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BellaOnline Literary Review
Snowy Bluebird by Carol Dandrade

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Grandma's Magic

E. Margareta Griffith

Sally got a solid grip on the framed photograph and held it at an arm´s length. It came into focus and she looked into gray-blue eyes challenging the future. A last trace of childhood freckles lingered across the nose and forehead under waves of sun-reddened brown hair. Her son, Patsy, as she had not seen him since he took himself off to college on assorted small scholarships and all the help she and Pop had been able to give him.

He had been a cranky baby. Sally could not blame him; the poor thing had every minor ailment known to Dr. Levine and one or two he´d had to look up. She had been willing to fuss over him, but he hated it. It seemed she could do nothing right. As he learned to walk and speak for himself, he took to biting instead of the usual loud but harmless tantrums her friends´ children had. Sally had never prided herself on her cooking, but Pop ate it and was grateful. Patsy seemed willing to live on butter and fruit sandwiches.

One day, nearly at wits´ end, Sally had watched the neighbor´s cat deal with her kittens. Tiramisu had fussed over her little ones, washing, feeding, and carrying the kittens. But once the three could eat canned food and wash their own faces, their mother paid them less mind than she did the birds in the yard. Sally could not go that far, but she began letting Patsy find his own way.

The cat had been a wise mother. Patsy grew to become Patrick, valued member of the bridge and debate teams and solid enough at track and field. He was accepted at a respected college in another city. At school, he had met and become engaged to a lovely young woman.

His job was steady and paid well. Instead of looking for his parents for help, he was always bringing Pop a new book or Sally something classy from a vacation or business trip. The gold chain from Paris came out on special occasions while Sally waited to pass it on to Patrick´s daughter.

A smaller photograph, tucked into the same frame, covered some of the blue formal background and a bit of her son´s suit. The girl in that photograph looked like her father, but granddaughters were different than sons. Sally and Pauline had shared many confidences over a cup of tea or cocoa with ice cream in the winter, or a glass of cold ginger ale in the summer. The grandmother didn´t know if the girl ever took her advice, but she seemed glad to talk things over. The one thing Pauline had not shared even with Sally was any interest in boys.

Pauline was in college herself now. She seemed happy, and her grades were good, but so far, she had still not admitted to any interest in finding a husband. Of course she should finish school first, but there were only two years left. It was time to at least meet people. The girl did not take much trouble with her appearance, and she could be slow to warm up to new people, but Sally knew that somewhere there was a boy who would recognize and appreciate Pauline´s direct manner and fine singing voice. But it would need some luck.

Sally tucked the four-leaf clover she´d found in the yard that morning into the frame. Although Patrick had not raised his daughter to be a Catholic, Sally threw in a quick prayer. Then she went back outside to finish the mowing, confident good things would happen soon.

* * * * *

After watching Mass on television, Sally skimmed the fat off the chicken soup. She had to laugh; cooking had never been her thing and now that she lived alone she hardly ever bothered. Cottage cheese or yogurt, a slice or two of toast, and fruit or frozen green beans kept her happy and her weight at the level she had struggled to achieve most of her adult life. But even though the Pope no longer minded if you ate meat on Friday, Sally opened a can of tuna every Friday for her lunch. And on Sunday she made chicken soup and shared it with Nina Albanese next door.

Pauline liked her grandmother´s chicken soup. While Sally was thinking about her granddaughter, she picked up the phone and gave her a call. Pauline was usually catching up on homework on Sunday after a Saturday night of going out with friends. Her crowd was mostly girls, sometimes a boy one of her friends was seeing. And those young men seemed conspicuously lacking in lonely and good-natured friends. Sally had even wondered if perhaps the girls were more interesting to Pauline. If so, Sally would learn to love the young lady. Pauline could always adopt children, after all.

Most of the time when Sally called it took Pauline a few minutes to come to the phone, and a few minutes more to start talking. Sally guessed Pauline spent Sundays reading for her classes, or maybe napping after a late night. Sally had some idea of the reality of college life.

“Grandma, I´m seeing someone,” Pauline said.

Sally felt the way she did when the first robins came back in the spring. They were no surprise; it happened every year, but she always felt happy to see them. “Is he nice?”

Pop had been a handsome man. But it was his kindness that had made up her mind she would marry him.

“He´s friends with people who wouldn´t put up with him if he wasn´t,” Pauline said.

“And what´s his name?”

“Boyd Abrams. His family is from New Mexico.”

“Would you like living in the desert?” Sally knew it was early to be thinking about that; there could be many boyfriends before a husband came along even if four-leaf clovers and prayers to St. Anthony and the Virgin were involved. But she wanted to know how serious Pauline was about Boyd.

“I´m just going to have to get a good job and bring him to Connecticut,” Pauline said.

Pauline was serious. Sally just hoped she wouldn´t scare Boyd off with her interest or her determination to have her own way. And Pauline had chosen wisely and would not be hurt beyond the normal growing pains of learning to live with someone.

“Well, he may want to be near his own people,” Sally said.

Silence for the time it would take to take a full breath. “We´ll work it out.”

“It may not even come up. He may not turn out to be the one for you.” Sally guessed Pauline would be willing to move for her husband, whatever she might say now. It happened as you worked together with a man. But Sally herself wouldn´t mind if Boyd, or whoever, found a job somewhere closer than New Mexico.

“You´re right. But Grandma, I could do worse. He´s pretty special.”

This was going fast even for Sally. “Is he good-looking?” she asked, afraid the answer would be yes.

“I like the way he looks,” Pauline said.

Her granddaughter still had her blunt honesty and clear vision. Good. This Boyd might be the one; nothing wrong with love at first sight as long as you didn´t trust it too soon. Sally had fallen for Pop just as fast but she hadn´t acted until she had a chance to use her head as well as her heart.

“I´ll say a prayer for you. I know you don´t go to church, but..”

Pauline interrupted. “Thank you. I know this might not work out. But we stayed up talking all night Friday, and then most of last night, too. Then we both had work to do. But I took a walk and thought things over.”

Sally knew taking a walk was Pauline´s answer to almost everything. “I´ve told you how I used to walk the hills behind the house I grew up in. What did you decide?”

“Well, I saw this patch of clover, and a honeybee. A real one, not a wasp looking for spilled soda. Something about that bee told me everyone has a place. And if Boyd´s and mine is together, I think I could be happy.”

And then Pauline changed the subject. “How have you been?”

* * * * *

Three years later, Pauline looked quite lovely in the same dress her mother, Marissa, had worn when she married Pauline´s father. Boyd was handsome in a simple, dark suit, white shirt, and understated tie. Nothing faddish or overdone about him. His whole family was like that, warm people, intelligent enough to be interesting and simple enough to like. Sally turned to Boyd´s older brother, who had escorted her and sat beside her for the wedding.

“Tom, I wish Patrick could be here to see this,” she said.

“Was Patrick your husband?” Boyd´s brother asked.

“No, Patrick was my son, Pauline´s father. Pop was Mickey. I know they would both have loved Boyd, like I do.”

“Well, we´re happy to have you, Marissa, and Pauline in the family.”

Sally nervously fingered her gold chain.

“That´s a beautiful necklace,” said Tom.

That was Boyd´s family. Sally doubted any of them cared much about jewelry, but they noticed the necklace was special to her. “Pauline´s father brought it back from Paris for me when he went on business,” she said. “I wish he could have been here.”

“I wish we could have met him.”

“Marissa has done a good job,” Sally said. She hoped it did not sound like bragging, but she did not want Boyd´s family to think the style of the wedding was not all it would have been if Patrick had been alive. Pauline´s mother had done everything possible to make the day special for Boyd and Pauline.

Tom smiled, and Sally knew he understood.

Pauline and Boyd kissed, then joined hands and strode back down the aisle to a cheerful Mozart tune. Marissa and Boyd´s parents followed, then Tom again offered his arm to Sally.

Before he left her to pose in wedding photographs, Tom made sure Sally had a full glass of champagne. Such a thoughtful young man.

Champagne in one hand and her rosary hidden in the other, Sally walked to the edge of the patio where they were having drinks before dinner. She made sure no one was looking, then held her rosary as she told Patsy and Pop about Boyd, the wedding, and how Boyd´s family had welcomed Pauline and her family into theirs. Then she toasted the young couple for herself, Patsy, and Pop.

As she turned back to the party she heard humming from the grass. A few feet away, one of the first bees of spring had found a patch of clover. Sally could not see how many leaves the plants had from this distance, but she did not need to. She knew at least one had four.