As we were leaving a restaurant, a middle-aged man at the next table said hello to my friend, who introduced us. As folks here tend to do, he shook my hand, smiled broadly and launched into a story.
"I used to live around the corner from your grandparents when I was a little kid," he began. "I used to run away from home. I always ran to Grandma Phillipson's."
(Everyone here called her Grandma. Before I moved in with her, she drove herself around town. Only the top of her wig was visible as she drove 15 miles an hour down the middle of the street. The drivers of approaching cars would pull to the side of the road, where they'd wave and yell "Hi, Grandma," even in winter, when the windows were rolled up. She waved back and continued to the corner, where she'd stop the car and pull herself up on the steering wheel far enough to look both ways, before crossing.)
"She'd call my mom to let her know where I was," he continued. "Grandma would feed me lunch, then give me little chores to do. I remember one time she had me unpack your dad's law books. At suppertime, she gave me a little "spending money," and sent me home. I ran away several times every summer, until I got a paper route."
* * *
One day, while I was watering the flowers I'd planted on my grandparent's graves, I heard someone yell, "Hey, lady!" I looked up over several rows of headstones, and saw an elderly woman, waving. Her middle-aged son was on his knees, chopping the sod with a trowel. "Can we borrow your watering can?"
I refilled it and took it to her. "Who are you?" she asked.
I told her my maiden name, which is what I'm known by in Dowagiac. I don't know if it's because Wilson is too hard to remember, or if folks think that since I'm no longer married, I shouldn't use my married name.
"I remember your grandfather," she said. "He once told my mother, 'Honey, if you ever need money, please ask me.' She never took it, of course, but it meant a lot, since we were poor."
Her son looked up at me and asked, "Why on earth did you come back here?"
"Because it's home," his mother answered before I could speak. The disapproving look she gave him caused him to turn his head and go back to his digging. She pointed to a small headstone, near the one where her son knelt. "That's my son, who died when he was a baby." She indicated a larger one, next to her husband's grave. "That's my other son. He died in the war."
I waited as her son removed the chrysanthemum from its pot, settled it in the hole and replaced the dirt. "I have some mulch," I said. "Would you like some?"
"If you have some to spare," she answered. I brought the bag from the car and handed it to her son.
"It was nice to meet you," I said. "I'm glad you knew my grandfather. Thank you for remembering him well. He'd be pleased."
"He was a nice man," she said. "People don't forget things like that."