What might have been

What might have been

     With equally solid strokes, Ganny cut slices and placed them on the plates. The watermelon was indeed a beauty. Reddish liquid seeped from its almost auburn innards, quickly filling the plate’s surface. Some of it splashed out on the ground as they hurried outside to some old patio chairs on the rough lawn. Richard noticed that they were the same kind that his other grandmother made him sand down and paint each year back home. Ganny’s, he had to admit, didn’t fare so well. The metal chairs were dotted with chips of various colors that revealed the previous paint jobs.
     Once in the chairs, they commenced to attack the watermelon. Richard was used to eating watermelon with a fork at a table, but he followed his grandmother’s lead by biting off a chunk, chewing the sweet meat carefully to avoid the seeds, swallowing the juices, and spitting out the seeds until he got to the rind.
     “This’s gotta be the best watermelon I ever had,” Richard announced in between bites and spits.
     “Didn’t I tell ya that your Uncle Jack is one champion melon grower?”
     “Ya did, for sure, Ganny.”
     “Well, I wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie, I meant it. Now, if we’re braggin’ about knowin’ champions when it comes to watermelons—your ol’ Ganny was a champion too at spittin’ seeds. When I was about your age, I was the champion watermelon seed spitter of the Howard County Fair. Bet I can still put one of ‘em out there better than you can, Richey.”
     That was a challenge that Richard couldn’t refuse even if it was from his grandmother.
     “Bet ya can’t,” he replied. With that answer, he took a bite out of the next slice, searched with his tongue for a good specimen, swallowed the rest, and readied his mouth for a mighty attempt. Using the springy chair as a catapult, he reared back initially, then lurched forward while spitting out the seed into the Nebraska air. It was a good effort that landed on the grass about thirty feet away.
     “Beat that, Ganny,” Richard said, his youthful dander challenged by an old woman, even if it was his grandma.
     “Well, I gotta admit that I reckon that was one good effort, and I don’t know if I can match it, bein’ kinda old and outta practice and all, but let me give a shot.”
     She took her bite of watermelon, searched for just the right seed with her tongue, swallowed the rest, and readied her mouth for the attempt.
     With the experience of a professional watermelon seed spitter, she launched the seed with a fluid motion of her upper body, neck, and head. The seed flew into the air and landed fifty feet away.
     “Wow, Ganny, you are a champion seed spitter!” Richard exclaimed, duly amazed by his grandmother’s effort.
     “Just goes t’ show ya—don’t ever underestimate your competition.”
     “You’re right about that,” Richard answered humbly.
     “Me and watermelon seeds go way back. Ya know, it’s good to get humbled now and then. Just when ya think you’re all special and all, somebody comes around to put your feet back on the ground. Keeps your mind in the right place so ya don’t get all big-headed. There’s always somebody smarter or faster or whatever than you are. Don’t forget it. Appreciate what ya got, but don’t forget where ya come from is what I say. Somebody will knock ya down eventually off your high-horse. Just like Grover Cleveland.” She paused, not wishing to go further with her thoughts, and hoping that her grandson did not pick up on the finale.
     Fortunately, Richard was still enthralled with the seed-spitting demonstration. He had not yet developed insight into the nuances of adult thought. His was still the world of today, never imagining that older people had a life filled with passions of their own.
     Instead of acting joyful about her victory, Ganny  was suddenly sorrowful, fighting back tears and sniffling as quietly as she could to hide her change of mood from Richard.
     The awkward silence made Richard uncomfortable.
     Finally, she said, “Richey, it’s nothin’ you did. The seed spittin’ just seemed t’ bring up old times and what coulda been. Turned out OK in the end, though. Otherwise I wouldn’t have you sittin’ next to me so I could out-spit ya.”
     “Guess it must be about time t’ go inside. The mosquitoes are startin’ t’ bite,” Richard said, giving his grandmother a chance to gather her thoughts. Even though he was perplexed by the change in her, he perceived that it was best to move on with the evening and not pursue her emotions.
     “Sun is settin’. Another day is gone. Time for this old farmer’s wife t’ hit the hay.”
     “Me too. It was a big day. Sure enjoyed it, though. About the best day of my life, even if I lost the seed-spittin’ contest. Met two great men and got t’ spend the evening with the best grandma in the world.”
     Now Ganny’s tears really started to flow. She turned toward her grandson and hugged him the best she could considering the instability of the chairs and the plates in their laps.
     “Richey, that was worth more t’ me than you or anybody will ever realize. It pays to stick to your principles, ‘cause you’re always rewarded in the end. You’re my reward. Let’s clean up those dishes and get to bed.”
     Richard carried the plates to the sink. Ganny only commented on the specifics as she washed the plates and Richard dried them. What was unsaid didn’t matter. Ganny’s other life was hers, and she didn’t need to explain it to anyone, including her grandson, who didn’t need to know. She could live what could have been over and over in her mind until she died. It would be safe in the grave. She was just glad for what she had.
     After finishing the clean-up and quick trips to the outhouse, they slipped off to their respective bedrooms. Richard heard little of the chorus of the insects as he slipped off to his dreams of baseball heroics, a sheet loosely covering him to the level of his underpants. Despite her fatigue, Ganny lay restlessly in her nightgown thinking of what could and couldn’t have been until sleep eventually overtook her.

coming soon

"Adventures in Medicine"