The Smooth Stone

The Smooth Stone

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

The Smooth Stone

When I was a boy I didn’t know I loved my grandmother. Being around her was more fun than being around most people, and I thought of her as the center of all good things. She could make taffy that just disappeared in your mouth and sent bright sparks of vanilla playing on your tongue. She could find any herb you might need for a stomachache or cough or sore muscles somewhere in the woods near her farm. She could tell a better story than you might ever hear anywhere else, and she could understand me when I tried to sort out the confusing parts of life.

What lasts in recall of her is how she helped people— including me—put confusion to rest. She didn’t lecture or explain how things ought to be; she just walked along beside me, and we looked at the world together.

One summer when I was fourteen and having a rough time with growing up, I spent the month of June with her. My parents, I think, were eager to be rid of me after the school year. I have no idea now why I fought with them in the way that I did, but I know that fighting back seemed important to do. I wasn’t going to let anyone run roughshod over me even if I knew I was in the wrong about staying out late, or taking the car on my own, or going into the city to see a movie.

My grandmother lived in a very small town in the mountains of Kentucky. Everyone knew her, and everyone knew me. She did not drive and had no car so there was no problem about my driving anywhere, and there was nowhere in the county to stay out late because most people were farmers and “went to bed with the chickens” as people used to say.

I spent my days working on the land, helping mend fences or hauling rocks, and often in the afternoon my grandmother and I would go walking. I called it “hiking.” She said it was “walking” because “hiking” meant you were going someplace.

“Honey,” she said to me that day, “we don’t know where we’re going. We’re just out in creation and takin’ things in.”

We walked for a time along the edge of the woods that bordered her property and led eventually down to a fast-flowing creek that had clear, sweet water even in summer. She walked in an easy deliberate way that gave her time to spot four-leaf clovers or mushrooms. We stopped many, many times to look at something: a snake’s dusky burrow or a red-winged blackbird’s nest.

There was something on my mind, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. After a time, we climbed down the stony bank of the creek and waded in the cool, fast water. I liked to watch it roll over the rocks in the creek bed and the feel of it between my toes.

A fallen trunk of an old maple tree almost spanned the creek at one point, and my grandmother took off her shoes and left them on the bank. Then she waded into the water to the old tree and sat on it so that her feet were in the water up to her ankles.

For some reason or other I began to collect stones. Small egg-shaped stones, gray and white. Stones shaped like little hard cookies and—the prime object of my quest— stones that were almost round. I was very picky about what I chose to keep and often would toss back something I found after I’d examined it closely and found that it came up short of my expectation.

Then I heard myself say, “My dad would never do this.”

“Do what, Honey?”

“Sit on a log and watch me hunt stones.”

“Oh,” she said. And nothing else.

I worked my way down toward the edges of the stream where the best stones often were and continued my hunt in the dappled, leaf-filtered light. The air was warm and smelled faintly of mint. My father was much in my thoughts lately because I had so much trouble with him.

He was a doctor, and it seemed to me he thought he knew everything there was to know. He pushed me pretty hard, I thought. Just then, as I was thinking about him, I reached my hand into the water and out it came holding a perfectly round piece of white quartz. It was round as a marble almost. I splashed through the water to show it to my grandmother.

She took it from me and held it between her thumb and forefinger. She looked at a long time, turning it this way and that in the light.

“Right pretty,” she said. “You’ll keep this one?”

“Oh, yeah, I sure will. It’s perfect. Isn’t it?”

“I’d say so,” she said. She gave it back to me. Then she said, “Why don’t you just pick up rocks from the bank instead of going to all the trouble of searching the water?”

“There aren’t any good stones on the bank.”

“What do you mean? A stone is a stone.”

I looked closely at her to see if she was teasing me and saw that she was very serious.

“No, Grandmother,” I said patiently. “The stones on the bank are all rough.”

“You like smooth stones?”

“Yes, I do.” I held up my newfound treasure and thought again how lucky I’d been to find it.

“You know how they get that way? How they get smooth like you like?”

“The water does it,” I said, glad that I knew that.

“Yes. And it does it by rubbing the stones together. Over and over. Years and years. Until all the rough edges are gone. And then the stones are beautiful. Sort of like people.”

I looked directly into her eyes—they were almost the color of cornflowers—astonished that I suddenly, somehow knew what she meant.

She rubbed her hand through my hair, messing it up. “Think of your daddy like the water, Honey, and one day when you are a splendid man, you’ll understand how you got that way.” And that was all she said that day to me about important things. And it was enough.

Walker Meade

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