Gina Boston sat with her brother and grandmother at the old, well-used kitchen table in Grandma’s farmhouse. They were eating breakfast, which was mixed cereal, composed of six different kinds. Gina and her older brother, Caleb, were used to this because they had always had mixed cereals when they had lived with their parents.
Maybe that’s why Grandma mixes different kinds of cereals—to make us feel better, Gina thought as she pushed her spoon around.
She ran her hand over the table’s honey-colored surface (scarred and faded from years of baking and sunlight) and thought about her parents. They had both died in a car accident when Gina was ten years old. Gina and Caleb had not been in the car when the accident happened; in fact, they had been seven miles away, visiting their grandmother who lived in the country in a beautiful old farmhouse, where outside there was a cow, eight chickens, and four pigs. Before the accident happened, in 1967, Gina and her brother had lived in Maple Brook, Alberta, with their parents and the family’s fluffy white cat, Queenie. Gina did not know exactly how or when her grandmother had gotten the news, but it had been late one February night three years ago, and she and Caleb had been asleep. The next morning, Grandma had sat with them on the blue flowered couch and gently broken it to them that their parents were dead. Caleb and Gina had been numb for a minute and then had sobbed and sobbed. Now Gina could not remember what else had happened that day.
In a few days they had all gone to Gina and Caleb’s house on Carlson Avenue, had taken everything out and chosen which things to give away and which things to move to Grandma’s farmhouse. This was not an easy task because items which had a week ago seemed unimportant now held special value and memories. A glass elephant that had always stood on the shelf, a bottle of Mom’s perfume, Dad’s favorite tie—now all these things had suddenly become priceless heirlooms.
Grandma had sold the house in Maple Brook. Because she was their legal guardian, Gina and Caleb were to live permanently at her farmhouse.
And now it was 1970, three years later, and they had finished breakfast. They put their bowls away, and Grandma asked what they were going to do that day. Caleb answered gloomily that he might as well stick around because there was nothing else to do until swimming in the late afternoon.
“And plus,” he added hurriedly, glancing at Grandma, “my bike needs fixing anyway. The, um, gearshift is, uh, stuck.”
“Is it, now?” Grandma chuckled softly. “Well, I guess you’ll have to fix it while you’re ‘sticking around.’ It’s funny, though; last week I thought you said the chain was stuck. And before that the chain needed oiling. Hmm. Your bike sure needs a lot of fixing.”
Gina was laughing so hard she was doubled over and her glasses were falling off. She and her grandmother both knew that Caleb’s bike did not need to be fixed. For some reason her brother didn’t like riding his bike, and it was hilarious watching him try to make up excuses not to.
Too bad for him, Gina thought, straightening her glasses. Grandma doesn’t want to use all that gas taking us to town, so that’s why she got us bikes.
Gina said she was going to ride to town, to read at the library.
“I actually like riding my bike. I don’t have to just sit at home pretending to fix it!”
Her brother scowled at her.
Grandma smiled and winked at her. “That sounds great, Gina. Have a nice time!” she called as Gina went out the door.
“I will, Grandma! ’bye!”
Gina ran to the back to get her bike. It was a glorious August day, and she said hello to the pigs and chickens before getting her bike from the barn. The barn was divided into two parts. One part was the garage, and the other part was Blossom, the cow’s, stall. She stroked Blossom and wheeled her bike through the yard. In seconds she was pedaling along the road. She loved riding her bike. Caleb did not. He grumbled about living in the country and not getting to ride his skateboard, which apparently was much cooler.
But Gina was happy with where they lived, just far enough away from town, and close enough to bike to the library and other places. She still missed her parents, her home, and her old life terribly, but she loved riding her bike alone on the country road with her red hair blowing behind her and the wind in her face. She loved being alone with the grass and the sky—and the occasionally passing cars, and the birds, flying with her, were the only others on the windswept prairie.
She got to Maple Brook and biked to the library. She stayed there for about two hours, and then she got on her bike and rambled up and down the old familiar streets. She came to her old house and stopped. A new family was living in it now, and with plastic riding toys and balls cluttering the untrimmed front lawn, the white paint peeling and shabby, and the hinges on the once-gleaming door rusty, her home looked nothing like the beautiful place it had once been when the Bostons had lived in it. Yet Gina could still (she always did this when she came by) see past the grimy walls with a dog-eared Sesame Street poster on one of them and handprints on another, and the broken coffee table tipped sideways where Mom’s piano had once stood, see past the dirty laundry strewn around, and someone else’s little kids running around wildly with jam on their shirts, and imagine her own family—Mom, with her short, wavy red hair, bent over a journal; Dad, always so serious about movies; Caleb, with his favorite gray sweater and rumpled dark brown hair, like Dad’s; herself, drawing, and Queenie, winding around everyone’s legs.
My whole family is in this house, Gina thought. We were so happy, playing games, reading, eating dinner and laughing… Gina thought back to a Thursday night three years ago… She saw a table in this house with Mom saying, “How would you and Caleb like to go to Grandma’s house tomorrow? You could spend the night. Then your Dad and I could go to see that movie he’s so enthusiastic about!”
Her mom had winked at them, and Dad smiled.
Gina and Caleb had agreed enthusiastically, and no one had known that they would only have one more dinner as a family.
Gina wiped away a tear and whirled back to her bike. In two seconds, she was riding away, away from the memories, fast.
* * *
She came to her grandmother’s house and leaped off her bike. She took it to the back and ran into the house. Grandma was making lunch.
“Hi, Gina. Did you have a nice time?” Grandma asked.
Gina gulped. “Yes.”
Grandma peered at Gina’s face. “Is anything wrong?”
“N- no.” Gina blinked hard.
“Well, if you’re sure. Caleb!” Grandma called.
Caleb came down and they sat at the table. Grandma set down lunch—bagels and soup.
Gina thought she’d better look happy, so she pasted a smile onto her face.
“I guess your bike is all fixed now!” she teased Caleb.
Caleb looked mournful. “Yep, all fixed,” he sighed.
Gina sighed too, but not for Caleb’s bike.
After lunch, Gina ran to her room and closed the door. Queenie was sitting in Gina’s room, washing her ears. Gina remembered her mother saying that if a cat washed its ears, then it would rain. Gina buried her face in the cat’s fluffy white fur. Queenie squirmed and wriggled, and then jumped out of Gina’s arms and scrambled under the bed. Then Gina remembered her mother’s journals. She reached under her bed, past a hiding Queenie, and pulled out the large cardboard box filled with notebooks. Gina had read her mother’s diaries so many times. She opened one.
This is the sooper
of Flora Stanton
age 8 (but mostly 9).
Absolutly NO peeking
Gina smiled at the familiar words scrawled on the pages, but something seemed to have gone out of the journal. Her smile turned to a frown, and she put the notebook back and tried again.
For her 16th birthday
Love from Mom and Dad
July 3rd, 1948
Gina liked this one. She felt her mother’s words wrap around her in a warm embrace. Suddenly she realized that, although she liked some of the diaries, she didn’t need all of them. Maybe she could save the few she liked and save only parts of the others. She had been literally sleeping on top of these memories for three years. Even happy memories could be painful. Gina got caught up in the whirl of her idea. She took out her scrapbook (which she’d never used), scissors, and glue, and cut out the message from eight-year-old Flora’s diary and glued it on a page of the scrapbook. Then she cut out a passage to represent the whole journal, glued it underneath, and put the notebook aside. She cut up the other notebooks in the same way, but saving the ones she loved. She came to a journal from 1967 and shuddered, throwing the book onto the letting-go pile without even looking at it. Gina got through all the diaries and sighed contentedly as the rain started to fall outside. She felt like a weight had been lifted from her life.
She packed up the unwanted notebooks into the box, with the scrapbook on top, and carefully stepped down the stairs to show Grandma. Halfway down, she stopped, realizing she hadn’t even asked her grandmother if she could cut up Flora’s journals. Gina trudged down the rest of the stairs. She found Grandma in the living room, reading. (Despite the fact that she was 74, Margery Stanton had excellent eyesight.) Gina told her grandmother the whole story and was relieved to see that her face did not show anger, but understanding.
“That’s fine, Gina. We didn’t need all those old notebooks lying around, and it was smart of you to choose passages from each. I know just how you felt when you realized it was time for letting go.”
Gina smiled. “Thanks, Grandma.”
Grandma smiled back, then glanced at the clock and saw that it was time for Caleb’s swimming lesson, just as he came thumping downstairs, ready to go.
* * *
And when they got to town and drove down Carlson Avenue on the way to the pool, Gina didn’t try to imagine her family there, like she had for so long. The time for remembering, that had been then. The time for letting go, that was now. Gina knew she’d always carry the happy memories with her, but she wouldn’t dwell on them, letting them upset her again. She looked out the window and smiled into the rain. It was time for letting go.