Blair backed her SUV into the double-wide driveway. The tail lights blazed red, and it lurched to a stop. She opened the door with such force, it snapped back on her leg. Using her foot, she pushed it open until it held. Her arms loaded with her computer, messenger bag, and lunchbox and her morning coffee cup in her hand, she used her shoulder to shut the door.
The hatch on the rear of the vehicle and the garage door levitated in unison. Blair shuffled through the interior door, greeted by the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. For a moment, she was her seven-year-old self, sneaking one of them from the linoleum countertop. Her computer bag slipped from her shoulder, breaking her reverie.
“I’m home, Grandma.” She dropped her lunchbox and traveler cup on the kitchen counter. Grabbing a cookie cooling on the dishcloth, she walked through the great room into the multipurpose dining room/office.
Grandma sat at her antique writing desk, a dip pen in her hand, scratching on the decades-old stationery. Looking up from her writing, she gazed out the window. “Hello, my dear. How was your day?” Her back to the doorway.
“Hectic as usual. Thank god for the advent of online grocery shopping.” Blair walked over to her grandma and kissed her head. “I don’t know how I’d get it done without it.”
“Like the rest of us did. Driving to the store, walking the aisles, and checking out at the register. It was not so long ago,”
“I remember crowded aisles and long lines.” Blair plopped her bags on her desk in front of the bookcase. She took a bite of her cookie, trying to catch the crumbs with her hand under her mouth.
Grocery shopping was a Saturday morning ritual for her mom and the rest of the world. As a kid too big to sit in the cart, she spent half of the time dodging the baskets of other distracted moms. Boredom replaced her anxiety, waiting in one of many lines snaking around the row of registers.
“How is this week’s batch of cookies?” Grandma dipped the tip of the pen in the ink well. “Do you think your grandpa would approve?"
“For sure.” Blair nodded and stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth. “So will your grandson.”
The screech of the yellow school bus’s brakes called her to the window. The bus door swung open, and her son, Drake, bounded down the steps, jumping to the pavement and racing towards the house at full speed. She smiled, and her heart swelled with motherly love.
Blair greeted him in the garage with a monster hug. “Hey, buddy. How was the first day of school?” With skilled efficiency, she loaded the nine white plastic grocery bags in the back of her SUV on her arms.
“It was good.”
“What did you do?” She already knew he did nothing, but asked him anyway.
“We started learning cursive writing. Like Gran uses.” He skipped through the door, putting his new Batman lunchbox on the counter next to her lunch bag. He snatched a warm cookie from the dish towel.
Blair grabbed another one and followed him to the office. He burst into a sprint, excited to tell Grandma about learning cursive writing. He was fascinated by her script and loved to watch her write with the dip pen since he was about four years old. The ebb and flow of the movement across the paper mesmerized him, quieting his fidgeting. Their interaction warmed her heart. She was grateful for this connection between them. And even more thankful for his interest in something at school.
But the imperfection of handwriting made her shiver. The messiness of erasing unwanted words and phrases. Or the dreaded scratch-outs. The time it took to rewrite the material over and over until it was perfect. Pounding on a keyboard was far more productive. The delete and backspace keys, champions of the console.
“Hi, Gran.” He took a bite of his cookie and embraced his grandma, facing the doorway now.
She kissed his head of messy brown hair. “How was school today?”
Crouching on the floor, Drake opened his new blue camouflage backpack and pulled out a glossy red folder covered in bouncing soccer balls. He opened it and removed a piece of paper from one of the pockets. The letters A-G, upper and lower case, were printed vertically on the left. On each row, practice areas with solid horizontal lines on the top and bottom with a dashed line in the middle.
Drake jumped up and put the worksheet on the writing desk. “Look, Gran. We started learning cursive today.” He pranced in place, his voice bubbling with enthusiasm.
“Oh, marvelous.” Grandma glanced at Blair over her shoulder. “I thought schools had stopped teaching cursive?”
“News to me. Maybe, they’re bringing it back this year. Why I don’t know since it doesn’t help the kids pass the standardized testing.”
Blair scrounged around in Drake’s backpack, pulling out a thick manila envelope. A white label with ‘Welcome to Third Grade’ printed in block letters was adhered to the front. She unclasped the fastener and pulled out a stack of forms.
“Good lord, I’ll be up half the night, filling out these forms and finishing my brief.” Blair rolled her eyes and slapped the envelope on top of her laptop bag. “Why can’t we sign into our kid’s online account and update anything from last year? Check a box if there are no changes required. This pushing paper is so inefficient.” She struggled to hide her annoyance from Drake.
“Gran, what’s your letter about this week?” Drake asked.
“Now that you’re learning cursive, I’ll tell Grandpa about it.”
“Why do you write to him?” The innocence of a child. The same question every week and the same story.
“It’s how we talked to each other when we were separated during the war. We didn’t have computers, smartphones and the Internet like military families have nowadays. No, we only had pen and paper, and victory mail was our version of email.”
Grandma peered at the framed pictures on the desk. One of Blair’s grandpa in uniform, another of her grandparents on their wedding day. The third one with them and a baby.
“After sending a post, I remember waiting for a reply. For weeks, I anticipated our mailman’s daily deliveries. Twice a day back then. Until one day, it wasn’t the mailman at my door, but a Western Union messenger with a telegram.”
“Grandma, enough. Grandpa has been gone for over seventy-five years now. It’s ridiculous to think he actually gets them?”
“Stop being mean to Gran.” Drake scolded Blair every time she criticized their grandma. He liked her stories. A time before technology complicated their lives with the expectation of instant gratification. Before information and entertainment were at their fingertips.
“We may be blessed with long life, but I’m glad we aren’t an immortal family. Someday, we will be reunited. Until then, writing letters helps me stay connected with Grandpa.”
“But still cursed because we’ve been forced to live without Grandpa and Mom for so long." The tone of Blair’s voice, full of melancholy with a tinge of resentment.
Both of their loved ones’ lives were cut short by physical injuries. Grandpa, killed in action during war. Her mom died from injuries she sustained in a horrific crash with an eighteen-wheeler. The accident report stated speeding and improper lane usage as the cause of it. The truck driver, unhurt, was late for his scheduled off-load time. If he missed it, he would have been forced to reschedule for the next day, missing his next load time.
“Because they aren’t physically here with us doesn’t mean we can’t talk to them. It’s just different than what you’re used to. It requires investing time into composing your letter. Then you must be patient, waiting for a response. It’s not like instant messaging.”
“Right, all I need is time.” Blair scowled. “A rare commodity.”
“You should try writing to your mother. She might have some insight to help you get control of your life. Like learning to close the lid on your computer and enjoy your family. And turning off your phone and focusing on your struggling marriage. Romance doesn’t happen with a push of a button. You have to invest time to reap the rewards.”
Grandma folded her letter and stuck it in the envelope addressed to Gene Miller, c/o Resurrection Cemetery, Section 32, Plot 766, Space 1. She licked the seal on the flap and attached a postage stamp to the front. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to get in the post.”
Sitting at the writing desk, Blair watched her grandma emerge from the garage and toddle down to the street. From the periphery, a white truck with the familiar blue sonic eagle logo glided into view. Grandma handed the letter and a paper bakery bag to the mail lady. They exchanged silent words and acknowledged them with head nods and smiles.
Blair had spoken with the mail lady. She thanked her for indulging her grandma’s irrational hope and asked what she did with the letters. The cemetery administrators told her that they never received them.
The mail lady dismissed the notion of her grandma being delusional with a wave of her hand. She thought her letters were quite sweet and her cookies, delicious. But with firm conviction, she assured Blair that all postal workers were obligated by law to deliver the mail as addressed. What happens after she drops off outgoing mail at the post office, she did not know.
Blair fastened the lids of the Chinese carry-out boxes and put them in the refrigerator. Grandma wiped out the inside of the pastel yellow ceramic cookie jar. ‘Sweet Treats’ accented with green vines of pink and blue flowers advertised its contents. As a cherished wedding gift to her grandparents, the family knew to handle it with care. It’s revered status, another difference of opinion between them, but she respected it.
Grandma gathered up the remaining cookies and put them, one by one, into the jar.
Blair helped her. “I like this part of your ritual.” She smiled.
“Baking for someone is an act of love. A sign of affection.” Grandma placed the lid on top of the jar and pushed it back into the dark corner under the antique white cupboards. “You should try it sometime.”
Blair shook her head and smiled. She admired her grandma’s devotion to her grandpa, even if it was foolish. Like her persistence about Blair slowing down and taking stock of her life. She flipped the switch on the wall. The kitchen went dark except for the stove light.
* * * *
The aroma of scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast permeated the kitchen. Drake and Grandma’s Saturday morning ritual always started with a hearty breakfast, but Blair wished her grandma would use turkey bacon. On the rare occasion that she joined them, she preferred avocado spread on her toast and no bacon.
Blair grabbed a wild berry protein drink from the refrigerator, shaking it with vigor. “What’s the plan for you two today?”
“Gran’s going to help me with my cursive.” Drake maneuvered the stepstool to the counter and slid the cookie jar from the corner.
“That sounds like a great idea. Maybe, Grandma will let you use her special pen.” The thought of smudged ink made Blair shudder. She loaded up with her work bags and grabbed her travel cup. “I’ll be home around lunchtime.” A bit of guilt pinched her for the white lie. She rarely made it out of the office before three o’clock on the weekends.
Grandma handed Blair’s lunchbox to her. “In case time gets away from you.”
Drake took the lid off and reached into the hollow of the jar.
“Hey, come on Buddy. Eat your breakfast before…” Blair’s arms went slack, and her bags dropped to the floor. Her knees buckled. She blinked in disbelief.
“Look, Gran." Drake pulled his hand out of the jar. "It’s a letter for you.”