Before we knew what was happening, she had us outside chopping wood. Using an ax was new to all of us except Sam. We had blisters in no time, and started regretting Sam’s turn into the barely visible driveway hidden to all but those who knew it was there. I heard Nigel gasp, and spun around to see Sam’s grandma swinging his ax like a seasoned lumberjack. Who knew the old lady could even pick up one of those things? We turned, zombie-like, to look at the wood pile, and at that moment it dawned on us how it had gotten there. Woa. Sam’s grandma handed the ax back to Nigel and told him it might help if he pulled up his pants.
“Lesson two. Keep private things private so you can get to what needs to be done,” she muttered as she started walking into the cabin.
“It’s chilly,” she called, “Hot cocoa for whoever wants it when you’re done.”
Well we all dropped our axes right then and there and started for the house. She was waiting for us at the screen door.
“When you’re done,” she repeated, pointing to the uncut logs and tools on the ground.
We turned around and spent the rest of the evening chopping. We actually got the hang of it and by the time we were done, we were not just ready for cocoa. We were ready for bed. It was 9:00.
What we had initially thought would be a quick stop for Sam to say hi to his grandma turned into a week. She always came up with a reason we needed to stay one more day. Instead of drinking beer and seeing things our mothers never intended for our young eyes to see, we ended up doing odd jobs around Sam’s grandma’s property; things like turning over dirt for a garden and planting seeds so small we lost half of them who knows where, and learning how to make lemonade with actual lemons, and how to shoot a gun and field dress a deer. Sam’s grandma had us take turns reading Shakespeare and Frost and Thoreau and Lewis to her after dinner while the rest of us listened as we stared into the fire. What school had never done for me, Sam’s grandma did, for it was then that I think I really began to love reading and thinking, both. We fell into bed every night by 9:00 and she woke us up with the prickly side of a broom at dawn. She especially liked whapping Nigel. After a couple of days he began to think it was as funny as she did.
That last night there we sat in the dancing light of logs chopped long before, maybe years before we had arrived. Sam walked over to her and told her spring break would be over in two days and we had to get back home. She reached up on her tiptoes and placed her cheek gently next to his.
“I know. Your mother called and told me.”
We did a double take.
“Grandma, when did you ever have a phone?” Sam asked, looking around.
His grandma motioned to me and led me over to a closet.
“Fred, would you be so kind as to open this door for me?”
I pulled the surprisingly heavy door open, and inside there was a little room, complete with a desk on which sat a cell phone and computer.
After a couple of silent minutes, Trent stuttered, “Wha . . .?”
Our thoughts exactly.
“Lesson ten: change is a fact of life,” she said quietly.
We were quiet the morning we were to leave. I couldn’t smile even when Sam’s grandma laid into Nigel with the broom. It felt like we were going from heaven to purgatory. The week had been filled with lessons like listening to nature clears your thoughts; and one that closely followed it, how are you ever gonna hear God if you’re listening to loud music; and one especially for Nigel, sleeping in makes you stupid; and animals trust people with kind hearts.
Sam’s grandma packed a lunch for us to take back with us and gave each of us a bear hug that nearly took our breath away. Last was Sam, and she hugged him for a long time while they swayed together in the clearing. Then she swatted his backside and he got in the car.
Leaning out the window he said, “Lesson eleven: Listen to your grandma.”
What a road trip: sixty miles and a world away. She smiled and waved as we pulled out of the barely visible driveway hidden to all but those who knew it was there.