Jack Has a Tough Time

Jack is driving three hundred miles to a business conference.  On the way, he will be passing the North Carolina mountain home of his grandparents where he spent many happy times.  He loved these grandparents.  They have been dead for ten years (Grandma) and five years (Grandpa).  The home was sold to some affluent attorneys from Atlanta after the grandpa died, and Jack has had no reason to go back there.  Now, however, he will pass close enough to stop and look, even though he knows he cannot go in. 

Show this emotional scene without naming any emotions.  This is a “show, don’t tell” challenge where you have a person experiencing strong emotion all alone.

37 responses to “Jack Has a Tough Time

  1. The shiny chain and lock on the weather-worn gate tell me I cannot trespass on this once-familar land, the land of my father, his father, and the fathers before. But the chain cannot stop my mind from wandering the double-rut road to the house and up the elevated porch, under which I spent many days of my youth.

    The wide, wood porch swing lulled me to sleep on many an evening, my head in my grandmothers lap, listening to her stories of her past, now fleeting glimpses of a history I yearn to cling to. She told of cold nights, ground covered in snow, her and Grandpa covered in quilts crafted by her mother, stitched with a history now unraveled by time.

    If time is all we have, then what has happened to the moments and hours of my youth, and the memories once so vivid, now but a faded watercolor in shades of pastel thoughts, evaporating pigments of childhood. It would be futile to sit here any longer conjuring these memories, feeling the warmth of melancholy wrapping itself around me, bathing in the tears which that emotion always bring. I am the last vessel for these memories, a single repository of my family traditions, a one-man family reunion of the ages.

  2. Oh, man. You move me so much. Where have you been all these years, keep writing.

  3. Grandma died ten years back, and then Grandpa around five years later. Both of them going from different illnesses the insurance company refused to cover. And now, to add the supreme insult to that, the insurance company’s lawyers own their place. The same lawyers who beat my father both times he tried to get the courts to force the company to pay for the treatments.

    Okay, they’ve got a big lock on their gate. A big high wall instead of the old picket fence. I can’t go in there, can’t go into the property I ran free and happy in as a kid.

    But I can sure as hell throw this firebomb through that big living room window from here at the front gate.

  4. I sit in my car looking across the road at the home where my grandfather grew up, my mother grew up, and where I hid upstairs in the room with the secret space in the closet. Now, all is lost because my uncle sold the house to strangers. I look at the yard, the trees and the bush where my mother hid that time she missed the school bus. My mom, always innocent, yet, she hid under that bush instead of going to school. The lush, green lawn where I played croquet in the summer with my sisters when we were children. I always won. Oh, and the little pond where I ice skated in the winter. My sister chipped little holes in the ice so I would tumble, and she would roll in the snow laughing. The snow, so cold and clean, is where we made angels, although we were little devils. Those woods behind the house, that’s where my grandfather found our Christmas tree each year. Just before santa crashed through the fireplace, my grandfather brought the tree into the parlor with the paisley wallpaper. That’s our family home. ‘Well, that was our family home.

    As I sit here, I feel my grandfather’s spirit. I know what he’s saying. “Now Pammy, we still have a family home. We’re all here waiting for you, and when it’s time for you to come home, you’d better not hide in the closet.”

  5. His father had been so fallible and weak, that when Jack was a young boy, his Grandpa had always served as his male role model. Even five years after his passing, he thought about him a great deal. And Gramma, who always comforted him when he was being punished for boyish mischief. As he drew within a mile of the place where he had lived for the three years his dad was in prison, a deep tightening of his chest told him he would have to turn off, and at least look at the old property.
    He hadn’t been back since Grampa’s funeral. When the farm was sold to outsiders from Atlanta, he;knew that they would make changes, changes that would destroy memories; like hearing Grampa play country hymns on the upright, while Gramma sang harmony.
    He approached the locked gate with a profound sense of loss.This wasn’t the place he remembered anymore. Never would be. Jack turned, slowly walked back to his rental car, and headed for the Interstate.

  6. They’re just memories, Jack kept telling himself, memories. Good memories, maybe the best memories, but just memories none the less. The debate kept on in Jack’s mind, whether to go a mile off the beaten path and maybe destroy those memories he had of his Granny and Grandpa’s or not go and wonder what the most wonderful place of his childhood was like now. No, he decided, you can’t destroy memories, maybe adjust them a little, but no matter who lived there now, it will always be Granny and Grandpa’s house.

    The old road was unchanged, the gravel rutted out in the same places, the trees overhanging the road, shading it from the December sun, leaving a small amount of fog on the path. Then he saw it, the beautiful house Grandpa built Granny for their twenty fifth anniversary. It look just as Grandpa left it when he left this world. The paint just as white, and looked freshly painted, the pecan tree they planted together had grown, Grandma would have loved baking with those fresh pecans. Everything looked like it always had, a relief to Jack, his memories would stay intact.

    Jack parked out by the road, not wanting to intrude on someone’s day, but he got out and stood by the car looking and taking in every detail of the old place. Suddenly a smell overtook him, a scent of Grandma’s snicker doodles baking in her old oven. Was that Grandpa’s laugh he just heard? The creak of the back door screen door? Trixie the dog barking? The sky had clouded up as Jack stood there, and a rare December shower started to fall, washing Jack’s tears to the sea.

  7. An aside: Did the Mayans let anyone know in what time zone the world will end? Or, will it be one of those football stadium “wave” things?

  8. Fig? Fig? Little warm down there?

  9. I seem to be all over the place lately:

    Ann’s prompt that led to my favorite car story is published here:

    And was picked up and published here, an NPR site:

    On Christmas Day, the Elder Storytelling place will feature my story about visiting a friend in a senior home:

    And, I’m knee deep in penguins and icebergs, telling the story of my recent trip to the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica.

    Just sayin’….

    • Gullible: I just followed your Antarctic link to see where you hang out when you aren’t remembering Jeeps. Wow! I complained when ten foot waves disturbed my beauty rest on an unusually stormy East Carribean cruise. I will forever more recall your story and keep my opinions to myself. Your blog is great. Thanks for sharing the link.

    • I’m dancing all around my study! Yay, Gullie. You are not only writing but you’re getting your work out there! Amen to that.

  10. And then comes the quarterly Alaska Woman Speak. It contains Another of my stories, October Rains.

    What a smorgasbord of Gullible. How lucky am I?

  11. Can you go home? Jack pondered the old question. As best as he could remember, the consensus of the great and wise had been, “No, you can’t.” Life moves on and home moves away in time with it. So, visiting the graves of his grandparents was probably a waste of time and gas. Nevertheless, he was here, now, and he needed his Grandpa’s advice.
    The gravel road leading to Grandpa’s farm was just around the next bend. It had been five years since Jack had been back to Asheville to bury the old man—right beside Grandma in the family cemetery. The farm belonged to others now, but fortunately North Carolina law protected cemeteries, and since the new owners were attorneys, Jack felt certain he would have no problem visiting the graves of the people who shared a large part of the responsibility for the way his life had turned out.
    The way was clogged and overgrown with ivy and tree roots. It’s never easy, he thought, as he struggled to find the old path through the thick woods. At one point, he stepped into a small clearing and caught sight of the Biltmore Estate in the distance—the largest residence in the United States. His grandfather had worked on that estate for many years as a forester and arborist. He had dealt with the Vanderbilts directly on more than one occasion as a young man and had told Jack stories about their parties and high life style. “And yet,” he once told a teenaged Jack, “the mister and missus sleep in separate bedrooms.” Jack had not been sure what his reaction should be to that remark. He’d nodded his head wisely, and Grandpa had suddenly laughed out loud and slapped him on the knee.
    His grandmother had died of congestive heart failure, gradually weakening until even drawing a breath was too great an effort. Her husband had been by her side continually during her decline. When she finally passed away, it was only five years before he had followed. Jack had been surprised that he lasted that long without her.
    At last the path widened slightly and then opened onto the small forest meadow that contained the family plot. There were only six graves: Grandma and Grandpa, Grandpa’s two sisters, both having died in infancy, and Grandpa’s parents. Unsurprisingly, no one had visited in a long time. Their only son, Jack’s father, spent the majority of his time out of the country on important business and even Jack rarely saw him, or his mother. His parents had lived apart from one another since Jack had left for college, and, although not yet divorced, they could hardly be said to be close either physically or emotionally.
    But Grandma and Grandpa were another sort of relationship altogether. Jack could not think of either of them without thinking of the other. They complemented and completed each other in a way rarely seen elsewhere in Jack’s experience. So it was natural that when Jack had fallen in love, married, and begun his life as a husband and later, as a father, it was Grandma and Grandpa whose lives were his touchstones.
    More than once, he had found himself at a loss in coping with his marriage. Hot words and rash actions had led initially to pain and misery. And then, just when he almost was ready to admit defeat, he would remember some situation he had observed when visiting his grandparents. Maybe it had been an apology or a compromise. Perhaps it had been a word of encouragement or a decision not to contradict or not to pick a fight. Perhaps it had been a commitment simply to see a bad situation through together regardless of whether they agreed. Jack found that, trite as it might sound, he had been able to ask himself, “What would Grandpa do?” and generally find his way again.
    A convenient stump offered a place to sit, and Jack studied the two headstones: “Beloved Wife” and “Devoted Husband.” Always he had gauged his success in life by their standard, not his parents’. When faced with a career choice, he had followed his heart, not his bank account, and he knew his grandfather had approved even as his father had grown frustrated with his “lack of ambition.” When he married, he had chosen his soul mate, not the business partner his mother had pushed on him. Now he and his wife faced another important decision and he was uncertain which way to turn. He was returning to the mountain, hoping to rediscover the center he feared he had lost.
    Green spring growth was everywhere in this forest, yet underfoot was the thick evidence of decay. The eternal cycle of life was all around him. He remembered his grandmother’s death– so peaceful and profound. Jack had been there, watching Grandpa as he watched his wife. She took her last breaths, and a combination of relief and profound sorrow washed slowly across his grandfather’s face. Remembering now, Jack thought, when I die I want someone like Grandpa sitting beside me. And if my dearest should be the first to go, I want to be able to face her passing the way Grandpa did. They were the example of what family meant, in Jack’s eyes. As long as his grandparents had lived up here on this solid, ancient mountain, Jack’s world had had a foundation. Now they were both part of that mountain. Where should he turn?
    He sat, tearlessly studying the graves when the whisper came in the freshening, spring breeze, “It’s up to you, now, boy.”
    A moment passed before real comprehension transformed his face. His jaw muscles firmed and his chin stuck out slightly as he straightened his back and took a deep breath of pine scented air. Like a courier who has been entrusted with the most vital of messages, he spoke aloud with the forest as his witness, “Yes, sir, I understand.”
    Can you go home? Of course you can. You must carry it with you– always.

    • Truly a wonderful piece. The depth you brought to Jack’s relationship with his Grandfather was masterful writing.
      Oddly enough, I had a vivid dream about my Grandfather about a month ago. (He passed away in 1968) and in that dream, he turned to me and said in his clear Texas drawl, “You did good, boy.”
      So you can see how your story touched me in such a personal way.
      Thanks for that fine work.

      • Thanks. I drew on a memory of my grandfather’s funeral. I was twenty-five and asked to be pall bearer. There was something about fulfilling that role that made me feel both recognized and important to my family in a special way. It was a significant transition point in my maturation. Thanks again for the kind words. [btw: I forgot to leave an extra line between paragraphs– sorry for the way they are jammed up]

  12. Why have I neither heard of nor read Gillian Flynn before? I am but several pages into Gone Girl and already I know she will do to me what Markus Zusak did with The Book Thief, i.e., leave me bankrupt of words and bereft of the will to write. Go there carefully, friends.

    • My wife’s been trying to get me to read “Gone Girl”. She loved it. Her book club also read “The Book Thief”. I’ve got some catching up to do, and your encouragement helps. That’s what snow-bound, retired winters are for. 🙂

  13. Bob, I had a hard time following the stories in those books because I was so enthralled to the way they used words.

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