by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
December 22, 2006
THE INVISIBLE GIFT
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- The in-laws and the out-laws were there. The kids, cats, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers - and the two who were responsible for this annual shindig, Grandma and Grandpa.
Their house rose like the promise of all things
permanent. It lifted above the huge maple tree in the
front yard; dwarfed the neighboring farmhouses and
interfered with the electric line that would otherwise
have had a straight shot at the small town in the
The house, like its owner, was to be reckoned with. It commanded attention, drew stares, made strangers stop and ask questions, and was the envy of neighbors for miles around.
Its owner was George Washington Andrews, father to nine collected there that day. Grandpa to me.
I knew nothing of the businessman and benefactor which he was to so many who dwelt in the slopes and valleys of those mountains. He owned the only country store for miles around, as well as thousands of acres of farm and timberland. He gave jobs, credit, hope, love and encouragement to any who made their way to his front door; to those who sat on the barrels in his store, or to the stranger just passing through town.
What he was to them I could not know or appreciate until years after I had gone from those hills.
What he was to me was all that I knew.
I saw him with awed granddaughter eyes; loved him with a child's gratitude that he was an adult who could communicate- without words - an understanding of how it feels to be a wee green sprout in a world dominated by giant trees.
His grandchildren were as numerous as the blackberry bushes that grew beyond his backyard, yet he managed to make each feel as much an object of wonder as the revered bald eagle which soared high above the distant mountains.
He was Grandpa - giver of magic and peppermint sticks, keeper of the family flame. The peppermint sticks bulged from his pockets, and reassuring firmness was in the big square hands that swung the endless stream of grandchildren up and down from his shoulders.
Christmas came that year a few days after his stroke.
I heard the hushed whispers, saw my mother's tears, and I watched the endless procession of silent cars that came slowly down the long driveway.
He was paralyzed on his left side and although he could not speak he had managed to make Grandma understand there had to be a tree and Christmas as usual. And there, near the tree, he sat as we slowly filed into the quiet room.
I resented the crush of bodies above me and I resented this intruder they called stroke. I wanted my Grandpa. I wanted the shoulder ride he could no longer give and I especially wanted my peppermint stick. I wanted him to call me Punkin' and hold me close on his huge and welcoming lap.
His left hand lay in his lap, twisted and useless, and the left side of his face was pulled downward like Dickens' Scrooge.
The child who is afraid of all things different would have pulled away from him except for the look in his penetrating brown eyes. They drew me to him long after the others had drifted into the dining room to shut out the sight of him huddled there, tied to his wheelchair.
His strong right hand reached for me and with his good arm he pulled me clumsily up, and up, onto his lap. His eyes bored into mine, expecting no sympathy; demanding understanding. For long moments there was nothing in the room but those eyes, and the message he insisted on conveying.
I am Grandpa, his eyes said to me. A man is more than a wheelchair and peppermint sticks. I have not ceased to be your Grandpa because one hateful side of this old body refuses to co-operate with the rest of me. I love you no less this day than I did on all the other Christmases of your young life. And I shall be very disappointed in all I believe you to be if you love this crippled old Grandpa any less than the one who carried you about on his shoulders.
The message was sent and received. An old man's unshakable love had communicated itself once again to a small child without speaking a word. The day called Christmas righted itself with a soft, gold wonder that filled the room.
From the couch I took an afghan and covered the ragged strips of sheet that tied him to the cold, chrome chair.
And from a small basket beneath the Christmas tree I took dozens of red and white peppermint sticks and slowly began filling the pocket on the right side of my Grandpa's old flannel robe.
AR Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews, based in Cartersville, Ga., can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.