Cover Story Good Advice Feature Video Hot Topics

Most Commented Video

Hot topic of the week

Hello everyone! What are some of your favorite things to do on Sabbath? I like to watch nature shows, listen to music, and read! :)

What do YOU think?

Click here join in the discussion.

Most Commented Articles

Angels With Brussels Sprouts (3)

The Interview (3)

Camp Meeting Ambush (1)

Hard to Be Good (1)

Carrying Calvin (1)

Cover Story


Add Comment :: Send to a Friend :: View Comments ::

Elizabeth Gilbert was about the only older lady in Collegedale, Tennessee, who wouldn’t wear polyester knit dresses. “Why don’t you get some knits for summer, Mother?” her daughter would ask her. “You’d save on dry cleaning.” But she would reply, “I don’t know; I just like the feeling of linen. It’s so real to me somehow.”

Suzanne was thinking about that remark as she leaned her cheek against her grandmother’s blue linen shoulder at the Southern Missionary College summer commencement services. It was a stultifyingly hot day, and even in the air-conditioned church all the bodies in all the pews made it warm. Programs rose and fell rhythmically as the audience fanned itself and the speaker swung into his full stride, 10 minutes into the address. Mrs. Gilbert was slowly fanning her granddaughter with a bulletin that was covered with pencil drawings. Ever since Suzanne had been old enough to sit up in church, her grandmother had entertained her with cartoons and animal sketches on the bulletin. She did so now, although Suzanne was almost 15.

It was really becoming much too warm in the sanctuary. Mrs. Gilbert kept on with her fanning, and Suzanne’s hair moved on her neck. She couldn’t figure out why her grandmother was never overheated. The old lady (she must be 70) had grown up in Virginia and said she used to love the last long dog days in summer, when the evenings were too hot for anything but sitting on the porch. Even now she wouldn’t let the family turn on the airconditioning in her room. She’d say, “Oh, no, that air is artificial.”

Suzanne picked up her head and looked at her grandmother. No perspiration. Not a hint of moisture on the older lady’s sharp features. She looked almost icy, taken from the side, but when she turned her gray eyes on a person, that person could see a lady who drew cartoons to amuse children. She had had dark-red hair when she was young, but it was now the no-color-at-all that redheads become before they turn white. Suzanne thought that maybe her grandmother never got hot because her skin was so fair. “That’s what happens when you get on,” Mrs. Gilbert would say, looking in the mirror. “My face used to be right ruddy. Now I am a spook.”

Suzanne sat up and looked at the program passing back and forth to her right. There were still blank spaces on it where more cartoons could go. But today, when the speaker stood up, Mrs. Gilbert had started a very funny caricature of him and then stopped suddenly. “You’re too old for this kind of thing,” she whispered. “Pay attention now.” The incomplete cartoon waved beside Suzanne in the still, close air. It surely did look like the old man. She hadn’t realized her grandmother could see that well.

Suzanne’s sister, Margaret, sat beside their grandmother on the other side. She could appreciate neither the speaker nor the picture of him that passed up and down to her left, because Tom Swasey had dated her for two weeks and told her three times not to cut off her long hair. But she had cut if off Friday. She’d left the beauty salon with a silky brown pageboy that curved around her head, and she looked like a girl from a magazine. Her family liked the haircut. But this was Sunday, and Tom hadn’t called her for two days. No date for Saturday night. Margaret was 19 and not getting any younger. She decided to die an old maid with short hair. “That look is far more stylish,” her mother had said. But no response from Tom Swasey.

The speaker concluded his address. As the candidates and audience resettled in their seats and waited for the diplomas, photographers stepped forward by the rostrum. Suzanne’s mother rose and went to get dinner on for the company.

Although it was pretty hot everywhere else, a breeze from the ravine cooled the backyard some, and everyone ate out under the trees after commencement. Did you notice?

“Why didn’t you have that young man you’ve been seeing over for dinner?” Mrs. Gilbert asked Margaret. “Well, Grandma, I don’t think he likes my hair like this. And I haven’t seen him this weekend.” They were difficult words to pronounce. “But your hair looks pretty, and you like him, don’t you?” “Yeah, but, I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Tom Swasey wasn’t invited to dinner, and after she ate, Margaret went up to her room to fool with her hair. But her little sister didn’t have much to do after dinner. All her best friends were on vacation with their families, so she was sitting on the porch step when her grandmother came out, wearing her canvas garden shoes. “Why don’t you take a walk with your old grandmother, Suzanne?” Mrs. Gilbert put her hand on the back of Suzanne’s neck as they started down the street. They stepped from the pavement into the long grass and walked toward the woods where the last houses sprinkled out. It was too hot to walk quickly, and pretty soon Suzanne took off her shoes.

“I wonder if Tom will call Margaret this afternoon,” she asked by way of speculation. “I don’t know, dear. If he’s really so upset about that haircut, he’s not worth worrying about.” Mrs. Gilbert picked up a twig. “Did you notice the speaker at the service this morning by any chance?”

“Oh, yeah, sort of. You did that picture of him.”

“Well, he used to squire me around a bit.” Mrs. Gilbert was feeling foxy when she said it, but as soon as the revelation was out, she turned around and put her hands on Suzanne’s shoulders. “But don’t you tell a soul. Forget I told you, in fact,” she said, turning and walking on. Being nonchalant, she slowed down. “Really, Grandma? Where did you know him? How old were you? Were you in love with him?” Suzanne was dancing along with her questions and watching her grandmother’s face during the interrogation.

“I met him at Shenandoah Valley Academy. We were seniors then.” She continued strolling as they talked. “He called me Meg.”

“Were you in love with him?”

“Oh, I don’t know. That was in 1921. I can see now that we weren’t well suited. He wanted me to be something I wasn’t.”

“You mean he didn’t want you to cut your hair?” Suzanne asked, seeing the joke. But Mrs. Gilbert wasn’t laughing, although she smiled.

“No, he wanted me to cut it—cut it all off. That’s what the girls were doing in those days, cutting off their hair. But I had pretty hair, and I wanted it long. He wanted me to be someone I wasn’t. “I would have grieved over him, but then your grandfather came to teach school there.” Mrs. Gilbert paused in her conversation. She was beginning to saunter, bringing one foot around the other with a little swing. Suzanne had never seen her walk just like that before, but her grandmother didn’t realize she was being watched so curiously from the side. Her change in gait gave Suzanne an idea.

“Hey, Grandma, did you and grandfather ever spark?* Uh, Grandmother? Is that what people did then? Was he a man of action?”

“You be quiet, Suzanne,” she said, reaching around and tugging her forward by her shoulder. “Don’t talk about your grandfather that way . . . Yes, we did, a little. But he had other things on his mind too. His teaching was very important to him. He used to talk about all those ‘needy little souls’ he could help.” She was resting one arm on Suzanne’s shoulder, looking past her at the ground. “He felt God had a particular work for him to do, and that was the most important thing to him. He would talk to God about it a great deal. “He liked me just as I was, and he thought I could help him with his work, and he didn’t think he had any right to be changing me at all. I wish I could tell your sister about that. “And then,” she turned toward the woods again with a grin, “he also liked my hair. He liked the color.”

Suzanne was a bit overcome. A private album that she didn’t even know existed had just revealed its title page and then, with the fragrance of a forgotten perfume, closed again. Beside her was this girl, essentially 18 years old still, only strolling now in cool, creased skin and a linen summer dress. It occurred to Suzanne for the first time that her grandmother had known her all her life, but that she had just become acquainted with Elizabeth Gilbert on a hot August afternoon.

“But if you tell anybody any of that about the speaker today,” her grandmother was saying, “I won’t draw you any more pictures in church.” She smiled and looked sideways, her mouth turned up under her gray eyes.

“But I thought I was too old for pictures in church.”

“No, you’re still very young.”


* Court


This story originally appeared in the August 28, 1973, issue of Insight. Emily Bennett was a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

Add Comment :: Send to a Friend :: view comments ::


Sorry there are no comments for this article.

Top | Home