NO PART OF THIS SHORT STORY MAY BE USED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER WITHOUT THE PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR.
GENERATIONS by Christine Hayton – June 8, 2014 – Revised March 2016
Pat ambled around the sparse bedroom. He stopped at the mirror, hanging slightly askew, over Annie’s dusty dressing table. Deep lines sculpted his face and a mop of silver hair defined his head. He wasn’t worried about getting old or senile tonight. Scary, but wonderful thoughts filled his mind. He stopped at the window and watched the rain trickle down the pane. He just couldn’t keep this to himself. He had to tell someone. He had to share all the emotions exploding inside.
Stan! Stan would get it. He knew all about it and he would understand. Drawing a deep breath, he sat on the edge of his bed and picked up the phone. His neighbor and long-time friend answered on the first ring.
“Hello Patrick Fraser. I like this new Caller ID thing. See that … I can answer using your name.”
“Hi Stan, how ya doin’?” Pat’s smile resonated in his voice.
“I’m okay. Kinda tired of watching it piss rain out there.”
“Rain’s good for the garden, and good for your soul.”
“I know. Esther used to say that, too.” Stan went quiet. Both wives had been gone for a number of years now, but mentioning their names still gave the old friends pause. It usually took a second or two to move on.
“You’re in an awfully good mood. I know getting lucky isn’t in the cards for us anymore, so what is it? You just win the lottery or something?”
“No.” Pat paused and took a deep breath.
“You gonna make me guess?”
Pat hesitated another moment, not sure exactly how to say it. Finally, it just blurted out. “Randy called me. I talked to him an hour ago.” Both men went quiet.
“Stan…are you still there?”
“Your son, Randy … he called you … after all this time? What did he say? Where’s he been?”
“Stan, he left twenty years ago … and now he’s coming home.”
“Just like that? Any explanations?”
“No.” Patrick hesitated and then snapped at his friend. “… and I don’t care.”
“I guess if it was me, I wouldn’t care either. Wow! You’re getting your son back.”
“There’s more. He’s bringing his wife and his son. Her name is Paige and they have a six-year-old named David. They’re coming next week.”
“Oh my God, that means you’re a grandfather. Grandkids are like having little angels in your life. They make you happy. They make you smile. I wouldn’t trade mine for anything.”
“I can’t wait to see Randy. I love him and I miss him so much. Oh Stan, my son is coming home.” The tears streamed down his cheeks and detoured around his smile.
“That’s wonderful, Pat… I’m so happy for you.” Stan could feel his eyes starting to fill. He sucked in a deep breath and blew it out again. “You’re a lucky man.” With no further words needed, the old friends hung up.
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If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it. The last time Pat heard his grandfather say those words it was late summer. The old man died that fall. Pat was nine. For all the years between then and now, a whiff of Old Spice on a summer breeze, the echo of whistling in a distant alley, and a firm handshake always brought back memories of his grandfather. Even after all these years, Pat felt that old man was always close by.
Memories of his last conversation with his grandfather flooded his mind.
Pat spent most of that hot sticky day running with the neighborhood kids through water blasting from an open fire hydrant. He stopped short when he spotted his father and grandfather coming out the screen door. Running up the steps of the wooden porch that fronted his house, he came to an abrupt stop. The men were standing at the railing and looking out over the hills as they talked. His grandfather was tall, handsome, and strong. Pat always felt comfortable and safe around him, but he also knew the rules. He wouldn’t dare interrupt them. The child watched his grandfather closely, and knew from the man’s sly grin, that he’d been waiting for him.
The child swiped forearm across his wet face, patted his hair down, and clasped his hands behind his back. Standing straight, he slightly swayed from one bare foot to the other. When the conversation between the grown-ups waned, the older man turned and dropped his head, looking at Pat over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses.
“Well, Patrick, are you going to give your grandfather a proper hello?”
“Hello Grandpa.” The child extended a stiff right arm and the old man grasp his hand. They shared a very sober and deliberate handshake. Pat knew, once they completed that formality, his grandfather would demand he guess what was in his vest pocket. He always tucked away a shined-up five-cent piece. Grandpa got down on one knee, and looking the boy in the eyes asked his question.
“You have a shiny coin in your pocket!” Pat responded quickly. Grandpa usually had a nickel, but this time he slowly reached into that pocket, and produced a quarter. Holding it between his thumb and first finger, he stretched his arm into the air and examined the coin carefully. Pat watched as Grandpa slowly moved the coin into their mutual sightline. Lifting the boy’s hand, he turned it palm up. The boy pulled a shallow breath as the coin dropped into his fingers. Their eyes locked and both of them grinned.
“Oh, thank you, Grandpa! Thank you so very, very much!” The words tumbled out of the boy’s mouth. Pat remembered the best part of that day. It was just before he left to secure his new treasure.
His grandfather’s eyes twinkled and he slowly nodded. “You’re a very smart young man. I’ll always be proud of you.” Those were his grandfather’s last words to him. He never forgot them.
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A small airport now replaced the old porch, the old house, and the rest of the neighborhood. Fifty plus years changed many things. Pat paced in the airport waiting room and thought about that August day so long ago. It felt good to remember those feelings of wonder. He closed his eyes. Would his grandson love him the way he had loved his grandfather.
Thoughts of his son took over his mind. Randy ran away when he was sixteen. Pat couldn’t remember why the boy left. He never understood why he didn’t come back. The boy filled his thoughts every day and he prayed every night for him to come home. Wondering about him took a good deal of his time. When he buried his beloved Annie, he wondered if their son would be there.
Pat drove across the country, supposedly for work, but mostly hoping he might catch a glimpse of his child in some unfamiliar city. Sometimes he wondered if Randy was dead, but then quickly turned away from any such idea. He wondered if his son ever thought about him, and Annie, and the other people left behind. He wondered if the little boy he loved so much was ever coming back to him.
Suddenly Pat smiled. Randy had come back. Pat knew he could never loose him again. They had talked on the phone several times over the last week. Randy cried when he heard his mother was gone. Neither father, nor son could remember why he left. The son spoke of a rather dismal existence on the streets of Toronto. He got help, beat the drugs, went back to high school, and on to college. That’s where he met Paige. They fell in love and married after graduation. Over the years, their advertising agency became notable. They wanted out of the city and bought a house just a commuter flight away from Pat and his old hometown. That’s when they decided to start a family. Randy never forgot his roots but it had taken some time for him to work up the courage to call his father. He wished he hadn’t waited so long.
Pat had been alone for a long time and lived a quiet existence. Every Sunday, he and Stan traded stories and each downed one beer. If the Maple Leafs won a hockey game, a very rare occasion indeed, they each drank two beers. It had been the highlight of his week; all that was about to change. Today his heart pounded and his mind raced. Finally seeing his son again, after all these years, was very exciting and utterly terrifying all at the same time.
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The loud speaker garbled something about the flight arrivals and he walked to the big window that faced the single runway. Pat adjusted his glasses, patted down his hair, and clasped his hands behind his back. He slightly swayed from one foot to the other, as he watched and waited. The commuter plane touched down with a couple bounces, and taxied to the terminal. Pat checked every passenger that stepped onto the tarmac, and immediately recognizing the older Randy. He was a little heavier with bits of grey in his hair, but that face reflected the son Pat remembered. A much younger version walked beside him. That tiny little guy had to be David. Paige, a tall blonde, obviously the wife, held the child’s other hand.
Tearful, but very happy, the men held on to each other for a very long time. All those lost years faded away. Randy wiped his eyes and introduced Paige and David to his father. Pat cried openly, his tears and smile competing with each other, unable to talk; he just kept hugging Randy and Paige.
David watched Pat and his parents. When things seemed to quiet down, he stepped up to Pat, stiff and very sober, he held out his right hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Grandfather.”
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, the old man removed his glasses, and wiped the tears away. Once composed, he shook David’s hand. Swallowing hard, he smiled. “Hello David. It’s my great pleasure to meet you. You can call me Grandpa if you’d like.”
Pat looked at the boy and realized how much he instantly loved him. He worried he wouldn’t know what to say or do when he met his grandson. His own grandfather had just filled his mind and suddenly everything just came naturally. Getting down on one knee, he looked David in the eye, and with a huge grin, tapped his jacket pocket.
”If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”
Randy snorted and quickly put a hand over his mouth stifling a laugh. The boy, confused, looked up at his father. Randy bent over, and whispered into David’s ear.
David pulled back and stared at his father. “Are you sure?”
Randy nodded. “Oh yes, I’m very sure.”
David hesitated for just a moment. Turning to his grandfather, he spoke with authority. “You have a shiny coin in your pocket.”
Stunned at his response, Pat hesitated and looked quizzically at his son.
Randy smiled and put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “Dad, did you forget I had a grandfather too. Didn’t you ever wonder where all those quarters came from?” Pat laughed and shook his head. He had never realized his own father had played the same game with his son.
Pulling a dollar coin out of his pocket, Pat put his other arm around David’s shoulder, and taking the child’s hand, pressed the coin into his palm.
“Thank you very much.” David’s face lit up and he stared at the coin. Pat was about to stand, when the little boy looked at him, quickly grabbed him around the neck and hugged him. “I’m glad you’re my Grandpa.”
The little boy giggled and squeezed his trophy. He held Pat’s hand, as the reunited Fraser family walked along the concourse headed for home.
They sat in the living room sharing pizza, laughing, and joking. Pat looked at Randy and a thought crossed his mind. He wondered what their long-standing family tradition would cost his son when he became a grandfather.
Copyright © 2014 Christine Hayton