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Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll stop by.
On Monday, Rachel at Awkward Girl posted an amazing story about her great-grandfather in a feature she called Awesome Ancestor. Today I’d like to share a story about my paternal grandparents, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, and use this feature to challenge myself to write some nonfiction.
We only ever heard the story on Christmas Eve. After the tree was decorated, and the presents piled just so, my father would turn off the lights in the house. My sister and stepmother and I would sit in front of the tree, gazing at the reflections in the bulbs and ornaments lit only by the white lights nestled among the pine needles. Dad would put on “Greensleeves,” then come and sit next to us, and for the duration of that song, we did nothing but listen. When the song ended, Dad would wipe the tears from his eyes, and tell us how much Grandma Mildred loved that particular carol. I don’t remember what year it started, but at some point the memory of his mother pushed him to share a funny story from his childhood, and every year after that we made him tell it again.
He was just a boy, certainly no older than 10. It was dark, and they were in the middle of a long road trip. He was asleep across the wide backseat, a blanket draped over him. When they stopped for gas, Grandma Mildred decided not to wake him, but after both of his parents had gotten out of the car, he woke up anyway. He decided to go to the bathroom, so he slipped out from under his blanket and walked into the station. When he got back, the car and his parents were gone.
At that same moment, his parents were back on the road, completely unaware that their little boy was no longer asleep under the crumpled blanket in the backseat. It took them another 50 miles before they noticed that he was gone. Mildred panicked, horrified that her son had vanished. They turned the car around, and began to piece together where the little boy could have gone.
When they arrived back at the gas station, Dad was happily drinking a Coke with the attendant. He wasn’t even that scared. He knew they would have figured it out eventually, so it was only a matter of time before they came back. Mildred was mortified that she hadn’t noticed sooner, and angry with her son for not telling them where he had gone after they had stopped. Still, no real harm had been done, so Dad jumped back in the car and the family drove off again – together – into the night.
It is such a simple story, and I still wonder why that story became a Christmas tradition. Dad loved to tell it, and I suppose we loved to hear it because we knew so little about his parents. They both died from cancer around the time my dad turned eighteen. He lived his entire adult life without parents, and I suppose that small story of childhood abandonment touched upon the pain he felt from losing them so young.
For my sister and me, it was a story that made us feel closer to him, as if these glimpses into his childhood would provide us with answers to questions we didn’t know we had asked. When he told it, I would picture him with sleep-ruffled hair, his lanky legs dangling from a stool, Coke in hand. I could hear the laughter in his voice at the memory of his mother’s embarrassed face, his mirth directly contrasting his sorrow from moments before as he had listened to her favorite song.
In the dark, huddled under blankets, basking in the glow from the Christmas tree, that shared memory became an experience that has stayed with me over the years. Now that my father has also passed, it is a memory that not only allows his mother to live on, but him as well. I still think of them both every time I hear “Greensleeves.”