Grandma and The Paper Girl
“Grandma and The Paper Girl” Story wrote By Ella Duquette, Syracuse, New York.
I squinted against the afternoon sunshine, looking out the window for the paperboy. Ever since a stroke had weakened my legs I hadn’t been able to get around so well. I depended on the paper to keep me up to date with the world from which I often felt disconnected. When the paper came late, I got edgy. Finally, I saw someone coming down the street. A girl, no more than 10 or 11 years old, hurled a rolled-up newspaper toward my screen door. It landed with a thud.
“Just a minute,” I called out the window. “where’s the usual carrier?”
“I’m the carrier now, lady,” she said, hands on her hips.
“Well, the old one used to bring the paper into me.”
“Oh, yeah? well, I can do that.” She came in and plopped the paper onto my lap. I got a better look at her. Frayed shorts and a cropped top and it wasn’t even summered yet. She tossed back her shoulder-length red hair and blew a huge pink bubble.
“I hate bubble gum,” I said.
“Tough beans,” she said.
I gasped. This snippy little thing needed to be taught some manners.
“The children around here call me Mrs. Lee, after my late husband.”
“Well, you can call me Kristin,” she said with a sassy tilt of her head, then bounded down the steps.
Just what I need, I thought. nothing was easy anymore. Simple tasks like dusting and doing laundry were an ordeal these days. And baking, which I used to love, was far too much trouble. My husband, Lee, and most of my friends had passed on. Lately, I had found myself wondering why the Lord had left me behind. It was clear to me, anyway, that if young people today all acted like that smart-alecky paper girl, I had been too long in this world.
Kristin’s attitude didn’t much improve over the following weeks. Still, I had to admit she never missed a day or forgot to bring the paper inside to me. She even took to sharing some small talk when she stopped by. She came in from a wicked rainstorm once and pulled the paper out from under her coat.
“H of a day, huh, Gram?” she said, handing me the paper.
I could feel the muscles in my jaw tense. “Do you talk like that just to shock me?” I asked. “And I’m not your grandmother.”
“I just talk to all my friends.”
“Not in this house, you don’t,” I shot back. “In my day you’d have your mouth washed out with soap.”
She laughed. “you’d have some fight on your hands if you tried it, Gram,” she said.
I threw up my hands. Why do I even bother with you? I wondered as she strutted down the street.
But she started coming by after her paper route and other times as well, chitchatting happily about school, her friends. Each time she left it was as if a radio had been turned off. One day a bundle of newspapers slipped from her hands onto the floor and she uttered a dirty word. Instantly she clapped a hand over her mouth and said, “Oops! Sorry, Gram.”
Well, she’s learned something, I thought, smiling secretly.
I dug out some of my old photographs and outfits, thinking she might like to see them. She never tired of my stories of growing up on a farm, how we had raised our own food and washed our clothes by hand. All this girl needs is some pushing, I thought. Why else would she keep coming back when I was always fussing at her over her clothes or talk? God, is that why you’re keeping me around for Kristin?
She showed me her report card when I asked one afternoon.
“This is awful,” I said.
“I do better than lots of kids,” she snapped.
“You’re not ‘lots of kids.’ Have a little pride in yourself.”
“Oh, Gram, you make such a big deal out of things,” she said. But I kept after her about her grades.
A short time later Kristin gave up her paper route and shifted her visits to after school. I didn’t ask why she kept coming to see me because—though I wouldn’t have been caught dead admitting it her visits had become the highlight of my days.
Once she told me, giggling, about some of her friends who had been shoplifting.
“That’s nothing to laugh about, young lady,” I said. “Shoplifting is stealing, plain and simple.”
“Well, I didn’t do it.”
“All the same, you could be guilty by association. Your reputation goes with you all your life, you know.”
“Oh, Gram, stop preaching.”
“If you don’t like it, there’s the door,” I declared. But she didn’t leave. In fact, we spent more time together. Still, we had our moments. Like when she baked a cake, then sank down on a chair without laying a finger to the mound of dishes.
“Come back here and clean up after yourself,” I ordered.
“No way. I’m not putting my hands in that sink. It’s gross.” She had just polished her nails a ghastly purple.
“Tough beans!” I blurted. She laughed. Mercy, I thought. Now I’m starting to talk like her. But she did the dishes that day and many another. I taught her how to bake fresh bread and my famous apple pie. It was wonderful to smell those familiar smells coming from the kitchen again.
One Sunday Kristin stopped by. “You didn’t go to church dressed like that, did you?” I asked. She glanced at her shorts and t-shirt. “All the kids dress like this.”
“I’ve told you before, Kristin, you’re not ‘all the kids.’”
“Well, I suppose you think I should wear one of your old outfits, complete with hat and long white gloves!” she flounced out the door, only to come back a moment later. “I’m sorry, Gram,” she said, giving me a quick hug. “Forgive me?”
How could I not? Making up with her seemed as natural as making up with one of my own daughters after a fight. Gradually, Kristin started dusting and cleaning up around the house, without the slightest hint from me. She even did my laundry. It chafed at my pride to let her do things I had done for myself all my life—but she was insistent. And this was the same girl who just a short while earlier wouldn’t put her hands in a sink of dirty dishes!
“How about I set your hair?” she asked one day. “My mom taught me.”
This was too much. “I’m not so old and helpless that I can’t take care of myself.”
“Oh, don’t be so stubborn. Come on, Gram,” she wheedled. For the first time, that nickname didn’t annoy me. I gave in, and she proceeded to work several different lathery formulas into my short locks, not letting me look in a mirror until she was done. I had visions of my hair dyed the same awful purple as her fingernails. I was amazed to find it soft, shiny, and still blond. “You’re good at this,” I said, and Kristin beamed.
I was even more impressed when, shortly after graduating from eighth grade, Kristin brought me a scrapbook filled with certificates of academic achievement.
“See, I told you-your wasn’t like everybody,” I said, hugging her. “You’re special.” It was wonderful to see she valued my approval. But the best part was seeing she was pleased with herself.
I still didn’t think much of her study habits. She insisted on keeping the television on when she did homework. I couldn’t fathom how she could concentrate with all that racket.
But then there was a lot I couldn’t fathom about Kristin’s world. “Gram, do you know there are eight girls pregnant in the freshman class?” she told me. I gasped. “And that’s nothing,” she continued. “In some schools, they have police guards and metal detectors and just about everybody smokes, drinks and takes drugs.”
I shuddered. It’s so different nowadays, Lord. How can I help her deal with all these things I know nothing about? Then I thought of how far Kristin had already come, and I knew the best thing I could do was to keep being there for her, as she always was for me.
One evening Kristin brought over a cake mix. “I’m going to bake us a super-duper double-chocolate cake, Gram,” she announced.
“No way,” I said. “Shortcuts won’t make a cake as good as from scratch.”
“Oh, come on, Gram. it’s easier this way.”
“Don’t ‘oh, Gram’ me, young lady. Easier isn’t always better and in this house” She broke into laughter the laughter I had come to know so well and in a moment, I joined in.
Kristin shook her head and took my hand. “I don’t know what it is, Gram,” she said. “We hardly ever agree on anything and you make me so mad sometimes. But I always come back. I guess I must love you.”
Who would have known that when I looked out the window for the paper carrier that afternoon five years ago I would end up finding my best friend?