Colorful Connection Writing
In Wordplay Wednesday this week, we selected a color and brainstormed a list of related words and phrases. I chose gray.
My list was full of words that lent themselves to an atmospheric piece involving ghosts or sorrow, but I am saving that for another time. Instead I headed in a different direction. I kept getting pulled back to the word great-grandfather.
I ended up crafting a piece of short fiction based loosely on my memories of Poppa, my mother’s grandfather.
Sunday on Hemlock Street 1964
As soon as they were released from Granny’s Sunday table, the six cousins dashed out the screen door and spilled onto the small front yard. Mark, the oldest at thirteen , carried a long stout rope, one end of which he tied around the oak by the side hedge. “ I’ll turn.”
Debbie was eager to jump. She had been practicing all week at home to try to beat her older cousins. Of course being the next to the youngest meant she would have to wait. Janie and Sally never let her go first. She flopped in the shade as the Sunday afternoon jump rope contest began. Joe and Charlie joined her as they all chanted while Janie jumped. “ Cinderella dressed in ‘yella’ went upstairs to kiss her fella…”
Finally it was her turn. Debbie was getting ready to jump in when she heard Mama calling her from the porch. “ Deb, come on. You need to go say ‘Hello’ to Poppa before he leaves. You can get your turn when you come back.” Mama handed her the plate of food Granny had prepared. “ Take this in and be polite.”
Debbie’s shoulders drooped as she trudged next door to her great grandfather’s house while the lively jump rope rhymes and slap, slap of the rope carried on without her. She stepped onto Poppa’s shadowy front porch and squinted while her eyes adjusted.
Poppa was in his usual spot perched on a weathered ladder back chair next to the card table where his ongoing games of Solitaire were played. He was leaning on his cane as he peered over the glasses perched on the end of his large, pointed nose.
Debbie eyed the cane and came a few steps closer. “ Hello, Poppa. I brought your lunch.” She edged toward the table, set the plate down and stepped back.
“ Thank you, Evelyn, no…Marge… no Janie…no. Aw, hell, what’s your name?”
It was the same conversation every week. Debbie replied. “I’m Debbie. I’m Anne’s daughter.”
That’s right, that’s right.” He nodded and reached out and poked her belly with the tip of his cane. “ Gotcha!” He laughed and his watery blue eyes twinkled. “ Now go find yore Mama.”
Debbie backed away. “ Bye Poppa. See you next week.” She ran back to Granny’s yard to claim her turn in the rope.
A few minutes later as the children took a break with some lemonade under the mimosa tree, Debbie watched Poppa leave his house and head down Hemlock Street. He was wearing his Sunday best: a starched white shirt, a bow tie, gray pants held up with red suspenders, and his gray fedora. He walked with small but surprisingly quick steps, his cane tapping the sidewalk.
As he turned the corner at the bottom of the hill Debbie wondered aloud, “Where does Poppa go every Sunday afternoon?”
Sarah giggled. “ I think he goes to see his girlfriend!
Joe shook his head. “ He’s 90 years old. That’s too old for a girlfriend.”
Janie folded her arms and exchanged knowing glances with Mark. “ It’s not his girlfriend he goes to see. It’s his wife.” She pretended to whisper. “His second wife.”
Debbie and the others stared at her in disbelief.
Marked shoved Janie’s shoulder. “ You weren’t supposed to tell that.” He glanced at Charlie, the youngest, who was known to be a tattle-tale.
Janie tossed her head. “Oh, why not? “
Sarah frowned “ How’d you find out?”
“Oh I heard Mother and Aunt Liz talking about it.”
Joe asked, “ Why doesn’t Poppa’s wife live with him?”
Janie sat up looking pleased and important to be the possessor of such interesting information. “ Well, after Grandmama G. died, Poppa was lonely so he decided to get married again. But Granny and the Aunties would not let him bring her home because she was a hussy.”
Sarah and Joe gasped and then fell on the ground laughing.
Charlie had been poking a dead caterpillar with a small twig and had not appeared to be paying attention. Now he looked up. “ What’s a hussy?” Debbie had been wondering the same thing.
Mark frowned and shook his head at Janie. “It’s a woman who wouldn’t make a good wife.”
Joe said, “ But Poppa has his own house and he is Granny’s and the Aunties’ dad. Why can’t he do what he wants?”
“Poppa doesn’t want to cause trouble and neither should any of you.” Uncle John’s deep voice boomed over and behind them.
They all turned to see their usual jolly uncle frowning down at them. “ You kids should stay out of other folks’ business. Don’t you let me hear any of you talking to Poppa or anyone else about this, or there will be heck to pay. You hear? Now who wants to go for a ride to the Dairy Barn?”
The promise of a rare treat of ice cream cones pushed Poppa and his secret wife from Debbie’s mind as the cousins ran to the car all clamoring for a window seat.
Years later Debbie found a picture of her great-grandfather sitting in Granny’s living room surrounded by Christmas packages and family members. He was holding his cane and laughing. She wondered what happened to Poppa’s wife when he no longer made his Sunday walks down Hemlock Street.