“Well, Mrs. Matthews,” Dr. Moss said as he listened through his stethoscope, “I think you’re doing fine. How do you feel?”
Grace had known Andrew Jackson Moss since he was a small boy playing in the backyard with her son, Charlie. She trusted his medical learning, but rarely called him by his hard-earned title of doctor. When he was a boy she had called him “A.J.” Instinctively she seemed to know how he felt about having to deal with a moniker like “Andrew Jackson.” People had had a lot of fun with his formal name. He had grown tired of stale jokes like, “Hey, Andrew Jackson. Got change for a twenty? Ha. Ha.” Grace had given him a name he could own, and he loved her for it.
“I feel fine, A.J.,” Grace said. When can I go home?
“Are you ready to go home?” Dr. Moss asked seriously.
Grace was perplexed but she smiled at the younger man and answered, “What do you think? I’ve been here in this hospital almost three weeks.”
“You had a pretty bad fall down those stairs, Mrs. Matthews. And don’t get mad at me for saying it, but you’re not a young girl anymore. You took a hard enough jolt to put you in a coma for three days. We just want to be sure there’s nothing that’s going to act up and cause any more trouble.”
“Fair enough, A.J., and thank you,” Grace said with a smile. “You’ve stabbed me with needles, and x-rayed me, and run tests, and like you said, I’m doing fine.”
“You don’t have to make your case, Mrs. Matthews. I actually came in here to tell you we’re going to release you today.” He grinned like that young A.J. she used to know.
“Then what was all that business with the stethoscope?” she scolded.
“Just keeping up professional appearances. But if we let you go home, I want you to take it easy around the house, and call my office in a couple of weeks to come in for a checkup, okay? And if you have any dizziness, or headaches, or anything else unusual, you call right then. I don’t want you to think just because you feel good now that you haven’t been through a serious scare. The hospital folks will be in later to take care of your release.”
Dr. Moss made his way to the door and then turned to make one final remark. “Rosalind will be glad to know you’re going home. Your granddaughter sure loves you, Mrs. Matthews. She’s been here for hours every day.”
When the door closed Grace immediately picked up her in-room telephone and called her long-time friend, Muriel Dobson. The phone rang twice and then she heard Muriel’s familiar voice.
“Muriel, this is Grace. I have wonderful news. I’m being released from the hospital today, and I wondered if you could come and pick me up?”
“Of course. I’ll be there within the hour,” Muriel said exuberantly.
“You don’t need to hurry. I don’t know how long it will take to get all the paper work finished. I’ll just call you when everything is complete so you won’t have such a long wait,” Grace said.
“Wel, I don’t mind a wait, honey. We can just visit until they’re ready to let you go.”
“Okay then. I’ll see you after while,” she said. “And Muriel? Thank you.”
Grace leaned back against her pillow and reflected on her long friendship with her next-door neighbor. Through all those years Muriel and Grace had shared each other’s joys and heartaches. And throughout the days of Grace’s recovery from her injury, Muriel was her ever constant and supportive friend. As soon as the hospital allowed regular visitors Muriel had come every day, usually staying until school was out when Grace’s granddaughter, Rosalind arrived to stay with her until visiting hours were over in the evening.
Though she felt much better, Grace still had some difficulty putting the events of the last several days in order. She had been told that three weeks ago she had tripped and fallen down the attic stairs, suffering a serious head injury. None of this was clear to her. She knew that she had been unconscious for three days, because that’s what everyone told her. But when she had awakened she had had no recollection of the accident.
The memories she did have of that lost time seemed somehow disconnected. But to her they were as real as anything she had ever experienced. She had told her granddaughter about them, and Rosalind had recounted them to a couple of the nurses who suggested that it had been a dream. But dreams are ephemeral, and now, three weeks later, every detail was still perfectly clear in her memory.
Her deceased husband, Sam and her son, Charlie had met her in some beautiful place. They had talked with her. She could still feel the warmth and reality of the experience. Was she somewhere between consciousness and death, or had she truly died? Had her spirit left her body? And why had she had this amazing experience?
Grace smiled as she thought about that question because in her heart she knew why. Her daughter-in-law, Nellie had also talked with her while she was in that other place. Tears came to Grace’s eyes as she remembered. She had been unkind to Nellie in life, and in truth, unkind to her memory as well. She had resented Nellie’s religious beliefs and her taking Grace’s beloved son, Charlie away from her. She had never had the chance to make amends before Nellie and Charlie had been killed in that terrible automobile accident in Arizona. They were on their way home to Florida after visiting the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. Only her little granddaughter, Rosalind had survived the crash.
On the same day Rosalind’s parents died, Grace had lost her husband to a heart attack. The shock of losing those she loved most, and on the same day, had sent Grace into an emotional spiral from which she had not recovered for twelve years. Her faithful friend, Muriel Dobson, and Reverend Jackson, the pastor of her church, had been her sure anchors as she slowly regained her grip on reality and became strong enough to accept the responsibility of caring for her granddaughter. It was Reverend Jackson who had helped locate Rosalind and arranged for her transfer from the foster care system of Arizona to Grace’s custody.
So it was that the foster girl had come to live with Grace in the house where her father, Charlie, had grown up. As Rosalind had struggled to fit in, she and Grace grew closer until a strong and natural bond developed between them. Rosalind slowly won her grandmother’s heart, and she came to learn that she had more family than she had ever imagined.
In addition to her growing love for her grandmother, Rosalind grew close to a new friend, Emily Watson, who had moved in across the street about the same time Rosalind had arrived at her grandmother’s house. Through a genealogy assignment in their American History class, Emily helped Rosalind learn more about the importance of family in general, and her family in particular.
While Grace lay in a coma after her fall, her granddaughter faced the frightening prospect of being alone again. What would become of her if Grace did not recover? She could not know at the time that her grandmother was somewhere else, not dead, but in another place. Perhaps it was where people go when they die, or a place where those who have passed on can visit with those who are about to.
It had seemed to Grace that she had the choice to stay there in that beautiful place. She wanted to, but Rosalind’s mother, Nellie had visited with her and explained to her how much her girl needed her grandmother. Only Grace could make the decision to stay or to return to a life of full consciousness and provide a home for Rosalind, a home filled with love and caring.
Nellie had explained to Grace how important it was for her to survive her injury so that she could continue to take care of Rosalind until she was grown and able to be on her own. It was that experience with Nellie that had helped Grace to finally see that love is never lost, and that forgiveness and understanding can cross the barriers of life and death.
Back in her own home again, Grace thrived with Rosalind and with friends like Muriel and their neighbors the Watsons to look in on her. Each day she grew stronger, and with the coming of spring, she enjoyed returning to old pastimes like sitting on the porch in the afternoon to read her newspaper. As the end of Rosalind’s freshman year quickly approached, Grace began to spend more time in her kitchen preparing meals and baking after school treats for Rosalind to enjoy and share with her friend, Emily.
One evening in May, Rosalind and her grandmother sat across from each other at the dinner table. In a couple of days the school year would end.
“Well, Rosalind,” Grace spoke, “aren’t you glad school is almost over?”
Rosalind’s answer was a mild surprise.
“Oh no, Grandma. I’ll be sorry to see it end.”
“Really?” Grace smiled. “Your father couldn’t wait for school to let out every year. I just thought that all you youngsters felt the same way.”
“It’s just that, this has been such a special year so far. First of all, I have a real home,” Rosalind said. “And I have you, Grandma.”
Tears welled up in Grace’s eyes. She reached across the table and took Rosalind’s hand.
“Having you here has made all the difference in my life.”
There was a moment of silence between the two, and then Rosalind said, “Grandma, I almost lost you. What would have happened to me if you had died? You’re still here because that’s what Heavenly Father wants.”
Grace looked at her granddaughter and thought to herself that Rosalind’s declaration showed maturity beyond her years.
“I think so, too.”
The summer passed quickly, filled with the comings and goings of friends. Vacations took the Watsons away for several days during which Rosalind felt at loose ends as she missed her friend. And Grace missed Muriel who went to North Carolina for three weeks to visit with her older daughter’s family. Of course, Mark William also went along.
Rosalind spent much of her time that summer reading and rereading the letters and other material from her mother’s trunk in the attic. Nothing she found helped her understand why Nellie had so abruptly lost touch with her family. The letters indicated that her mother had a sister named Sue, with whom she seemed to have had a close relationship at one time. Then, there was Nellie’s mother. In her maternal grandmother’s letters, Rosalind could feel the love she had for her oldest daughter. What could have happened to that relationship? Finding her mother’s trunk had opened a mystery, but one that seemed no closer to a solution.
One obvious reason was the unsettled situation concerning Nellie’s father, Col. Wesley Martin. It was all too common in those war years of the early 1940s. He had been reported as “missing in action,” a classification that left many families in limbo. As time passed, no final word came. Was he perhaps a prisoner of war, or fighting a lonely battle for survival somewhere? Would he come home when it was all over? Or was he dead?
All Rosalind could gather from the old letters was that Nellie’s mother had come to believe that her husband had died. She had to go on with her life. She had met a good man named Mr. Scott and planned to remarry. To avoid any legal entanglements, she had engaged a lawyer who advised her to divorce Col. Martin rather than face the other difficult, and yet distant, option of declaring him dead.
It almost seemed as though Nellie held it against her mother, not only because she wanted to remarry, but also that she was divorcing her missing husband to do so. Perhaps Nellie had seen both as a betrayal of her father. It did appear, that from the time of that last letter from her mother, Nellie had had no contact with her family.
That didn’t completely clear up the mystery, but it was the best explanation Rosalind had. Why hadn’t Nellie’s family ever contacted Grayson College to find out what had happened to her? Had they just hoped that she would reach out to them? All Rosalind knew for certain from the letters was that Nellie’s mother and her sister Sue had moved to New Mexico with Mr. Scott after they married. There was no forwarding address for Nellie to write to, even if she had wanted to.
Thinking about it too deeply was depressing to Rosalind, but the questions invaded her consciousness at the oddest times. She knew in her heart that she would never be content until she found the answer. Emily was a willing and helpful listener, but had no suggestions. Throughout their remaining high school years, Rosalind wondered.