He just didn’t look like my grandpa anymore. Or act like him, either. It was like Grandpa was gone and had left an old man who sat in the recliner and stared out the window.
“I don’t know if I want to go to his birthday party tomorrow, after all,” I told Mom. “Maybe this whole thing isn’t such a great idea.” When she didn’t say anything, I added, “He used to be so much fun.”
Mom raised her eyes from the knitting in her lap. Her eyes were sad. “Well, you know why, Cari. Right?”
I nodded. Of course I did. Grandpa was sick. He couldn’t swim or play Ping-Pong or do much of anything anymore. Before I went to bed that night, I picked up the framed picture that sat on my bookshelf. It was a photograph of Grandpa turning a cartwheel. His big sneakers waved wildly in the air. Those stupid cartwheels!
Oh, when I was a little kid, I thought it was cool. But as I got older, I realized how ridiculous it was to have your grandfather doing stunts like that. What was he thinking—that he was an acrobat or something? I wondered. Talk about embarrassing!
After a while, I started staying away from Grandpa. For as long as I could remember, I’d been going over to his house after school. Grandpa taught me to snorkel and to bake bread. But when I refused to turn cartwheels with him these past couple of years, he never understood why. Somehow I don’t think he realized that I might be humiliated by something he did.
“Why should I?” I’d say.
Grandpa would chuckle. He’d take off, bounce on his toes, then spring sideways. “For the pure joy of it!” he’d call as his feet whizzed over his head. Once upright, he’d grin and say, “‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’”*
Whatever, I’d think. But I wouldn’t be caught dead turning a cartwheel. It was bad enough watching him act like that.
Later I’d actually avoided Grandpa whenever I could. Oh, I dropped by after school—but only because Mom asked me to check on him. I’d stand by the front door and ask, “Anything I can do for you?”
Grandpa’s eyes looked duller every day. “I’m fine, Cari. Thanks.”
I’d put my hand on the doorknob. “Well, then …”
He’d nod. “Go find something fun to do.”
But looking at that picture made my eyes burn. I gulped at the piano-sized lump in my throat, but it didn’t go away. I slapped the picture facedown on my bookshelf and crawled under the covers. After a while, I actually went to sleep.
I was watching TV the next afternoon, the day of Grandpa’s party, when the electricity went out.
I wandered around the house. The clock on the mantel said four o’clock. Great. Mom wouldn’t be home for about an hour and a half. I could only hope that the power would be back on tonight while Mom was at Grandpa’s birthday party. In the meantime, … what? Idly, I picked up the picture of Grandpa from my bookshelf. The look on his face caught me, held me. That smile! Even upside down, anyone could see it came straight from his heart.
My chest ached. I got up and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like someone who had lost her best friend. My mouth turned down; my eyes, hazel like Grandpa’s, were dull. The thought struck me—I looked the way Grandpa had looked this afternoon after school as I’d stood with my hand on his doorknob, waiting to get away from him. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Grandpa must feel like he’s lost his best friend too. And wasn’t it true about both of us? But did it have to be this way?
I heard Grandpa’s voice saying, “‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’”
Wasn’t it about time I started rejoicing? The girl in the mirror straightened her shoulders. The reflected eyes brightened. Suddenly I had a mission—and not much time!
“You’re coming to the party?” Mom had an ear-to-ear smile as she put the final touches on the cake. “That’s great, Cari. It will make Grandpa so happy.”
I nodded, opened my mouth to say something, but couldn’t figure out what to say or how to say it, so closed my mouth.
Mom squeezed my shoulder. “I know,” she said softly.
And that’s how it happened that while Mom was cooking lasagna in Grandpa’s kitchen, I was turning cartwheels in Grandpa’s living room. With my aunts and uncles and cousins and cousins’ boyfriends and girlfriends there, I was playing to a full house. Let’s face it, I was hardly poetry in motion. Even with the afternoon of practicing, I was pretty rusty.
I heard one cousin mutter to another, “It takes all kinds.” The other one said, “Yeah, what a show-off, huh?” And, I have to admit, I felt like a clown! Maybe this had been an absolutely ridiculous idea after all.
But then I saw the grin on Grandpa’s face, the old sparkle in his eyes. He had the exact same look on his face that he used to have when he was doing this stunt for me. And he laughed. A laugh that seemed to come from his toes.
I had to stop and just watch him for a while. I guess it was the first time I ever saw a heart cartwheel!