“You’ll have to ask your grandpa,” my grandmother said casually.
It was a standard response in our family. My dad sent me two blocks to ask my grandmother what time we were meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream, and I was sent to my grandparents’ garage to get his answer. I walked into the two-car garage and instead of finding my grandpa, I saw two pictures of a mysterious woman in my grandfather’s chest-high, emerald-green tool chest. They were both wedged into the lid. The lid was exceptionally heavy, so he rarely kept it open. He told my brother and I once that he was afraid it would slam shut and either break itself or our hands. However, today it was completely up and I saw the sultry smile of this mysterious woman staring back at me in both photos. In both pictures, she wore a one-piece bathing suit, very high heels, and lipstick. Even in the faded black and white of the photograph, I could tell her lips were painted a serious red. The picture on the left showed her standing with her right hand on her hip and it was obvious she had posed for this image. The photograph on the right showed the woman laying on her stomach with her head resting on her left hand. She was laughing into the camera seemingly unaware that the photo had been snapped. The corners of the photographs had been turned down and the year 1944 was penciled on the backs of both.
I was shocked and had no words to express my embarrassment at seeing this woman in my grandpa’s tool chest. Who was she? What would my dad, his son, say? What would my grandmother say? My grandmother? Suddenly, anger started to swell inside my chest. My grandmother was the sweetest and most reserved woman I knew. How could grandpa keep pictures of this woman in his tool chest?
Grandpa’s entrance from the far side of the garage startled me out of my thoughts. He was looking down at the push lawn mower in front of him.
“These blades have gotten so dull,” he said to no one but himself.
The push mower had no electricity and he liked it that way. He often challenged my brother and me to mow his lawn and after our first attempt each, we never tried it again. It was like trying to push a parked car. It would move slightly but make absolutely no progress.
“Grandpa,” I said indignantly.
“What?” He responded surprised and dropped the mower handle. It clattered a couple of times on the ground.
“Who is that?” I asked trembling with anger as I confronted the man who let me steal bites of his Reese Pieces Sundae, who always smuggled me full candy bars at Halloween, and who let me sit shotgun to watch fireworks in his blue van.
He walked closer so he could focus on who I was pointing at. Then he chuckled. It was a laugh that started low in his belly, and he tried to stifle it before it left his mouth.
“It’s not funny,” I snapped getting more furious by the second, “Grandma will really be hurt if she finds out you have that woman in your tool chest…twice.”
His laughter became more physical as his chest began to pull in and his shoulders dropped when his hands went to his knees.
I crossed my arms and waited for him to control himself. After a few moments, I had to release my grip on my arms, because I was digging my thumbs directly into my forearms.
“Charlie…,” my grandpa began, “Go tell your grandma about those pictures.”
His command caught me completely off-guard.
“Fine,” I said defiantly, “I will. You are going to be in so much trouble!”
I stormed out of the garage and was halfway back to the house when I realized I should have slammed the door behind me. I turned part of the way to go back, but grandpa had started to step through the side door, and I did not want to see his face again.
I walked up the wooden deck stairs, pulled the screen door open, and then opened the house door.
“Well?” Grandma asked without looking up. She was working on her folded newspaper crossword puzzle. She only had two words left and never left the table until every box was filled in correctly.
“Well, what?” I asked confused.
“Did grandpa answer your question?” She asked dully.
“I forgot to ask,” I answered.
“Forgot to ask?” She said and finally looked up, “You were out there for twenty minutes.”
That’s when I spilled the entire story. I explained how I saw the two photographs of the scandalous 1944 woman, how grandpa laughed, and how he sent me back into the house to tell her about the pictures. I recounted everything staring at the ceiling, because I could not bare to see the anguish in her eyes. As I brought my gaze back down to her, I saw her dabbing her eyes with a tissue. I moved quickly toward her to put my arm around her, but as I got close to her I was stopped in my tracks by her laughter.
“Why is this so funny to you both?” I asked incredulously. “Grandpa has that woman’s pictures in his tool chest, and they have been in for forty years!” My breaths were coming in short gasps now and I started to walk for the door. I wanted to go home and never return to this house again. I didn’t know these two people anymore.
“Charlie,” my grandmother started, “Stop. That woman…”
“I know. That woman had on a bathing suit and grandpa shouldn’t…”
“That woman is me, honey.”
The silence lasted for several minutes as I stared at my grandmother. She blew her nose and then smiled at me. I had never seen her wear makeup. She never went swimming, and she absolutely never wore heels. Her bursitis had always caused her to limp, and her right leg had always been swollen twice the size of her left. I always walked with her into church to help her up the three stairs into the sanctuary.
“Yes,” she said proudly. “I had the one picture made for your grandpa to take with him when he went to war.”
“World War II.”
“The second picture was taken by a friend of ours and I sent it to him after he shipped out. He told me they never left his jacket pocket and I loved being close to his heart while he was so far from home. I didn’t realize until now that he still had them.”
She reached for a fresh tissue as a few more tears ran down her face. She laughed through her own tears, and I could see the same eyes from the photograph now looking at me three kids and three grandkids later.
“I’m sorry,” It was all I could think to say.
“Please don’t,” My grandmother began.
“Yes, please don’t.” My grandfather agreed.
We both turned quickly. He had entered the room noiselessly and made us both jump slightly.
I stood between them long enough to feel my presence suddenly become awkward. I loved these two amazing people and they loved each other more than I could understand. I gave grandma a quick kiss on the cheek and hugged my grandpa around his waist. As I was shutting the door, I saw my grandpa sit down beside my grandma and take her hand in his hands.
“1944,” he whispered leaning into her ear.
“The year you came home to me…”
I didn’t hear anymore, because I closed the door on the modest vixen of 1944 and the soldier who fought his way home to help her start our family.
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Amazing!! Its such a sweet story and it felt so real. Loved it!!
Thank you so much! It is based on a real-life interaction between me and my grandfather.
No wonder it feels so real. It was amazing.
Thank you! :)
Wow, I love this. Don't you just love old people's love stories? Because I'm a sucker for them. It feels more genuine when two people with gray hair and wrinkled faces were being affectionate than two teenagers sucking each other's faces and posting it on social media. Oh, I think Grandma gives off the wild girl vibe in her youth. Love it.
Thank you so much! This story is actually based on my grandparents and after they passed I was given the pictures. I am so glad you liked it. Thanks for the comments. Best of luck in the future.
Oh wow. Your grandma is on another level.