Fiction: Starting Over

The sign hanging over the grocery store simply said Supermarket, but it was tiny by New Jersey standards. Josh went to get a cart, and when he returned, his granddaughter was holding a piece of paper in her hand.

“What’cha got there?” he asked.

“Our list,” Lacey said.

“What list?”

“Our grocery list.”

“I don’t need a list. I just meander around and pick up a few things as I see them,” Josh said gruffly.

“Then I’ll get another cart, so I can get the things on our list,” Lacey said.

“And who’s gonna pay for them?”

“You are. I don’t have any money.”

“Hey, I ain’t …” Josh stopped and stared at Lacey, knowing exactly how this conversation would end. Why fight a battle he couldn’t win? He shoved the cart over to Lacey and said, “Don’t buy any more’n you have to. I’ll wait here with my money bags.”

“Thank you,” Lacey said before she took off in a businesslike manner.

When they were finished in the store, they climbed in the truck to go home, and Josh said, “I ain’t never bought that many groceries in my life. We won’t have to come back to town for three months.”

Lacey looked straight ahead and smiled as Josh turned the key and started the old Ford.

At home, Lacey put the milk, butter and cheese in the small fridge, and as she did, she noticed that it kept things cool, but not cold. Seeing that there wasn’t much room for anything, Lacey decided that the groceries would have to stay in their sacks until she had a chance to clear some shelves, but that would have to wait until later. Right now, she had to help Josh.

After he backed the truck into the entrance of the barn, Josh and Lacey found room in a stall to store the things Lacey had brought from New Jersey. She didn’t think the stall was a decent storage place, but there wasn’t any room in the cabin.

For lunch, Lacey fixed ham sandwiches with corn chips and milk. Josh got an RC Cola out of the fridge and never touched his milk. When they were done eating, Lacey poured Josh’s milk back into the carton, while he went outside. He was back a minute later, chewing on a sprig of tall grass and holding a wad of it in his hand.

“Tall grass is better’n toothpicks,” he said, as he placed the fistful of grass on the table and cut them in shirt pocket lengths with his pocketknife.

“Do you call it tall grass because it’s tall?” Lacey asked curiously.

“I guess everybody calls it tall grass because it’s tall.” He emptied his shirt pocket of toothpicks and left them on the table. He put the grass pieces in his shirt pocket and picked up his RC Cola. As he walked out he said, “I’ll be outside, sittin’ a spell on the porch.”

Josh plopped down in the porch chair, hit his chest with his fist and belched. Although he would never tell Lacey, her lunch sure beat his usual lunch of RC Cola and a Moon Pie.

After washing their dishes, Lacey went out the back door. It was her first opportunity to view her surroundings. With her back to the cabin, she looked at the grassy fields that led toward craggy mountains. She had to admit Josh was right when he said his cabin wasn’t much, but that his land was the prettiest in all creation. The air was clean and crisp, and she took in a deep breath, only to realize she should have gone farther from the outhouse.

Lacey didn’t take any more time to view the scenery. She went back into the kitchen to get started.

Josh worried about noises coming from the kitchen. He felt he should go see what Lacey was up to, but he dozed off instead. When he woke, he shuffled through the house to the kitchen. His brow wrinkled. The kitchen was bigger than the last time he saw it. The table was clear except for some napkins and a set of salt and pepper shakers. He guessed he couldn’t complain about that. But what made the room so big now? A moment later, he realized it was because all the stuff against the walls was gone. He couldn’t even remember what the stuff was. Where did she put all his things?

As Lacey came in the back door, Josh turned and asked, “What did you do with all my things?”

“I stored them in the truck.”

“Can’t leave ’em in the truck. I might need to haul something.”

“You do need to haul something,” Lacey said. “You need to haul all those bags to the dump.”

“You can’t come in here and throw all my good stuff away.”

“I didn’t see any good stuff,” she retorted. “Tell me, what was good?”

Lacey watched as Josh rushed out to the truck. He lifted a bag out and began going through it. Most of the contents were valuable, and he set them aside in the grass. Only a few things were left in the bag to throw away. He pulled down a second bag and had retrieved about half of its contents when he stopped. He reviewed all the stuff he had recovered as “valuable” – a broken can opener, ragged dishtowels, a jar full of bent nails, a rusty cheese grater, a broken water pump, three coffee cans, and some other things that he wasn’t sure what they were.

He pulled a piece of tall grass from his pocket and stuck it in his mouth. He looked up at all the bags in the pickup, then at the things he had retrieved. Then he looked back toward the cabin to see if he could see Lacey. When he was sure she wasn’t watching, he threw everything back in the bags before throwing the bags back in the bed of the pickup.

He grumbled to himself all the way around the house, then plopped down in his porch chair. He pulled his hat down tight, and the top of his ears folded up against the brim. His hands strangled the chair arms until his knuckles turned white. The chair, his throne, a remnant of his fading kingdom. But it was still his chair, and by golly it was going to stay that way.

All he could see from his porch was tall grass moving in waves with the breeze. Minutes ground away, and at last Josh loosened his hat. A pinkish brim impression marked his brow. He stared at the grass fields. Yes, sir, grass is good, he thought. You can always depend on grass. Josh never tired of looking at grass.

After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, Josh pulled a grass twig out of his pocket, looked at it, then put it back. With a wry smile, he looked at Lacey.

“Well, little Miss Busybody, what are your plans for today?” he asked.

“I’m going to clean out my room.”

“Well, stay out of my room,” Josh grumbled. “I like it just the way it is.”

Lacey looked at him and smiled, but there was nothing comforting about her smile. It was a “you’re next” kind of smile. He looked around the kitchen. Before Lacey had cleared things out, he’d never had a place to set anything down. He really wouldn’t want all that junk back in there, he told himself, but he’d never tell Lacey.

Josh placed his hands on the table, stood up and said, “Reckon I best make a run into town this morning.”

He couldn’t bring himself to tell Lacey that he was going to the dump.

“Good,” Lacey said, catching on to her grandfather’s ways.

After he unloaded the plastic bags at the dump, Josh drove on into Bynum to get a cup of coffee and visit with some of his old buddies at Opal’s.

Cedric rose up and touched the brim of his hat with his forefinger to greet Josh, as he said, “That was terrible, Ralph and Emma’s car wreck.”

Harley dipped his head, set his coffee down and drawled, “Yeah, and leaving poor little Lacey an orphan like that.”

“You fellers just don’t have any idea how terrible it is … uh, was,” Josh said.

“Would you like something to eat, Josh?” Opal asked, nearing the table.

“Naw, Lacey’s expecting me back for lunch. Best to not disappoint her.”

He had already wondered what Lacey would have for lunch. He was also anxious to see what his place would look like when he got back.

Opal caught him on the way out and asked, “You sure there isn’t something I can do for you?”

Josh looked at her in earnest and said, “Thanks for askin’, Opal, but I don’t think I could stand for anymore bein’ done for me right now.”

“Maybe I can teach her how to cook a few things,” Opal said.

Josh looked at her dumbly, then said, “I don’t think you could teach that little girl anything, Opal.”

He positioned his hat on his head and walked out.

Josh drove around his cabin and parked beside a new batch of trash bags waiting to be hauled to the dump. He was sure Lacey had thrown a scandalous amount of valuable things away, but spending his days going through stuff he had no use for was not his idea of fun. Besides, at his age, he wouldn’t live long enough to care about all that old stuff anyway. Taking the path of least resistance stung his pride, but he’d put his foot down if Lacey got too rambunctious.

Josh smiled and said out loud, “The fireplace is sure to show up when Lacey gets to the living room, and Dessie Mae’s piano too.”

“Wash up,” Lacey told Josh from the kitchen. “I made tuna fish sandwiches for lunch.”

“Hmm, I can’t remember the last time I had a tuna fish sandwich,” Josh said, starting to sit down.

“Wash up,” Lacey repeated.

Josh looked at his hands. He had already washed them once today, but he washed them again anyway.

“Our refrigerator doesn’t keep things cold,” Lacey said. “Can we afford a new one?”

“Nope. And what’s this ‘we’ stuff? You don’t have any money.”

“I can help when I start getting my Social Security checks.”

“The fridge is fine.”

“We’ll look at refrigerators the next time we’re in Bynum.”

When they were finished eating, Josh gulped down the last of his RC Cola, thumped his chest and belched.

“That’s gross,” Lacey said. “What’s it going to take to break that habit?”

“If you don’t like it, don’t listen,” Josh retorted. “I do it for my health. It cleanses my innards.”

“It is not healthy, it’s gross, and you shouldn’t do it in front of a lady.”

“Where’s a lady?” Josh asked. “All I see is my granddaughter.”

“I am too a lady,” Lacey said. “It’s those RC Colas. You need to quit drinking them.”

Josh’s chair scraped the wooden floor as he stood up. He was angry and looked like he might cry.

“Oh, no you don’t. You ain’t gonna take my RC Colas. A man has to fight for his bad habits.”

He walked to the porch, plopped down in his chair and jammed a piece of grass in his mouth.

“By doggies, a man has to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s bad for him.” Josh set his jaw, and his fists pounded the chair arms.

The next time Josh walked through the cabin, he noticed the closed door to Lacey’s bedroom. She was making noises in the kitchen, so he cracked the bedroom door for a peek. The raggedy quilt covered the bed. There was a bed table and a chest of drawers. Josh remembered them. Lacey had found some cheap pictures to hang on the wall, or maybe they had been on the wall all along. Lacey was churning his life to a fare-thee-well. In a strange way, he liked it, but he didn’t like her bossing him around.

That night, Lacey prepared pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans. Josh looked pleased, as if he had cooked it himself.

“Where’d you learn to cook?”

“Mother taught me.”

“Hmmm. Wonder where Emma learned. She wouldn’t help Dessie Mae worth a toot.”

“Mother and Daddy both worked, and most of the time I had supper ready by the time they got home.”

“How about that?”

“I can make cornbread, too, but I forgot to buy cornmeal,” Lacey said, a smile beaming on her face.

“Well, I like cornbread.”

“You like ice cream, too, I’ll bet. We can have ice cream after we buy a new refrigerator,” she said casually.

Josh looked at Lacey as if he wasn’t sure he believed her.

Sure enough, Lacey found the fireplace and piano in the living room. She also uncovered a couch, an easy chair, several small tables, a bookcase, two lamps and a rolltop desk. Everything was old and worn, but now the room looked inviting and lived in. Tears came to Lacey’s eyes when she found a picture of Josh, Dessie Mae and Emma. Her mother looked to be about the same age as Lacey was now. Lacey had never seen a picture of her grandmother. She placed the picture, along with several others, on the fireplace mantle.

It was no wonder Josh had quit using the rolltop desk, Lacey thought. She couldn’t get close to it. He had thrown horse blankets and harnesses over the top of it. After taking the horse gear to the barn, she rolled the desk top up and found cubicles packed with letters, bills, canceled checks, newspaper clippings and old receipts. Sitting on top of a stack of papers was an old typewriter. A large, sealed brown envelope was tucked under the stack of papers.

She took the envelope to Josh and asked, “Granddaddy, what is this?”

Josh was startled, because that was the first time Lacey had called him Granddaddy, but he looked at the envelope and said, “I don’t know.”

He put his reading glasses on, then took the envelope from Lacey. He opened it and held a letter near and far until he found the best viewing distance, which was at arm’s length.

“Oh, this came when my brother died fifteen years ago. I guess I never got around to opening it. Earl and me were close, and I guess I didn’t want to think about him.” Josh put the letter back in the envelope and handed it to Lacey. “Put this back, it’s old now.”

Josh pulled off his glasses, smiled and asked, “Can you play the piano? Dessie Mae could play the Saint Louis Blues real pretty. She could sing, too.”

“I can’t play now, but I’ll teach myself,” Lacey said.

Scattered in the desk, Lacey found at least forty unopened letters.

“Granddaddy, do you have an account at the Bynum Rancher’s Bank?” she asked.

“Will you hurry up and finish there? You’re givin’ me the willies, siftin’ through my private stuff.”

“Do you have enough money in the bank to buy a new refrigerator?”

“I’ve got to hang on to my money. Can’t spend it on things I don’t need.”

“I could fix better meals if the refrigerator kept things colder.”

“The answer is no.”

“We could freeze things like steaks and pork chops for supper,” Lacey said, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “And I’ll bet RC Colas are even better if they’re ice cold.”

“The answer is still no,” Josh said.

But Lacey had planted a seed that would germinate in spite of Josh’s better judgment.

Lacey noticed that Josh was more agreeable after a good meal, so after they finished their breakfast, she said, “I need to go into Bynum. Will you take me?”

“What do you need in town?”

“I need to find a Laundromat. I have a lot of dirty clothes that need washed, and so do you.”

“I don’t know if there’s one of them laundro things in Bynum. There’s no need to go anyway. There’s an iron kettle out back. I just slosh my duds around in that for a spell, then hang ’em on the clothesline.”

“I’d also like to see about a few other things in Bynum after I wash the clothes.”

“What things?”

“Oh, just things,” Lacey said. “So, will you take me?”

“It’s spooky the way when you get close to a store it always costs me a bundle of money.”

“Just take me, will you?”

“Oh, all right,” Josh grumbled. “But I ain’t got much money to spend, mind you, so don’t get any big ideas.”

After the dishes were done, Lacey gathered up the dirty laundry, and they piled into the pickup and headed to town. As they coasted to a stop in front of Opal’s, Josh mumbled that he just didn’t see why Lacey couldn’t use his old iron kettle.

“A washing machine will get our clothes much cleaner,” Lacey said.

“Won’t neither,” he argued.

While Lacey went to the Laundromat, Josh went to Opal’s for coffee. Cedric and Opal were the only ones there, and they were Josh’s willing audience. He preached like old-time religion.

“Lacey ain’t all bad, mind you, but you wouldn’t believe how much she’s cost me already. It’s a dollar here, a dollar there. No matter where we go, she has to spend. Why, right now she’s down at that laundro thing washing clothes. Them things eat quarters faster’n a hound dog swallers supper scraps. I got a kettle and a clothesline in the backyard. That’s all Dessie Mae ever needed. You know what Lacey’s pestering me for now? A refrigerator, and with my Frigidaire sittin’ right there. I mean it’s kinda old, but it ain’t missed a lick in forty years. This younger generation don’t know the value of …”

“Hello, Lacey, Josh has just been braggin’ on you,” Opal said, cutting Josh off in midsentence.

“He has? Miss Opal, I’d like to speak to you about something.”

“Sure, honey.”

“Could you use some help in here? We need a few things real bad, and I’m a hard worker.”

Josh frowned and squirmed in his seat. Much too often Lacey’s words had teeth that bit him.

“I’m sorry, Lacey, but the law won’t let me hire anyone as young as you.”

“I was afraid of that. What about this? I make the best cookies ever! If I bring a batch to you, would you try to sell them in here?”

“Lacey,” Josh said, “we ain’t no charity case. I can’t have you out bummin’ like this.”

“Granddaddy, we need so many things for the cabin, and I’m willing to work to get them.”

“What do we need? It’s the refrigerator, ain’t it? Well, I been ponderin’ that. What I mean is, our old one is just fine, but I know you’d like one of them newfangled ones, so I might figure on…”

“But it isn’t just a refrigerator we need, Granddaddy. There’s lots of things. I know we’re poor. I’m just trying to help. So, can I bring in a batch of cookies, Miss Opal?”

“Sure, honey, I’ll take some on a trial basis.”

Josh looked at Cedric and fumed. He’d always talked as if he was poor, that was true, but he talked that way for discipline’s sake, to hold Dessie Mae and Emma in line. To actually be considered poor cut to the quick. Lacey had said they needed a lot of things. He should have known better, but he was under stress.

“What do we need, other’n a refrigerator?” he asked.

“Well, we need a washing machine and dryer,” Lacey said. “And most of all, we need a bathroom something awful. AWFUL!”

“There ain’t nothin’ indecent about outhouses,” Josh said, turning tomato red. “I’ve lived with ’em my entire life. You get used to ’em, and you don’t even smell ’em after a bit.”

“Miss Opal,” Lacey said, “do you use an outhouse at your home?”


Lacey looked at Cedric, who said, “No, we don’t, Lacey.”

“See, Granddaddy, nobody uses an outhouse anymore. Nobody.”

Cedric and Opal were amused as Josh stammered, trying in vain to think of a sensible retort, “Well, we don’t need a bathroom.”

“Do, too, Granddaddy. I haven’t figured out how you take a bath yet.”

“Why, in the summertime,” Josh stammered, “I stand in the kettle in the backyard and take a hose …”

Opal spewed a snicker she could no longer hold, and Cedric joined her with muffled hysterics.

Josh’s tortured frame unfolded out of the booth. Once again, the bite of Lacey’s words stung. He rose cornstalk straight and faced his tormentors.

Shaking his finger at Lacey, Josh said, “Little girl, I ain’t gonna build no bathroom … and that’s final.”

With that, he slammed his hat on his head and stomped out the door.

Heat raged up the back of Cedric’s neck and scorched his ears. He looked at Opal, as if to ask why they’d laughed. Opal looked like she had barked her shins and was too old to cry, and Lacey, well, Lacey was crying.

Josh was sitting in his pickup, eyes straight ahead, tight grip on the steering wheel when Lacey found him. She got in and slammed her door twice.

Not a word was spoken for seventeen miles. At home, Josh cut the ignition, and still nothing – only the sound of the engine sizzling.

Rusty hinges screeched on the driver’s door as Josh opened it.

“Granddaddy, I’m sorry,” Lacey said, and truly meant it.

Josh had one foot out the door, and stood still for a moment, then said, “We’ll buy the refrigerator.”

In Williams’ Hardware, Lacey talked to the owner, Chuck Williams, about the different refrigerator models he carried.

Josh opened the door of the smallest refrigerator on display and said, “This’n here looks good.”

Lacey was captivated by a model that sent crushed ice out a chute in the door.

She inspected the model Josh was looking at, then said, “It’s nice, I guess. You decide, Granddaddy.”

Josh didn’t look at Lacey. His knuckle tapped the refrigerator door three times, paused, then tapped three more times.

“Chuck, we’ll take the one with the ice-squirtin’ thing-a-ma-jig.”

Lacey beamed through glassy eyes and said, “Thank you, Granddaddy.”

Josh smiled proudly. ‘Thank yous’ from Lacey were to be cherished.

He pulled out a wad of bills, and Chuck said he could follow them out with the refrigerator as soon as they were ready.

“Give us a few minutes,” Lacey said. “We have to go to the grocery store to get some steaks and a few other things to put in the refrigerator.”

Josh looked at Lacey. It hadn’t occurred to him that the refrigerator would trigger a chain reaction. He looked back at the refrigerator they had just bought, and he had a vision of shredded dollar bills squirting out the ice chute.

That night, Lacey knelt beside her bed and prayed, “Thank You, Lord, for helping me, uh, us, get a refrigerator. Granddaddy let me have the best model, and what’s cool is the way it crushes ice. When You and me put our heads together, we can solve just about any problem, can’t we, Lord? I can manage without a washing machine for a while, but what we need bad, and I mean really, really bad, is a bathroom. Granddaddy says he’s used to it, but I’ll never get used to it – it stinks something awful. They say it gets mighty cold in Montana, so we need to start thinking about a bathroom, Lord. I’ll sign off now ’cause I’ve had a big day, and I’m ‘whupped to a frazzle.’ That’s what Granddaddy says. I’ll get back with you tomorrow night, Lord. Amen.”

The refrigerator was the biggest purchase Josh had made since he bought the 1979 Ford. The first few days, he had to have a glass of ice water every two hours. He cut back when he got tired of being forced to trot to the outhouse every couple of hours.

For the next week, supper was a major event for both Josh and Lacey. Josh hadn’t eaten this good since Dessie Mae died. Every afternoon, Josh wondered what Lacey would cook for supper. She bought a cookbook at the supermarket, and she enjoyed having complete command of her domain. She felt a freedom she’d never imagined, not even when her parents were alive. And nobody enjoyed independence more than Lacey Mae Peterson.

Lacey’s first batch of chocolate chip and raisin-oatmeal cookies sold out in a day. Her next batch was twice as big, and sold out in two days. She doubled the batch again, and they lasted four days. She and Opal decided this would be about the right amount to fix each week. Lacey paid for her supplies out of the profits, and began hoarding what was left in a jar labeled Bathroom Fund. She had no idea how much a bathroom would cost, but she knew it would take a mountain of cookies.

Lacey honored her grandfather’s request that she not clean his room. However, after a few days, she moved the things holding his door open. With the door closed, the contrast of his room with the living room no longer bothered her.

She was in the kitchen one morning when she heard him making a lot of noise. She found him in his room throwing things into trash bags.

Before the day was over, Josh’s room looked as nice as Lacey’s, and the truck contained another load for the dump. Josh stood in the doorway, put his hands on his hips and smiled.

A few days later, on a Tuesday morning, Lacey left her cookies with Opal and told Josh to meet her at Crowder’s Drugstore in about an hour.

She went to the Laundromat, then walked to the drugstore. Opal always bought complimentary copies of the Bynum Weekly for her customers, and Lacey had noticed an ad in the paper about an optometrist who came to the drugstore once a month.

When Josh arrived at Crowder’s, Lacey said, “Have a seat, Granddaddy. I’ve made an appointment to have your eyes checked.”

“My eyes are fine.”

“I know, but I’d like you to have them checked anyway.”

“I can’t afford them zippedy-do-da glasses. I got my glasses at K-Mart in Great Falls, and they work just fine.”

“I’ve already paid for the exam. It won’t cost you a cent.”

“It’s a waste of your money.”

“Please, Granddaddy, sit down.”

When the doctor came in, Josh said, “Mister, this is my granddaughter’s idea. I’ve already got glasses at home and …”

“Mr. Marsh, if you buy glasses, you can try them for a month,” the doctor said. “If you decide you don’t need them, I’ll refund your money. No questions asked.”

“All right, I won’t hear the last of it if I don’t do it,” Josh said.

When the examination was finished, Josh said, “Guess I’ll buy a pair of them glasses, since you promised to take ’em back if I don’t need ’em.”

“My assistant will help you pick out frames, and the glasses will be mailed to you,” the doctor said.

On the way out of the drugstore, Josh said, “Doggone it, Lacey, you can find more ways to spend my money!”

Lacey just smiled.

Normally, Josh didn’t empty his mailbox until it was so full the lid wouldn’t shut, but now he checked it every day.

“Do you reckon them glasses is some kind of crooked scheme where they get your money, and you never hear from ’em again?” he asked Lacey three days after his exam.

“No, Granddaddy. Be patient.”

“I’ll bet they’re crooks.”

The glasses arrived the next day, and for the next several days, Josh read everything in the cabin, including the labels on canned goods. His glasses constantly slipped down his nose, and the earpieces dug into him, but he only took them off to sleep.

Lacey had him give them to her every morning for cleaning. With his glasses on, he didn’t know if they were dirty, and with them off, he couldn’t see if they were dirty. The glasses had a downside, though, because now Josh could see food stains on his shirts and embedded dirt on the legs of his britches. Therefore, the bag for dirty clothes swelled dramatically.

Repercussions of Josh’s improved diet were directly responsible for another expense. Both pairs of his britches were too tight, and he was forced to decide whether to cut back on his eating, or buy new britches. Josh was addicted to Lacey’s cooking, so the decision was easy – he bought new britches. Lacey bought a belt and a Western buckle with three turquoise stones on it. Josh wore it proudly, but insisted his old belt and horseshoe buckle kept his britches from falling off, and that’s all he really needed.

After supper one evening, Lacey asked, “How big is your ranch, Granddaddy?”

“A hunerd and twenty acres, give or take. Been in the family since 1884. Real estate feller tried to buy off ten acres once, but I plan to die with every square foot of it. Reckon you’ll get the whole kit-and-caboodle when I kick the bucket, but I hope you won’t sell off none of it either.”

“I’ve been wanting to explore it, but I haven’t had time,” Lacey said. “Did you keep horses in the barn?”

“A few.”

“What did you use the ranch for?”

“I raised horses and mules, and sold ’em to fancy resorts for trail rides.”

“Why don’t you have horses now?”

“I was good with animals, but not worth a toot with paperwork. Dessie Mae done all of that. When she died, my brother, who was a John Deere salesman in Great Falls, took on my paperwork. He was a whiz with numbers. When he died, I got snowed under with paperwork. Sold all the animals except Sophie, the best horse I ever had. Then she up and died. Figured I’d never find another horse as good as Sophie, so I didn’t even try.”

“I wish I’d known Sophie.”

“Yep, best horse I ever had. She’s buried out behind the barn.”

From his chair on the porch, Josh could see Lacey as she walked back from a Sunday afternoon visit with Opal. He had offered to drive her, but she said she’d enjoy walking since there was a pleasant mountain breeze.

When Lacey reached the cabin, she brought a chair out on the porch and sat beside Josh.

“Opal told me a lot of things about my mother,” she said.

“They were about the same age.”

“She had pictures of them in high school. Mother was pretty.”


“Look at that grass,” Lacey said. “Isn’t it pretty?”

“Grass is like a spring tonic. It’ll cure most anything,” Josh replied.

“Granddaddy, why didn’t you ever come to visit us?”

“Your daddy was a hotheaded Yankee – and a Democrat to boot. Wouldn’t listen to nothin’. And Emma always sided with him. Ralph and me were at each other every time we got close, so I decided to stay away.”

“Daddy was a fine man. You were wrong about him.”

“Weren’t neither wrong. You don’t know. It was before you were born.”

“I know you were wrong.”

“Weren’t neither.”

“Well, I wish I had known you when I was a little girl.”

“You’re just a tadpole now. How much littler were you as a little girl?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Guess I do. And I wish I’d known you back then, too … I think.”

“I wish Grandma Dessie Mae had lived. I’d have loved to know her.”

“She’s been gone for twenty-two years now.”

“I know.”

“Dessie Mae was a good woman, and she took good care of me, but whoooee, she was headstrong, just like your mama – and you. By doggies, you’re the headstrongest of all.”

“Mother always told me, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’ When my parents died, I realized life wasn’t going to be easy, and me and the Lord had better get busy.”

“I’ll bet the Lord has His hands full with Dessie Mae and Emma,” Josh said. “When you get up there, He may have to ask all of you to leave.”

“Where would we go?” Lacey asked.

“Wherever folks go when they’re acting up.”

“The Lord wouldn’t do that.”

“It’s His heaven.”

“Only until I get there,” Lacey said with a smirky smile.

“I can believe that. I’ll bet He’s got some clouds full of junk.”

“Oh, Granddaddy,” Lacey said, then changed the subject. “Look how that grass moves in waves like the ocean.”

“Better’n the ocean.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“It is,” Josh said. “Trust me.”

Lacey folded her arms and studied the grass, the sky, the world – and she smiled a happy smile.

The third and final installment of this fiction story will appear on the Web in May.