Peter's steps sounded like thunder as he hurried to grandma Dorothy's room. He was unhappy to see her in a wheelchair.
"I wish Grandma didn't have to be in this ole Nursing Home," Peter said to his parents.
"Well," answered mom, "she needs help for washing and cooking."
"And climbing stairs is too difficult for her," his father added.
Peter liked the floor in the Nursing Home with its brightly colored patterns. But it bothered him so many residents sat like soldiers at attention along each wall, staring at visitors. He knew they too once had strong legs and quick steps. And sat on swings or played on the ocean shore.
The last time he visited grandma she held tightly to his arm. She couldn't speak but Peter knew she didn't want him to leave.
As he entered her room he noticed how she stared out the window. Was she remembering the way it used to be? The boy explored Grandma Dorothy's room, with pictures of the two of them in her garden.
This little space was nothing like her country home.
"Mom?" he asked later. "How come grandma hardly talks? Or walks anymore?"
"Son, your grandmother has to have a wheelchair now, since her legs aren't very strong. And her memory is beginning to slip because of Alzheimer's disease."
Each question Peter asked was like the slapping of ocean waves against the shore. More questions kept piling up in his head. Peter knew it was very hard on mom and dad.
Especially when they first coaxed grandma to move to the nursing home.
"I wish grandma was like before," Peter said. He loved her so much. He sat in silence on the way home.
At bedtime, Peter's bedroom was full of creaks and groans caused by his pacing on the floor. He tired to imagine how hard it must be for grandma.
No more working in her garden, nor feeding sparrows and goldfinch. Not even being able to fish with Peter in her backyard pond, stocked with neat rainbow trout.
Stars winked each time Peter blinked back tears. He squeezed his hands wishing grandma was here. Visiting the Nursing Home today was another sad time for him.
Her wheelchair looked so cramped. Peter knew grandma was sorry he had to see her like that. She used to enjoy showing Peter around her farm. When he caught his first fish, grandma was right beside him.
It was a fourteen-inch Rainbow. And he remembered jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box.
Peter missed her warm hugs, often calling him, "My little chickadee," her favorite bird. She had such a neat way of making him feel safe and comfortable.
Now in the stillness of his room, he wrapped his arms around his shoulders. "Was she thinking of him right now?"
Mom and dad said grandma also couldn't see very well because of "Glaucoma." They explained it was a word dressed like a robber, taking away her window to the world.
"But, your grandma still has feelings," said dad, "even though she may not say the words. On our next visit, watch her face when she's sitting beside the lounge window. Don't say anything, just watch."
Peter nodded his head. Sometimes he didn't listen. This time he did.
During their next visit he did watch as grandma Dorothy sat in her wheelchair. Her usual smile almost made her wrinkled skin disappear. A raspy sound came from her throat.
Then, humming floated throughout the room. There weren't any words, just a soft melody. Grandma seemed content, sitting and staring out the window.
"What is she looking at?" Peter whispered to himself. He looked over at mom and dad. Would they be the same, someday? Questions kept nattering like pesky mosquitoes.
Then Peter noticed a robin on the outside window ledge staring directly at his grandmother. Its half-opened beak and tilted head seemed to be listening to the vibrations of song working its way outside.
The boy hardly breathed, eyes wide with interest. Grandma Dorothy was smiling and humming.
Yes, she was singing to the robin. The boy was sure the bird could hear since the feathered creature answered with his own song.
In the car on the way home, Peter poked his dad's shoulder. "Do you think the robin was singing to grandma?" It was a question his parents didn't answer right away.
Maybe Peter had to work it out for himself.
Before climbing into bed this evening, he felt grandma's warmth in his room. She was such fun. He remembered she always had a song on her lips. And her smiling face could cheer up anyone needing a friend.
He leaned his head to the side, like the robin did this afternoon. It was a comfortable feeling. The same as when he was a little boy needing an answer to a question. Grandma used to pull him into her lap and hum quietly as he fell asleep.
He told her of his dreams. Sometimes he wanted to be a Forest Ranger, or a Jet Pilot.
She said, "Be anything you want to be. But, be like a flower that glows with beautiful colors."
Peter looked up into the night sky. Tonight it sparkled as a bucket full of diamonds. It was alive with excitement, almost like grandma's garden. As he lay in bed, understanding swept over him like an extra blanket.
"Goodnight grandma. I love you," Peter said out loud. He began to hum his own made-up tune. It was filled with a wagonload of good thoughts.
"Your grandma is like a rose," his father said earlier at the supper table. "She's a special flower in a garden surrounded by her loving family. And that's why her face is covered in smiles."
Peter had listened to every word.
"She has accomplished many of her dreams," dad also said. "And you play a special part in her memories."
Before closing his eyes this evening, Peter decided. He would plant a rose bush this summer. Like grandma's garden, he would grow many smiles.
And his would be the brightest of them all.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2006
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