They are on vacation with their oldest granddaughter, who will turn 12 in a few days. En route to the historic district of one small city, a building collapses half a block ahead. A huge cloud of dust rises up; traffic slows to a crawl. The grandparents take a quick glance and look away, but the girl watches intently as emergency crews pull a body from the wreckage. “He’s still alive,” she announces.
They decide not to take the walking tour after all, and continue driving to the next state park. As soon as they get out of town: “Tell me another story, Grandpa!”
“He makes up these exciting adventure stories, starring boy and girl detectives just about Eva’s age. I don’t know how he does it,” Mom tells me later. “I can’t do that. The only stories I can tell her are things I remember — true stories. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t make things up the way your Grandpa does.’
“I told her about England — I was just a couple years older than her when our family went over there. She wanted to hear all about it. I told her about the friends I made, and how everyone revered the teachers so much. I explained the way the school system was back then, how kids’ futures would be determined by what kind of high school they attended. She didn’t think that was right.
“And of course I told her stories about the relatives, dwelling on the parts that I thought would interest her. I told her about that time back in Maine, waking up at 4:30 in the morning and telling Bruce, ‘Nanna just died,’ and finding out the next day that she had, at that exact time. And then when we were singing hymns at her funeral, bursting into tears when I got to the third verse of ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus.’ It turned out that had been Nanna’s favorite verse of any hymn. It is a very pretty tune.” She starts to sing it.
I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.
The granddaughter’s eyes go wide. She wonders if she will be that clairvoyant herself when the time comes. That night at the motel, she and her Nanna stay up late watching a DVD of the old musical “Oklahoma.” Grandpa watches a little bit of it, then retires to the bedroom. Too much tension and violence, he says. It would disturb his sleep.