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American Mystery Creative Nonfiction

Every summer of my childhood my parents drove six hundred miles from Michigan to Pennsylvania and dropped me off at my fraternal Grandmother's home for a two-week visit. However, the visit of my eleventh year was so very different from all the rest and filled me with awe, and confusion with a pinch of fear thrown in.

The first day at Grans was pretty much as expected. We made sugar cookies and used all sorts of cookie cutters, some had belonged to her grandmother.

unpacked my things in my Aunt's old bedroom, she was married by then. The anticipation of sitting on Gran's porch swing, listening to a mix of family and neighbors gathered in wicker chairs and chat about what exactly I didn't know, was always soothing.

I'd try to stay awake and enjoy the conversations and frequent soft chuckles surrounding me, but come morning, I'd wake up in Aunt Marjorie's brass bed where someone had carried my snoring little body. I guess that's why Gran had me brush my teeth and put on my nightgown and robe before joining the group. 

The house sat nearly at the top of Laura Street and offered a view of many other streets and housetops, but the best thing

glowed beyond them. The slag dump. After dark, the glass and steel factories dumped molten remains of the day and the entire horizon behind the houses glowed red, yellow, and orange like huge cloudy fireworks, without the kabooms. I'd stand at the black iron porch railing until this amazing show ended, mostly to make sure I didn't fall asleep and miss it. Afterward, I'd lay next to Gran and drift off to her scent of dial soap and rose water.

Some mornings Gran brought in what she called "thank yous" from the smaller porch off the kitchen. Not every day, just once in a while, a dozen eggs, a bag of apples, or a handkerchief with cheery red roses embroidered in one corner or blue crocheted lace around the edges. I finally stopped asking Gran who left them, because she'd just say, "Oh I help people from time to time and won't take money from friends or family, so this is what they do instead." Then she'd handed one of our freshly baked cookies, still warm from the oven, and a jelly glass filled with milk.

and I'd forget all about the gifts.

Gran had a large closet she called a 'root cellar' that nearly burst with jars of peaches, berries, pickles, and even eggs! I guessed the pickled beets and onions were where the 'root' came in, but it wasn't a cellar. She kept large, yellow New Era Potato cans filled with flour, and others held sugar or salt.  A narrow door at the back of her root cellar held Gran's ironing board and iron and the collection of curtain stretchers made of long narrow sticks that Gran would take outside and screw into large squares on the side yard. Next, she'd wash and starch white sheer curtains and stretch them on the little nails around the edge of the stretcher. I'd never seen sailing ships, but in my imagination, that's what they looked like to me, big square sails. Behind all this was a small shelf and I noticed this for the first time, although it must have been there a long time, it was very dusty/

I'd played house in that 'cellar' when I was small. But I'd lost interest in dolls and toys and now loved to color and write stories. Gran put a larger bulb in the socket hanging from the ceiling and replaced the pull chain with a longer one, so now I was to turn the light on and off by myself. Gramps made a small, low table and a little bench for me to sit and draw or write.

These visits always took two weeks and seemed to go by way too fast for me. Wanting to take advantage of my special little room, I'd go in there after breakfast and sometimes Gran poked her head in saying, “You okay in there? You're so quiet.”

Near the end of the first week, something woke me in the middle of the night. Grans Coo-Coo clock coo-cooed twice. I staggered, still half asleep, wiping my eyes while hearing voices in the kitchen. One was Gran's but I didn't recognize the other, It was a woman's and so loud that Gran kept shushing' her.

I walked into the kitchen, which was quite dim, only a little light glowed from the clock on the stove.

Gran and a mountain of a woman sat across from each other in the kitchen. I said, "Hi." and they saw me standing in the kitchen doorway. Their faces looked strange, sort of like they were scared, or startled maybe. I'd never woke up in the middle of the night like that before. I'm pretty sure the large woman's voice woke me. Finally, Gran smiled and motioned for me to come to her. She introduced me to Mrs. Sadie Stanford. Mrs. Stanford wore thick glasses and her eyes looked like round blue fish in a bowl. Her hair was black, that's all I remember. Mostly those fish eyes.

Then Gran said, "Maddy, honey, go on back to bed now." She walked me back to bed, tucked me in, and kissed my forehead.

"I'm sorry, Gran, I didn't know you had company until I woke up."

Grand laughed and said, "I'm surprised anyone, even Gramsp, can sleep when Sadie's talking. She works in a factory and has to talk loud all day to be heard over the machinery, so talks loud everywhere!”

The next morning a large box of Islay snowball cookies showed up on the front porch, instead of the side porch. I found them while following a hummingbird flitting around the red geraniums in the window box near it. Islay's made Snowball cookies – I think that was the name. A large sugar cookie topped with marshmallow and coconut sprinkled on top. I recognized the white and green Islay's box and I'd know that wonderful coconut/cookie smell anywhere!

Gran came to the front door and I handed her the box and told her where I'd found it, then followed her into the kitchen. 

"Gran? Did Mrs Stanford send these?"

Gran put the box on the red and white checked oilcloth covering the table and turned to the sink to wash her hands. "Maddy, I never know who leaves what for me. I just take it and say thanks to whoever is up there,” she looked at the ceiling.

“Gran? Mom does things for people. She takes roses from the garden to people and gives hot chocolate to Christmas Carolers, even when they sound awful, and nobody leaves stuff on our porch. Why not?”

“I don't know, Honey. Maybe I help people in different ways than your Mom?”

The next day, as I drew a house the light bulb suddenly just 'Popped” and made me jump. Gran came in and replaced the bulb and cleaned up the glass, saying, “Gramps said this bulb might be too big for this fixture. This made no sense to me because the old bulb and the new one looked the same size to me. This one, however, wasn't as bright as the broken one, but seemed fine for my drawing.

A few minutes later I saw something scurry under the door to the ironing board closet and was pretty sure it was a mouse. Little critters never scared me because I knew they were just as afraid of me and would run away. Well except for snakes I guess. I opened the door and carried my sitting bench into the tiny room and stepped up on it and pulled the chain that was now within my reach because I'd grown taller that year. I hoped to find baby mice, but no. Then as I turned to leave something shiny on a shelf over the narrow doorway caught my eye. I'd looked in all the other ones and they were just filled with flour, and sugar and salt. It wasn't worn or dented like the others. This one was beautiful gold and red, like Christmas Candy came in.

I moved my bench next to the wall and reached for the tin. I had to stretch as far as I could and barely reached it. Just when I thought I had it, Gran called “Maddy, are you okay” and I lurched and the oblong tin crashed on the cement floor and lay there like one of my brothers toy trucks, without wheels. The 'thunk' sound it made told me something heavy was in there."

“My stars girl, what in the world?!”

“I'm sorry gran, there was a mouse and I wanted to see if it had babies and then climbed on the . . .”

“Never mind, it's all right. I was just worried that you'd fallen!”

I stepped down off the bench and Gran leaned over picked up the tin and carried it to the kitchen table, I followed.

“You'll be twelve years old come winter, so I guess you're old enough to know what this is all about.”

She wiped off the dust wither her apron and pried the metal lid open. Inside were tan paper envelopes with a button at the top and a piece of string wound around each one to close it. Each envelope had a number on it, I think there were twelve. Gran dug through them and found the number one envelope, unwound the string and emptied a pair of small pearl earrings, the clip-on kind, nobody had pieced ears back then but gypsies, as far as I knew.

“This was my first gift to be returned, Maddy.”

I scrunched up my face into a question mark. “Why did they give you such pretty jewels?” I asked.

She looked at me for a few seconds then replaced the earrings into the envelope then back in the box and closed the lid. “Let's have some cookies and milk, and I'll tell you."

Once we were settled at the table she gave me a cookie and a cup of coffee, which was a cup of milk with a spash of coffee and a spoonful of sugar. I still drink my coffee pretty much the same way according to my husband.

She pulled the tin between us. “These are special gifts, that will be returned to their owner or their family members after I'm gone.”

“Gone?”

She nodded and I realized she meant after she died. She was really old.

“Maybe you should know this, because the only other person who knows about it is Gramps, and the Lord might call us both home . . . well. anyway the gifts in these envelopes are special, more valuable and of course will last longer than eggs or a pie. I don't like taking such expensive gifts or “Thank You's” but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or insult them in any way, so I keep them.”

“What kinds of things bring such fancy gifts?”

Gran tilted her head to the side, her white hair held prisoner under a light hairnet. I always wanted to see how it looked long and loose but never did. She pressed her lips together and closed her eyes for a second, then opened them and took a deep breath, let it out and said, “I wasn't going to tell you this until you were older, sixteen maybe, but I know you're curious and also quite mature for your years, so here goes.

“Maddy have you ever heard of Healers?”

“Yeah, my friend Nancy has one!”

“Really?”

“Yes, Gran, she's the best dog ever! I wish I had a dog.”

“Yes, they are lovely dogs, but this is different.”

“Oh, like those guys on church TV that put their hands on people's heads and the people fall down? That's kind of creepy.”

“No,” Gran shook her head and started over.

“I'm talking about women who heal people of illnesses, or tell them about future events, help them with their troubles and such. “

“A WITCH!?

Gran squeezed her eyes shut, then said, “Use your inside voice, Darlin'.”

I made a zipper with my lips and ran my fingers as if to close it.

She reached out and patted my hand, “I'll tell you what I do, and since you're my granddaughter, you may have these abilities too, when you're older as these abilities almost always go from grandmother to granddauther.”

“REAL. . . “ I shut me mouth again.

She started, “My Grandmother was a healer in Ireland, or a Cailleach as they were called back there. But there are so many kinds of Cailleach, good ones, some were always up to shenanigans, evil, all kinds. You and I come from a kinder cove. . . group and use our abilities to help anyone who asks.”

“Oh,” I said. I knew I'd have to give this a lot of thought, but later. Right then I wanted know about the tin and its envelopes. “So, how do you help people, Gran?”

“Well, it's hard to explain. Sometimes I can cure illnesses by using prayer and a kind of energy that I feel coming out of my hands as I hold them over a sick person. My hands tingle and get very warm when I do this.”

“Hey! You did that last Christmas when we visited you and I had an earache! I remember how it hurt really bad and you had me lay on the sofa and put your hand over me ear and the hurt went away! So did the fever, thank goodness.”

“That's right, I did.” She laughed and smoothed my bangs away from my eyes , then patted my head.”

“What else can you do, Gran?”

“Oh I see women mostly, and they want to know if they'll get married, or about about childbearing and birthing.”

'Do you see what happens in the future?”

“Not often, and I never know if what I see happens until it happens. I don't like it at all. Especially when the dream is sad or frightful. I say a prayer if I feel one of those coming on and wish them away. What good does it do to see things if I can't do anything about them?” She smiled and took a sip of coffee and so did I.

“She tapped the lid onto the tin and said, “I did some amazing and surprising things for the items in this tin."

“Like what?”

“Oh, I'll tell you more when you're older. I can tell you that I saved a wee baby from drowning! I was ironing and a voice almost shouted for me to go to the pond! And I did, I ran as fast as I could, I didn't even have my corset or shoes on! And there was the little Spencer boy, he was almost two at the time, floating near the edge of the fish pond. I grabbed his clothes and dragged him up onto the grass. I feared I was too late, but then he spit up a mouth full of water and began to cry, just as his mother got to us! She was so upset! She was helping one of her older boys learn to tie his shoes and baby just toddled off to the pond! Those pearl earrings were her grandmother's, real pearls, and she insisted I take them, so in they went, into the Thank You tin. There's a sheet of paper in the back of our big Bible that tell the names that go with the numbers, and a brief note about how they came to me. Just in case they fell into the wrong hands, or someone thought I pinched them!”

We both laughed, knowing Gran would never 'pinch' anything.

We agreed not to talk about that conversation again, to anyone. And I never spoke a word. Many years later, the day Gran died we stayed at her house for the funeral and I quietly took the tin and the slip of paper from the Bible and returned the precious item to their previous owner, or a family member. I sent them by registered mail with a brief note about the story behind each one.

It's said that such gifts or abilities pass from grandmother to granddaughter and it's true for me. I was in my 20's the first time it happened. We rescued beautiful, dear, Himilayen cat that was dumpped in our woods. Muppy was his name and he lived with us for many years. He once he became very ill with a bladder/kidney issue and the vet was going to put him down the next day. I remember tears streaming down all over my sweater as I tried to remember how Gran did healings. Muppy was in a coma and not moving. I sat with him and imagined a white healing light coming from my heart where I envisioned a picture of Jesus Sacred Heart that Gran had over her bed.

I spent an hour there and twice Muppy lurched, but that was all. The vet called me the following morning and said that not only were Muppy's tests were normal, but he was drinking and eating!

I've helped sick animals and even people. These days the only way people think they can 'pay' me is with money and I always refuse.

October 20, 2023 02:47

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5 comments

Helen A Smith
10:38 Nov 05, 2023

A special story that drew me in, the more I read it. I kept wondering what the gifts were about. The relationship between the two was so real, bringing back memories of my own grandmother. There was this discovery of a mysterious and ultimately awesome person from a child’s point of view. Totally coincidental and in a completely different context, my latest story is about how a healer helped someone and became a mentor. See what you think of it if you have time.

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18:40 Nov 05, 2023

Thank you so much = I've been frustrated because none of my stories ever make it to the shortlist - Kind, lengthy comments help so much! xo

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Helen A Smith
20:48 Nov 05, 2023

I think it’s about being heard and appreciated and feeling our stories mean something to others as well as ourselves. I’ve been impressed by many writers who have not got onto the shortlist here, as well as by ones that have. I’m not sure what the secret is. I was shortlisted once here, but I consider a few of my other stories were just as good and I certainly put a lot of work into them. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

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21:35 Nov 05, 2023

I'm not really here to win anything - but yeah, discouraging to never be shortlisted. xo

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Mary Bendickson
00:52 Oct 22, 2023

Healing touch hands.

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