“My Grandparents’ Secrets: Creative Writing Assignment #1

Posted on February 6, 2011. Filed under: Creative Writing |

I’m taking a creative writing and poetry class and my first assignment was to write about a family secret- this is a family secret,  but not my family’s secret.

My Grandparents’ Secrets

             For my Grandmother, Sunday dinner was the most important day of the week because it was the time when all of our scattered family members came together. I didn’t know at the time just how true this would be. A starched lace tablecloth, fancy crystal, and gleaming silver serving pieces were placed carefully on the dining room table by her meticulous hands. The menu was the same each week: pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green peas picked from her garden. While my Grandmother busied herself in the kitchen, my Grandfather would sneak me caramels and peppermints and give me the clippings from my favorite Sunday comics. 

              As I took down the plates from the buffet and gathered the silverware and napkins from the well-organized drawers, she turned back from arranging the flowers and said, “Please get another place setting, there will be one more person joining us. We will also need the extra chair from the living room.”

               I turned to look at her and noticed that her jaw was set in a frown as she hurried back into the kitchen. After I made room for the additional plate, I went onto the living room to get the chair my Grandmother had requested. My Grandfather sat in his favorite chair, reading the Sunday edition of the newspaper with the dog snoring quietly at his feet.

              “Grandpa, who’s coming for dinner?” I asked him.

              “What’s that, Marjorie?” he looked up from the newspaper.

               “Who’s coming to dinner? Grandma told me to set an extra place and bring this chair into the dining room.”

               “I don’t know,” he said, “ask your Grandmother.”

              I shrugged my shoulders and went into the kitchen. “Grandma, who’s the extra chair…” I noticed that her shoulders were quivering. “Grandma, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” She didn’t answer me, so I said, “If you burned the gravy I will help you make a new batch, we have enough time.”

              My Grandmother continued to poke the pork chops as they fried in the cast iron pan. She did not turn to look at me as she said, “I knew that when he went away that he would be up to monkey business and now look what’s happened.”

              Standing behind her I asked, “What do you mean monkey business? What are you talking about? Who are you talking about?” She did not answer me, so I put my hand on her shoulders feeling them move gently up and down.

              She slowly turned to me and said, “Your Grandfather, that’s who. He was always full of tomfoolery, thinking that nothing he did mattered, and now look what he’s done.”  She took a handful of envelopes from the pocket of her apron and handed just one to me. It was addressed to my Grandfather with the return address written in the flowery hand of a woman. “Open it,” was all my Grandmother said to me, so I did.

              As I sat there reading the letter written on paper as thin as onion skin, I discovered another side of my Grandfather:  A young man, stationed in Europe during the Second World War, full of American pride and eager to defend his country. In his letters he wrote about the devastation he saw and the isolation and fear he felt. Lonely for my Grandmother, he met another woman. I couldn’t read any more and I had to put the letter down. “What does this mean?” I asked.

              “When your Grandfather went away to Germany, we had been married for a short time and I was worried that I would never see him again. Imagine, becoming a widow after only being married for two months. I wrote to him every day and when he could, he would write back. I lived for those letters and he said that he did too.” She stopped and said, “That was before he met her. He said he was lonely, scared and he missed me…” she stopped, took a deep breath and said, “And that she made it better.” 

              “Grandma, this letter was written five months ago. Have you been carrying it in your pocket for that long? Does Grandpa know?” I looked to her for an answer, but didn’t find one. “What about the other letters? Are they from her as well?”

              “No, he doesn’t know. When the first one came in the mail, I saw the postmark and immediately knew who it was from. The letters just kept coming and coming.”

              “Wait,” I said, “you knew about her?”

              “When your Grandfather returned from the War, he broke down and told me everything. What choice did I have? He was my husband, I loved him, and I thought what was done. Now this.”

              “What do you mean? Didn’t she know he was married and that when the war was over he would go home and it would end?”

              “In the beginning, that was how it was supposed to be, but she got pregnant, so it wasn’t over.” My Grandmother shook her head and said, “Every month he would send her money to help her raise the child. When the child was twelve her mother died and she went to live with relatives, but he still sent money each month.”

              I had a million questions that I wanted to ask my Grandmother: What was her name? Did she know about us? Did my mother know she had a sister? The only question that I did ask was, “Why did you hide the letters from Grandpa?”

              “I thought that she wasn’t serious about coming to meet him. I thought that if I ignored it, she would go away but I was wrong.”

              “She’s coming here?” Now the extra chair and place setting made sense, “Today? Now, you mean?” I said.

              My Grandmother sighed and slowly nodded her head. “By the time I got the letter it was too late, she was already on her way and I couldn’t stop her. It’s just too late.”

              As the door bell rang my Grandmother glanced at the clock on the stove, sighed resignedly and quietly said, “I’d better stir that gravy before it burns.” She got up from the table wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron.

              The doorbell rang again and from the other room my Grandfather called, “I’ll get it!”


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