66: The Locket

66: The Locket

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

The Locket

A house needs a grandma in it.

~Louisa May Alcott

I had always been close to Grandma. Yet, the summer she moved in with our family it seemed as if my life had turned upside down. I was sixteen years old and suddenly all the house rules had changed, and with them, my relationship with my beloved grandmother.

In years past, Grandma had always been the industrious sort. A visit to her house always meant a fresh batch of cookies and an eager ear. Since my mom worked, it was Grandma who introduced me to many of my childhood pleasures. We grew snapdragons and sunflowers. She taught me how to make a beaded purse, coat candy apples, cross stitch a pillow. Then Grandma had a heart attack, and the robust woman of my youth was suddenly frail and old. When my father brought her to our house with her belongings, she reminded me of a pale, wilted flower.

It had already been a tough summer. My boyfriend of six months, Jared, had recently broken up with me. I’d like to say it was mutual, but in reality I felt dumped. Jared was the first boy I really loved, and even though I was only sixteen I felt a deep connection with him that, now broken, left me feeling less than whole. It’s not as if I didn’t have other opportunities either. Several guys had asked me out, and at least a few times I had accepted my girlfriends’ invitations for a double date. But my heart wasn’t in it, and it’s no wonder they rarely asked me out a second time. Since I was spending more time at home these days, Grandma’s intrusion into my life seemed especially difficult.

I groaned inwardly when my mom rapped on my bedroom door, calling me to dinner. “Can’t I just grab some food later?” I asked.

“Donna. Your grandma’s here. We’re going to eat as a family.”

Eat as a family. Since when was that a big priority? I couldn’t even blame my grandmother, because it was my mom who suddenly seemed to get all kinds of ideas in her head. Turn off the TV, Grandma’s napping. No friends over this afternoon, Grandma’s tired. The list went on and on.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded so much, maybe even welcomed the opportunity to spend time with Grandma. But that was before Jared. Now I just wanted to crawl into my room, listen to music, and not be disturbed.

I was downstairs buttering my toast, my iPod blaring, and I didn’t hear Grandma enter the kitchen. I could tell she was just glad to see me, which made me feel instantly guilty.

“Hi Grandma,” I said. “You look good this morning.” She did. The pale cornflower blouse she wore complemented her complexion, and today she reminded me of her old self. “What can I get you for breakfast?”

“Is there any of that pumpernickel bread left? I’ll have a slice of that with my morning coffee.”

I brought Grandma her toast with her favorite marmalade that I knew she’d want. I joined her at the table, and it dawned on me that this was the first time since she’d arrived that I’d sat down with her without prodding from my mother. I sighed.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a bit distant lately,” I said.

Grandma bit her toast. “You’re sixteen. I was sixteen, too, once.”

That was all she said, but I could see the reflection in her expression. Some people you can’t possible imagine they were ever sixteen, but not my grandma. I can’t explain why, but somehow I could truly picture her at sixteen, her skin smooth and the same bright blue eyes. On a date, perhaps. Maybe with a boy like Jared.

“I would like to show you something,” she offered.

Grandma returned and first she showed me a music box carved from delicate rosewood. It was exquisite. When she opened the heavy lid, I could see a large spindle, the components of the music box, through a clear glass window. The spindle turned and the tune “Somewhere My Love” from Dr. Zhivago filled the dining room.

“It’s beautiful, Grandma. What’s in the other box?”

It was a heart-shaped blue velvet box, and Grandma opened it to reveal a small, etched silver locket. “Go ahead,” she said. “Open it.”

“It’s Grandpa! You were so young.”

“Yes. Very. Your grandpa gave this locket to me on our wedding day.”

“It’s pretty, but I especially love the music box. When did Grandpa give you that?” I asked.

“He didn’t,” she said. “It was a gift from my fiancé. My first fiancé, before your grandpa. We were engaged to be married when he was killed in a training accident on the army base.” Grandma’s face grew wistful. “It wasn’t even war time. I wasn’t prepared for the tragedy. Or the grief.”

I whispered quietly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t, dear. I met your grandpa at church and he was always trying to cheer me up with a funny joke or just some kind words. I was grieving, and I’m afraid I wasn’t very nice to him.”

“But he didn’t give up.”

Grandma smiled. “No. He didn’t give up. It took a while, but eventually I began to break out of my sorrow. There was so much to love about the world. And I grew to love your grandpa much more than I ever loved Stan. You see, Grandpa — Tom — we shared a life. We had children together. Grew old together. We shaped who each other became.”

Unexpectedly I felt my lashes grow wet. Jared wasn’t my fiancé, only a boyfriend. Why couldn’t I let go? “How did you know?” I asked.

“I can see it in your face.”

“I guess you think I’m being pretty silly about Jared. It’s not like he’s dead or anything.”

Grandma folded her worn hand over mine. “I don’t think you’re being silly at all. You loved him and you no longer have him, and now you’re hurting.”

Suddenly I found myself telling Grandma everything. How I’d met Jared. All the fun times we had. And the painful break-up. We were still talking when the phone rang. It was my friend Melanie inviting me to go to the movies with her and Michael and Sean. I said yes.

When I returned home that night Grandma was in bed. I almost didn’t see the object on my pillow in the darkness. It was the blue velvet box, the locket that Grandpa had given Grandma on their wedding day. There was a note with it as well. I turned on the light at my bedside and read Grandma’s grand, scrawling penmanship: “To my dear Donna, wishing you a lifetime of love.” Grandma had chosen to give me the locket instead of the music box I had so admired, the locket that was a gift from the man who gave her a second chance at love. It was a gift that represented the future and not the past. I couldn’t wait to tell Grandma about my date the next morning.

~Donna Brothers

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