… on gifts of food


The Old Apple Tree

When I was about 18 or 19 years old, I went to live with Granny and Grampa at their small house on Parham Road in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

Only back then, I called them ‘Mr. and Mrs. D.’, and I knew them as my boyfriend-one-day-Nearly-Perfect-Husband’s parents.

After we had kids they become Granny and Grampa, and only after I began writing, did Grampa become the ‘Old Yankee Man’.

My path to Granny’s and Grampa’s house began late one night, when my dwarf lop-eared rabbit (Brutus) escaped the surly bounds of my childhood room, not to touch the face of God, but to hop immediately into my mother’s room, skittle under her bed, and lose traction on the wood floor, causing her to wake up, screaming, with me half under her bed trying to catch a rabbit.

Thinking back on it, it’s a pretty funny image.

Actually, even as it was happening – before the screaming – as my heart was pounding and the rabbit was rat-tat-tatting and skidding all over the place under her bed – I started laughing the way you do at a funeral or other inappropriate time.  Sort of a snort with loud intakes of breath that you try to keep quiet.

Didn’t work.

And even though it sounded funny, it ended up terrifying.

My mother kicked me out of the house.

And this time she didn’t take it back.

Not knowing what else to do, the following morning I put my rabbit and my guinea pig (a  strange-looking, permanently cow-licked chestnut specimen named ‘Gweeb’) in a box, with shavings and food and a water bottle, got into my rusted out 1973 Ford Pinto, and drove to work.

I was a secretary at the time, and had only been working there for a few months.  A friend and I found an office for the animals.  It belonged to a young engineer who happened to think it was a kick to have them there for the day. She did, of course, ask me what happened.

Then she asked me where I was going to stay that night.

I had no idea.

JoHn, who I called ‘John’, was two hours away at school. When I called him, he said he would come home (it was a Friday) and call to ask his parents if I could stay at their house that night.

Until then, I focused on my work.  The folks I worked for seemed to enjoy the whole concept of Brutus and Gweeb hanging out for the day as little furry fugitives, hiding from upper management.

The engineer, her name was Bonnie, called me into her office late in the day. She and her husband were going on vacation beginning that night. They would be thrilled if I would house sit for them. They would be gone for two weeks, which bought me time.  Thank God.

JoHn came home that night, and he planned to stay the weekend with me at Bonnie’s house. We were both a bit stunned. All my money went to night school.  He was a full time student. What was I going to do?

On Saturday night, when JoHn called home, his parents asked us to come by on the next day for supper, before he headed back out to school.

When we got there, Mr. D. (Grampa/the Old Yankee Man) asked to talk to me alone.

He said that he and Mrs. D. had talked.  He wanted to offer his home to me, for me to live there, for as long as I needed to.

I just looked at him.

I didn’t know him well, had really only known him for a year or so.

And then he went on, in Old Yankee Man style, to tell me it was no big deal.  That, with JoHn gone, I’d be helping ‘Mother’ (Granny) out, because she found the house lonely with none of the ‘kids’ living at home.

I choked out a ‘thank you’.

Then he said he felt that it wasn’t ‘worth anything’, if I was there for free, so it was only right that he charged me something.

I held my breath.

Could I handle twenty-five dollars a month?

I nodded, ‘yes’.

“Okay,” I remember him saying, as he got up to head back into the kitchen, “That’s good.”

Old Yankee Men are not known for lots of gloppy words in situations such as these.

That was that.

It was strange.

To come home to people who seemed to want you there.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable making a sandwich with food I didn’t buy. Or being invited to eat special snacks, like Mr. D.’s Cheez Its, any time I wanted.

But there was one thing that absolutely blew my mind.

I was going to school at night, which meant I left the house at about 5:30 a.m., worked until 5:00 p.m. and then headed to class.  I would be in class until 9:30, and then I would drive home.

Every night, Granny – who was a psych nurse with the Veterans Administration – would be in bed when I got home. But also, every single night, Grampa would lean forward in his chair in the Den, where he was watching TV, and say, “Hi there, uh, Missy. Mother put some supper in the fridge for ya.”

And I would go into the refrigerator, and there would be a little plate of food. Sometimes chicken, with some broccoli, sometimes pasta with a note that bread was on the counter.

And I would heat the food in the microwave, and sit with JoHn’s childhood German ShepHerd, Misty, and eat food that someone took the time to save for me.

And I think of that every single time I make ‘too much’ chowder, or spaghetti, or salmon or anything else, and I have the privilege of walking into the apartment we built on our house.

And I slip it into their refrigerator.

And Granny thanks me for saving her from having to cook.

Thanks for readin’.


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