Forbidden to the Tongue but not Forgotten in the Mind

Submitted into Contest #116 in response to: Start your story with someone being forbidden from doing something.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction Coming of Age

I was eight years old when she forbade me to do it. My grandmother Martha was then a widow in her early fifties. I am not sure about her exact age then. When she saw me standing behind a tree in the backyard, she made her way quickly over to me, and said in no uncertain terms. “I absolutely forbid you to ever mention what you have seen today. As long as I live, I don’t want anyone in the family to say they heard you talk about this. Do you understand, Donald?” I hesitated for maybe a second and a half, and she said again, a little louder this time. “Do you understand, Donald?” I nodded repeatedly, touching chin to chest, to show her that I understood and would obey.

Grandmother Martha was then the matriarch of the family. To my knowledge, not my father George or any of his brothers, Elliot or Frank ever contradicted her or disobeyed what she told them to do. I had heard that they were ‘a little wild’ in their teenaged years, but dad told me that their mother had “straightened them out.” Their father was more ‘live and let live’, plus he knew that his wife would see to the problem much better than he could or even wanted to.

Their father died when he was just 50. Fortunately, my grandmother had a good job as an accountant, and made enough money to pay for herself, and to send her three boys to university, paying tuition, places in residence, and gave them spending money that “you are not to spend on wasteful things, just what you absolutely need.”. Two of them became accountants, my father a high school teacher, strange concerning the way that he had acted, himself, when he was teenager, or so grandma told me.

I was allowed to stay with her for a week during the summers when I was 11 to 13. Every time that I was dropped off by one of my parents, she would greet me with an intense look, as if she was seeing right through me. The question she didn’t have to ask but still did, was “You are keeping your promise to me. You are well aware that I will know if you are lying to me. I will see it in your eyes.” I was pretty sure that what she was speaking was the truth when she said that. Still, I told her that I had not told a soul.

When I was a fully-fledged teenager, I would sometimes visit her on weekend nights when I had nothing planned. I knew that she would ask me about my homework. I didn’t lie when I said it was done. I knew that she would be able to detect it if I wasn’t telling the truth. We would have a good time when I visited her those nights. We had pretty much the same taste in music, and we both would sing along with some of the songs that I knew she would like. As I said, we had a good time, for several good reasons.

Once I graduated from high school, she funded my university costs, like she had for my dad, but hadn’t done for any of my cousins, who had never spent much time with her. She was long retired then and didn’t have the money that she once had. And I became a teacher, just like my father had done. She was pleased with what I had become.

The Funeral

           A little after I got hired by a local school, my grandmother died. It broke my heart. She was long a good friend to me, especially after the day of the promise. Shortly thereafter, my father said he needed to talk to me about a ‘very serious subject’. “Well, Donald (he never called me ‘Don’ like most other people did), I have been talking with the family, and they want you to organize the funeral, as you were the closest one in the family with her. What do you think?”

           I thought that a strange situation, and an even stranger request, but I agreed to do it anyway.  And I figured that she had definitely earned a good funeral. The first thing I thought of was what music would be played, the music that she and I had shared years ago. I knew not everyone would be happy with that, but I didn’t really care, and I knew she wouldn’t have cared either.

           On the day of the funeral I had everything set up the best that I could. It was something beyond my experience. I only had been at a few funerals before this time, and that was only as an observer, not a player. As I scurried about doing some last minutes fixing up of the arrangements, I heard people saying some pretty nasty things about Grandma Martha, calling her authoritarian, boring, nasty, no fun at all, always keeping to herself. This was not the grandmother that I knew at all.

My Turn to Speak

It was my turn to speak, the concluding turn. As I looked at the many faces, I could see from their restlessness, that they were hoping that I would not take long. I began with the usual stuff that is said, and then with the lack of response coming from those allegedly listening, I made a difficult decision. “I am going to break a promise I made to Grandma Martha when I was a child. It concerns something that she had forbidden me to do. I was eight and she was in her early fifties. Granpa Jack had been dead for less than a year. It was a Saturday afternoon in the summer. I decided to walk over to her place, maybe have one of her fine lunches. She did not answer the door when I knocked. I first thought that she might be away from home. Then I heard the sound of loud music and began to smell something different in the air. I walked through the gate in the fence beside the house. What I saw made me hide behind the big tree in the yard.  There was Grandma Martha. She was not alone, and she was not standing still. There were a couple of young men there as well. They were dancing to rock music of the 1960s and 1970s, smoking up or certainly having done so shortly before, judging by their behaviour. The smell in the air I would learn was marijuana. Grandma Martha would change dance partners with each song. And they didn’t just dance, they kissed and generally made out rather relentlessly. This would happen with each of her dance partners, one after the other.

Then she saw me and disentangled herself from her current partner, marched rather quickly over to me and made me never to tell a soul, particularly not a family member. But she used the phrase “as long as I live”, so thought that I could tell you now. 

That was the beginning of my truly close relationship with Grandma Martha. We shared a love for the same music and having the occasional toke now and then. I wanted you to know that she was not merely the strict person you thought she was. She was much more than that, and always will be so in my mind.”

October 16, 2021 17:03

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4 comments

Faith Ogedegbe
15:05 Oct 26, 2021

I really enjoyed your story.Good job.

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John Steckley
18:04 Oct 26, 2021

Thanks Faith for your comments. It was a great deal of fun writing this one. I believe that people are not often what they seem to be.

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Lisa Neuvelt
14:44 Oct 24, 2021

I loved that story. What a great relationship Donald had with his grandmother. He kept his word "as long as I live"

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John Steckley
18:08 Oct 24, 2021

Thank you Lisa. I appreciate your comments. I had a good relationship with all of my grandparents, but nothing like what Donald had.

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