’ll make sure to tell you all about it,” replied Amy, knowing she probably wouldn’t remember to call. The thought made her feel a little guilty, but calls to West Virginia nowadays usually ended up in hours of roundabout conversation, only ceasing when she managed to hint at her growing sleepiness. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, but…
Sandy’s laugh jarred her back into the present. She realized there was still another person left to greet in the house. Amy let her parents catch up with Sandy and started down the hall, peeking into each room as she passed by. After the years of life spent in the old house, it began to sing the tale composed within its walls. The song originated from the dusty rows of pottery, passed down from generations before; their quiet melody echoed the traditional refrain. The ornate dining room added crescendos of past holidays and birthdays over many years. Each bedroom sang the unique harmony of the four siblings, sometimes steady, often clashing, but never failing. The song was fainter now, having lost much of its chorus to the passing of time and fading of strength.
Eventually, Amy reached the living room. The grand piano her grandmother used to play sat covered against the wall. A picture of Amy’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother stood in the corner. His face always seemed so kind, but Amy knew him only from the stories her dad told her. At least now he got to see his eldest daughter again. With a muffled sigh, Amy walked over to the opposite couch and turned to face her great-grandmother.
GG was still sitting tall despite the weight of 90 years of life. Her eyes glittering with love and humor, there was nevertheless a slight confusion hidden in her face. It was clear that the trouble was starting to get to her. Even her Sunday best barely managed to mask the fatigue creeping into her frail form. But GG wasn’t one to go softly; the fight was still coursing through her veins.
“Hey, GG! How’ve you been?” piped Amy.
“I’m doin’ just fine, sweetheart. How’s school comin’ along?”
“It’s going pretty good, but I’ve been really busy.”
“Well, now, you tell them they’ll have to answer to me the next time they give you all that homework,” GG chided.
“Alright, I’ll let them know,” Amy laughed politely. Their conversation followed the same script every time; by now, she knew it by heart. Her eyes fell on the framed needle-point on the wall, featuring a famous Bible verse. Love is patient, Love is kind.
“So, Amy, how’s school comin’ along?”