“Hurry up Mills, we have to go check on Pop-Pop and make his supper. We’re going to need to hustle. You still need to do your homework and take a shower and I have laundry to get done,” I hollered up the stairs at my daughter then headed back to the kitchen to gather up the things I’d need to fix my grandfather dinner.
I slammed open cupboards and fumed. I’d called both my sisters to see if they would be able to start helping with Granddad’s care now that I was working too. They’d both made one excuse after another about why they couldn’t, but both promised to see what they could figure out. I hadn’t heard another word from them. My sisters were career women with long commutes and families with hectic schedules. Before my divorce I’d been a stay at home mom and finding time to do Granddad’s shopping, arrange his doctor’s appointments, and do check-ins on him hadn’t been too much of an inconvenience. I’d managed to fit his care in between my social obligations as the wife of a rising politician, Millie’s extracurricular activities, and my clubs.
But after my cheater of a husband had announced he wanted a divorce so he could be with his twenty-something-year-old campaign manager almost a year ago all that changed. Not only had he left me, but he seemed to forget he had a daughter as well. I suddenly found myself scrambling to find a job and somehow manage to raise Millie alone all while attempting to do all the upkeep on the house and yard. Extra time just wasn’t something I had too much of anymore. None of this seemed to faze my sisters. My brothers said they would have helped if they didn’t live out of state. I had a feeling they wouldn’t have been so quick to volunteer their time if there’d actually been a chance they’d have had to carry through.
Mom and Dad were out of the picture too. They had divorced about six months before I had. Mom remarried almost immediately and moved to England with her new husband. Dad abruptly declared he needed to find himself and had taken off to God only knew where. I’d gotten a postcard a couple weeks after he’d left from Tibet or somewhere like that. There’d been no word from him since. My grandmother had passed just before my parents had split.
Dad had been a late-life child which meant Grandad was pushing eighty-seven and his health had been failing for several years. Now, his memory was sketchy, and he had trouble getting around. A care facility would probably have been our best option, but he insisted he didn’t want to leave his home and we hadn’t had the heart to make him go. So, now it was up to me, with the assistance of a part-time home health nurse, to manage his care. We all loved each other but it seemed like once Mom and Dad split, so had the family.
There was a time when Granddad and I had been close, but after I’d married Blake and he’d gotten involved in politics I’d rarely had time to see any of my family.
“I’m ready Mom.”
I jumped when Millie’s sudden entrance into the kitchen startled me out of my thoughts. “Oh, good.” I handed her a reusable grocery bag. “Would you take this out to the car please? I need to get Pop-Pop’s laundry.”
“Sure Mom. Meet ya out there.” She grabbed the bag and danced her way out the door.
I watched her go with a smile. Sometimes I wondered how she could be mine. Our family tended to be somber, intense, and driven. Millie was the opposite of all that. My only child was a bundle of bright red curls, happiness, and creativity.
Almost twenty minutes later we were bumping up the cobblestone driveway to Grandad’s house. This was the home he and Gran had bought when they’d first married. As I surveyed it, I realized it was really starting to show its age. With a resigned sigh, I mentally added contacting a handyman to come take a look at things to my already overloaded schedule.
Just before we got to the door, Millie came to an abrupt stop next to a decrepit old bike that was leaned up against the house. The bike had been my grandmother’s and up until today had been safely stored in the shed next to the garage.
Last spring, when we’d all come to help Grandad clean up and pack away her things, we’d tried to talk him into letting us dispose of the old thing. When he’d all but broken down in tears, we backed off and my brother stashed it in the shed. I had no idea what it was doing out now and hoped to heaven Granddad hadn’t been trying to ride it. I made a mental note to put it back in the shed before we left.
“Mom, isn’t this amazing? It’s so old. Like it’s an antique or something. I’ve never seen it here before. Where do you suppose it came from? Do you think Pop Pop has a visitor?”
“No, we’re the only ones who come here besides the nurse and she drives here. That bike is supposed to be in the shed. Come on, we need to get this done so we can get home.”
She kept glancing back at the bike as we made our way up the steps and into the house. Once inside she raced into the living room while I followed at a more sedate pace. I watched as Millie leaned over to kiss her great-grandfather’s cheek.
“Hi ya, Pop Pop. We came to see you again. Whose bike is that out there? It looks really old. Is it yours from when you were a kid? Can I ride it when I get bigger?”
A smile lit his face. “Well hello there, Moppet. How’s my favorite little fairy-bug today.”
I leaned over and kissed his cheek as well. “Hey Granddad. I’m going to go put this laundry away and start dinner.”
His brow wrinkled and confusion clouded his eyes. “Whose clothes are those?”
I bit back a sigh. These episodes of forgetfulness were getting more and more frequent. Pretty soon it wasn’t going to be safe for him to be on his own. I was going to have to contact my siblings and broach the subject of putting him in a home with them. “Yours Granddad. Why don’t you and Millie visit and I’ll go make you some supper?”
While I cooked and cleaned, I was only vaguely aware of the sound of Millie and Granddad talking. It was almost eight o’clock before we got Grandad fed, tucked into bed, and his breakfast and lunch for the next day prepped and in the refrigerator. It was going to be a busy evening for me and Millie.
The next day, we arrived at Granddad’s house significantly later than I’d planned. As we walked up the cobbled driveway toward the house, Millie and I were a study in contrasts. I was sullen and feeling put out at being the one to bear the brunt of keeping tabs on Granddad and trudged along as though headed toward some kind of unsavory fate. Millie on the other hand was a bundle of barely suppressed excitement wearing a happy smile and striding purposefully with her pink backpack clutched once again to her tiny chest.
In my defense, my day had not been a good one. My morning had started out with a whiney seven-year-old, a full cup of very warm coffee spilled down the front of a crisp white work blouse, and finally tragically topped off by a flat tire which was later rewarded by a scolding from an irate boss when I’d shown up almost an hour late for work.
Millie’s odd behavior when I’d announced it was time to head over here had only served to add fuel to the smoldering embers of anger and frustration. She’d raced around the house searching for her backpack. Then, after finally locating it in the exact spot I’d told her it would be before she’d fruitlessly searched the house for fifteen minutes, had raced not out the front door as I was encouraging her to do but out the back door toward the shed where the yard tools and her brand new shiny pink birthday bike were stored.
I’d been just on the verge of stalking out to physically drag my beloved red-mopped progeny out to the car when she’d bolted out of the shed, backpack clutched tight to her chest and sporting a self-satisfied smile. She’d raced past me and out the front door announcing that she was now ready to go see her Pop-Pop. When I’d questioned her about what she’d been doing, she’d just smiled her adorable gap-toothed smile and said she’d had to get something very, very important to take to Pop-Pop’s house.
I was so lost in my self-absorbed, self-pitying thoughts that I almost tripped over Millie when she suddenly stopped and squatted down next to Gran’s old bike. I’d asked Grandad about it when we’d been here last time. He’d assured me he didn’t intend to ride it. He just liked seeing it there. He’d said the house just looked too bare without it leaning up there.
“Millie, what are you doing? Come on, Pop-Pop is waiting for us and it’s getting late. I still need to make dinner and you have chores and homework.” My tone was harsh with frustration.
“I’ll be quick Mom, promise.” She reached into her backpack and pulled out a bright pink lock. Her mostly neglectful father had deemed to gift the lock and matching bike to her just last month – only four months late for her birthday. When she started to thread the lock carefully through the spokes, I laid a hand on her shoulder.
“What are you doing Sweetie? You’re going to need that lock for when you ride your new bike to school.”
She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at me, her big blue eyes full of determination. “This is Pop-Pop’s angel’s bike Mom. I have to make sure it’s safe. I’ll just use the birthday money Grandma Helen gave me and get me a new lock. You didn’t hear the stories he told me last time ‘cause you were fussing in the kitchen or talking on your phone. They were amazing Mom. He told me all about the grand adventures he and his angel had on this bike. He said he was real poor when he got back from the war and this bike was all he could afford. His angel didn’t care though, she thought it was perfect. They had loads and loads of happy times on this old bike. Did you know she used to sit right up there on the handlebars? Pop-Pop said he almost crashed them bunches of times because he’d get ‘stracted looking at how pretty she was instead of looking at where they were going.” She clicked the lock closed and stood to survey her work. “He told me that he was really, really sad when his angel had to go back to heaven, but he said he’ll be okay because he knows he’ll see her again really soon. I think Pop-Pop must be pretty special if he got to have adventures with an angel, don’t you Mom?”
I blinked hard against the tears that filled my eyes and tried to breathe past the lump in my throat. I looked into the living room window to where my grandfather sat in his chair in front of the TV, head drooped in slumber. Shame made my chest burn painfully. I’d been resenting my aging grandfather, seeing him only as another obligation piled on all the others I already had as a newly single parent. I’d neglected to see that he was lonely and missing Gran and well aware that his time here was almost over. It had taken my sweet, tender-hearted daughter to remind me how lucky I really was. Suddenly the prospect of visiting my grandfather felt more like a gift to cherish than a chore to dread.
I looked back down at Millie. “Yes Sweetheart, your Pop-Pop is indeed one very, very special man. And his angel was pretty special too.”
Her eyes got big. “You knew Pop Pop’s angel?”
“Yes, I sure did.” I picked up her backpack and held out my other hand. “How ‘bout we go inside. I’ll order us a pizza and we’ll see if we can get Pop-Pop to share more stories about his adventures with his angel. And this time, I think I’ll listen to them with you.”
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