“How did you and Grandma meet?”
“Haven’t I already told you this story?” I tucked Emma into bed, but she set up again in anticipation. Emma had been home with the flu, and her mother worked nights. I had the grandfatherly privilege of babysitting.
“No. Mom says you haven’t even said Grandma’s name since she died.”
I grinned at my beautiful grandchild, but the truth is, the memory of my Ester pained me. It’d been five years, but some things never heal right. Heal right? Well, some things just don’t heal.
“Please tell me. Pretty please?”
I cleared my throat and began peering at her bookshelf. “What about a book? I could read to you instead.”
“Only if it’s about you and Grandma.”
I looked down at Emma, her innocent seven-year-old eyes begging me. Those eyes always got to me. “Alright, alright.” In true Princess Bride fashion, I said, “You’re sick; I’ll humor you.”
I settled down into Emma’s kid-sized desk chair. It wibbled and wobbled. It was not made for a big old man like me. I pretended to take a long time trying to balance myself in order to stall for the right words.
“Well.” I started.
“Well?” She asked, leaning forward and waiting.
I sat still a long time, twiddling my thumbs together, until I thought of the words. “I could have avoided all that trouble. Yes, I could have, if only I’d remembered to shut the hood of the car hard enough. But I didn’t.”
“Your grandmother. She was trouble.”
“She was?” Incredulous eyes stared up at me.
“Now don’t go getting your knickers in a wad and I’ll tell you about it.” I paused. “One fine morning I was trying to get to the grocer down on main street, but I had a hard time getting there. My car shuddered and shook, and I thought something was wrong. I pulled over and looked under the hood, but I saw nothing out of place. Then again, I was no expert. I got in my car again. I was driving down the road, quick as you please, when the hood just came up and hit my windshield.”
Emma gasped and placed her dramatic hands over her mouth.
“Couldn’t see a dog gone thing. I swerved and ended up running into a fire hydrant. By the time I got out of the car I’d made such a big scene that children were running and ladies were screaming. But there was one lady who wasn’t. She just stood there staring at me. I took one look at my crumpled car and I knew I was in deep water. The car was my daddy’s – not even mine. I starting pacing around it, mumbling to myself, not knowing which way to turn. All the while that lady stared at me. The nerve of her. She came up to me, real calm like, and asked how I was.”
“And you said you were doing bad?” Guessed Emma.
“Yes, I did. Then she told me, “It helps if you talk about it.” I guffawed and mocked. She was a stranger; I don’t just go spilling stories to anybody. Finally she dragged it out of me – the whole story about the car not being my own and how all I wanted was to go to the grocer to pick up a few things for my Ma. All this time I was realizing this lady had mighty pretty eyes.” Ester’s eyes. I still saw them when I fell asleep. “They were hazel; one had brown speckles in it. She told me her name was Ester and helped me find a phone to call my father.” I took a deep breath, exhausted.
“And that’s how it all started?” She asked. She was settled deeper in her blankets now, her eyelids low.
I nodded. “Her daddy was a mechanic, she he helped fix my beat up car. That old fire hydrant never was the same, though.” Those were the days. Idyllic, when the only thing on my mind was whether this girl fancied me or not. “We spend days in my garage, watching her daddy fix up my car and drinking soda. Learning a lot of things about each other. Talking can do that.” I glanced at Emma. “Words can hold magic,” I said softly.
I slowly stood up and kissed Emma on the cheek. I stood a moment watching her. Her hair was the same strawberry blonde color as Esters. I grinned. I’d heard traits could skip a generation, but I’d never realized that was the case with her. They looked so much alike. I suppose I had tried not to notice it before because it would’ve been so painful. Truth is, before today, I didn’t want to think of Ester so much. I realized that thinking is alright. Thinking leads to talking, talking leads to magical words, and the magic leads to a change in the thinking, and then it starts all over again. I suppose if I had never met Ester, I would have been spared the heartache of losing her. But Ester would have admonished that way of thinking. She would have told me not to despair but to focus on the magical things around me. That’s just would I would do. Emma – this beautiful child before me – was magical.