Her Daddy’s Hand
A Short Story
Between high school graduation and my first semester in college I had an opportunity to spend six weeks with my grandfather when he broke his leg. It was one of the most informative six weeks of my life. Having Grandpa all to myself was a rare treat. Up until that point our visits were for short periods of time and always included my mother and two brothers. They were enjoyable visits, but Grandpa and I never seemed to have any real time just for us.
I spent my days tending to Grandpa’s garden. Of course, he sat in his wheelchair and supervised my every move. Each chore had a story that went with it. Sometimes the tales were instructional explaining why things were done a certain way, but at other times they were funny stories about his life and my mother’s childhood. He would be very serious when instructing me on exactly how to snip a rose from the bush, or how to measure the amount of plant food needed by each variety. His whole demeanor changed when he spoke of my mother.
She was his only child and his love for her was legendary in the large extended family. “At times,” my aunt had once confided in me, “your grandmother was jealous of them.” Watching him talk about her during my stay I could understand why. His eyes shone with pride as he related each tale. She had never done anything wrong to hear him tell it. He praised her long golden hair, her dancing blue eyes, her quick wit and her delicate beauty. He applauded her tom boyishness, her boldness, her bravery, and her independence. It was that last that seemed most important to him. I say that because it was what he spoke of most often.
I heard all the tales about her finding her way out of the woods when they got separated. About her facing down the bully who used to pull her pigtails. About her being about to outfight her male cousins. But the story I heard over and over was of her letting go of his hand.
“She was only four,” he told me. “We were walking to the park and she dropped my hand and stopped walking. I asked her what was wrong. She looked up at me with the most serious expression I’d ever seen on her face and said, “Daddy, I’m a big girl. I can walk by myself now.” She never took my hand out of fear after that. She would hold my hand for a hundred other reasons, but when she was afraid, she would square her shoulders and face her fear alone.”
For me, the six weeks went by too fast, but school beckoned. I never got to much time with Grandpa after that. A day here and there, but it was never the same. I thought about Grandpa’s story of my mother letting go of his hand as I watched her cope with her grief when he died. I could almost see the little blond girl that she was squaring her shoulders and facing life without him. It was an image that replayed itself in my mind each time I was afraid of anything in my own life.
As the years went by, I watched my mother age and grow frail, but never once did I see her falter in strength. She faced each day as she had faced everything else in life with quiet dignity and inner strength that came from long practice.
During my mother’s last illness we kept her room cool and dim in an effort to make her as comfortable as possible. She drifted in and out of consciousness for days as the end approached. In her usual efficient way she had made all the necessary arrangements so that we children wouldn’t be burdened with the decisions at a time when we were most vulnerable. She and I had had long discussion about death being a release from the pain her illnesses caused her. She had prepared me for her death as well as she could. What she couldn’t prepare me for was the minute preceding her death. Nothing could have prepared me for the sublime beauty of that moment.
She had been unconscious for so long that her voice startled me. I looked up and saw her outstretched hand reaching up. In a small, almost childish voice she said, “Take my hand, Daddy, I’m scared.” Her hand closed as if someone else’s was in hers and she was gone.
I will always believe that my grandfather came to walk her to heaven, and they are there together waiting for the rest of us.