Jennifer was heartbroken to learn that Grandma Bea had landed in the hospital for a hip replacement. True, the heavy-set woman with the perennial cheery disposition, with cherries in her cheeks and a twinkle in her hazel eyes, had been slowing down as of late. The diminutive eight-year-old child, with hair the color of straw, who wore it in braids that reached to her waist, had noticed that their daily strolls along the winding paths in Boston Garden were taking longer now. Lately, Grandma couldn’t catch up to her and she had extra time to feed the pigeons the crusts of toast she had squirreled away from breakfast, before being gently prodded to resume the circuitous trek home. Each day, the gentle woman with the soft doughy hands met her bus stop after school, which occupied the northwest corner of the garden, and walked with her kitty-corner across the wide expanse to her mom’s Beacon-Hill brownstone, which sat at the southeast corner near the shiny gold dome of the State House.
Mom was an attorney, who often had to conduct late-afternoon business luncheons at fancy hotel restaurants just at pickup time it seemed, but Grandma was always there right on cue, as steady and as timely as the arrival of the deep magenta magnolia blossoms that lined nearby Commonwealth Avenue come May.
Oh, how Jen loved Boston Garden in the spring! The fresh-smelling earth came alive with dewy stalks promising blooms with rainbow hues in the upcoming weeks ahead. The blitz of color and mixture of scents would prove tantalizing to passersby with few able to resist its unspoken beckoning. Upon entering the huge iron gate which hung on a spiky black fence surrounding the Boston landmark, resembling a crown in its full majesty, Jen thought it made her feel like a princess, and the treasures within were her personal castle garden. In the early summer, Grandma Bea and she would stop to ride the graceful swan boats which had become celebrities amid the garden. How she loved the stately swans that heralded the start of every summer. Their passengers who visited the historic city from all around the globe were never disappointed by the sauntering boats, led by the graceful swan figureheads, enjoyed by all ages. Looking out from behind their expansive sculpted wings, one could look down and see families of emerald-and-brown-headed mallards paddling alongside their revered ancestors with their rubbery webbed feet in constant motion to keep up with the legendary birds which, with a little imagination, came to life.
At the height of summer, when school was out and camp was in session, Jen remembered that Grandma and she would once again be entranced by the light raspberry perfume of the full-blossomed crimson roses that grew in the garden’s center. If you closed your eyes, their hypnotic scent made all your troubles evaporate. Just one whiff could revive and elevate your spirit, so you felt as though your feet could lift off the ground, and within no time you had flown home with only the pigeons to guide you.
In the fall, as it was now, Grandma and she would often make their way over to the duckling parade, a celebrated group of siblings who made their home in the park and were always available among sun or rain showers in a cast-bronze version, although everyone knew their real-life namesakes made their domicile under the large bridge which spanned the winding river the swans made their own. When you least expected it, they tiptoed near to inquire what special delicacy you might share from your picnic cuisine or what royal fare you might have brought especially for them, perhaps a buttery madeleine from Montberry’s French Creme Bakery atop the hill? Just last week, the grandmother and granddaughter couple couldn’t stop smiling on their way home. The vermilion, Halloween-orange and lemony leaves now danced and mingled in the autumn bewitching twilight, casting an ever-changing stained-glass mosaic along the familiar path. On their route home, Jen and her best companion loved listening to the rustling leaves, whispering from the two-century-old trees which served as a canopy to the statue of Paul Revere and his horse. It was as if they held untold secrets they would share if only their Revolutionary-period dialect could be deciphered. Winter brought its own special life to the garden. Jen happily recalled how in the clear crisp blue air, the orbs on the bridge lit up just as the sun sank to resemble low-hanging stars twinlding merrily with their more distant cousins in the bright dusky sky.
* * *
Jennifer wondered what gift she could bring Grandma Bea on her visit to the austere hospital the day after tomorrow. It would have to be something especially delightful. Jen thought about the traditional get-well gifts, like a card or perhaps a checkered box of candy from Brigham’s, the local confectionary and ice cream shop, a frequently called upon neighbor by locals. But checking her piggy-bank stores, she knew she barely had enough, even if she scraped together the few stale and discolored coins that remained at its bottom after purchasing her mom’s birthday present just last month. But if she could scrape some amount together, what could she buy that would be special—special enough for Grandma Bea?
* * *
When Grandma Bea’s stand-in, amiable Uncle Harry, arrived to meet her at the bus stop the next day, Jen had an idea. She knew she would need to find something from the special afternoon walks they both cherished. A magnificent citrus-colored leaf? No, it would wither in no time and eventually crackle into dry, brown dust. A drawing of a duck? No, the ducks had already flown south to find solace from the frigid New England winter ahead. Where could she possibly find a model that might accommodate her at this late date? With Uncle Harry only a few short steps behind her, Jen sped ahead to the covered landing where the swan boat passenger tickets were sold. The large birds were all strung together, already in hibernation until next season. I have to find something, Jen thought, looking around her at the slumbering giants. Looking down at her once-new school sneakers, Jen spied two yellow rectangular paper tickets on the asphalt. No, it couldn’t be, thought Jen. Jen gingerly picked up the familiar tickets and turned them over in her hand, treasuring them as if she had just struck gold. Above the stylized picture of the entwined birds, she read, “Swan Boat Ticket, good any time.” Jen’s heart skipped as she revealed to her uncle her serendipitous find. How was it possible? The kiosk had been closed for over a month now! They must have blown off a coveted stack housed in the kiosk awaiting next summer’s arrival.
The next day, when her mom took Jen to the hospital to see Grandma Bea, the portly woman was sitting up in bed, resting comfortably on a pile of fluffy pillows. “I hope your new hip makes you good as new,” offered Jen, along with a heartfelt hug and kiss. From behind her back, Jen presented her surprise.
As Grandma Bea opened the carefully wrapped package in crinkly white tissue paper, beneath a bright chartreuse bow, she let out a gasp. In wrinkled hands, she held out a small worn paperback copy of Make Way for Ducklings, the one she had given Jen on her very first birthday. “Thank you, Jen, I love it,” she replied.
“I gave you my best treasure, Grandma.” Jen could see Grandma Bea’s eyes well up.
“My favorite story… the one I used to read to you on our picnics together in the garden.”
“Yep, but that’s not all,” hinted Jen excitedly. Her eyes shone bright with anticipation.
Grandma Bea opened the cover of the familiar children’s tale and out fell the two tickets, “Swan Boat Ticket, good…” she started, “any time,” she concluded, with Jen chiming in, shouting in unison with her grandmother. “I’m sure to get better now,” declared Grandma Bea in full spirits. “Can’t let these tickets go to waste; we’ll use them on opening day. I’ll even race you to the landing,” she added enthusiastically, reaching for Jen and returning an oversized grandmotherly hug, the kind that leaves you almost breathless. “But wherever did you find them this time of year?”
And in that moment of recognition, they both knew they had received… the perfect gift.