Last time we talked, I told you about how my grandmother outfoxed my ambitions to be a queen. Well, she wasn’t the only one who knew a thing or two about children.
The story is often told in our family of “Grandfather’s Miracle”. I am told that I crawled early, walked early, and got around with a single-minded speed that could be pretty unnerving. But apparently one day I simply woke up, went back to crawling, and would have nothing more to do with walking.
The discussions lasted all day long. The doctor received a call. He said it “sometimes just happened”, and that sooner or later I would start walking again. Sooner or later? My mother snorted. What sort of medical advice was that? I wasn’t walking now. It had certainly never happened to them before.
Something had to be done – if not only to save me from a lifetime of red knees, at least to preserve the family’s ability to claim all its members could walk upright. But what to do? I refused to stand up and was thoroughly uncooperative from all accounts. Party lines in our little town were clogged with urgent telephone calls to women in the neighborhood; other mothers came to examine the offending child. But no conclusion was reached.
I thought it was lovely to have so much company, but secretly I wished they had chosen another time – I was learning my numbers and was busy counting the cat’s toes.
Then came the final blow from a sweet lady up the street: “Well, I suppose the doctor would have had you bring her in if he suspected polio.”
Polio? Infantile paralysis? The scourge of children of my generation? Now my mother and grandmother were in a real tizzy.
Things had reached fever pitch by the time Grandfather came home. After listening impatiently to their agitated tale of woe, he just said, “Oh, women,” and scooped me into his arms.
Grandfather put me in the front seat of his black and white Plymouth and drove me out to the chicken houses. There he carried me through the doors of the long building, past the little screened-in entry piled high with chicken feed sacks, and waded through a sea of downy yellow feathers to the middle of the room.
Holding me in his strong, loving hands, he waited until the perfect moment. Once the little chicks ran cheeping towards me, he gently set me down in the sawdust. I remember the feeling as the touch of his fingers fell away.
As soon as I saw the little yellow flock, I forgot my troubles and ran giggling towards the onrushing chicks that soon surrounded me. I was a mop-topped Moses and the chicks were my Red Sea. I threw myself into the sawdust and played with my little friends, reveling in the feeling of happy, vibrant life all around and over me, tiny little claws delicately running all over me, tickling any exposed skin. I picked them up, handling them just as he had taught me – very, very gently. And then I got up and chased them; then they chased me. It was dark by the time he took me home, happy and exhausted – and walking.
I don’t remember much after we got home, just the sound of my grandfather laughing and the raised, hurt voices of the women.
At that point my poor father dragged himself through the door, exhausted after a long day’s work and a tiring evening of college courses he was taking to finish his war-interrupted degree. My indignant grandmother and mother had gotten only halfway through their recitation of the day’s events when my dad said innocently, “Oh, she probably just fell down and hurt herself. She’ll start walking again sooner or later.”
My grandfather doubled over with laughter.
I’m told the women didn’t speak to the men for a week.
My grandmother told me years later that Grandfather just could not understand why “a whole bunch of dad-burn women” could not figure out that when a child quits walking, it’s because it has fallen down and gotten hurt. The child has just learned from experience that walking leads to sad consequences. But who could get hurt falling down in sawdust while distracted and having a good time? Grandfather knew a thing or two about children. But he never figured out how to get out of the doghouse over having bested the ladies on that one.
©Jill Teresa Farmer