Grandmother was crying in the bedroom. No old man for her to take care of, no, not any more. What did she used to call him? The old fart. Yes, that was it. The old fart.
Just thinking of that makes her smile, briefly, into her tears. All those years together, and now… nothing. What would she give, just to have him one more time, grumping and groaning around the house, or calling for her to come out and help him with something, in the yard. Yes.
Well. No more. Her sweet old fart is dead. Dead and buried, back home in Kansas.
She sits in the back bedroom of her daughter’s house, far away in California, out here on the golden west coast.
The old widow.
Her grand-daughter has heard the noise of muffled weeping. The young girl opens the door, and like Pandora to the box, she peeks into the room. Catches her grandmother holding a small cloth to her eyes, cheeks, nose. Sniffle.
The girl, scarcely ten years old, feels a dark, disturbed wall of pain rise up from her troubled heart. She runs outside, into the back yard, where her mother is busy hanging up the laundry.
“Mama, mama, grammy’s inside – she’s crying!”
The mother will sigh, set down the sheets, and go inside. She will sit with her mother, on the bed. It’s been a long time coming.
The old man was one of those well-known frogs in a small pond, back home. He and grandmother had come to Cottonwood when they were scarcely ten, and five. They didn’t know each other, not at first. But they would. Soon.
Times were different back then, in the 1850s. No automobiles. No movie houses. Not even a railroad anywhere within five hundred miles. Not yet.
They came by wagon, from Indiana and Iowa, into Kansas. Children, with their parents, moving west, and west, and west again. Their parents had come from the mountain hills of Pennsylvania, and Virginia; and their grandparents before them had moved from the Atlantic, into the Alleghanies. Along the way they fought the Indians and the tax collectors, struggled with the bible and the hard, dark earth. They had cut the forests and plowed the fields, taught their children how to read and write and hunt and harvest the wheat and corn, how to sew and stitch and cook and shoot a rifle, how to tree a possum and split a rail, how to bake an apple pie with an old dutch oven, in the fireplace. How to drive a team, hitch a wagon, and shoe a horse.
They had come a long way, three, four, five generations, from one coast to another, and now, after all those years, the old man was dead, like his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather, like all those mothers and sisters and brothers before, gone.
The children were now going to the movies.