He was sitting in his wheel chair in the garden of the nursing home, his eyes glued to the flower bed in front of him. Yet, Dr. Colin Spencer was not seeing the flowers.. instead, his mind was wandering back in time to better days, when he had no need for a wheelchair, and his eyes were looking at his teenage grandson sitting on the ledge of the veranda in their large beach house … separated from the beach by what they sarcastically called the beach Boulevard … which was actually not much more than a sandy narrow trail. Memories can be intoxicating .. and Dr. Spencer was relishing every moment .. he smiled as he recalled David, the grandson, watching the sun bathers and swimmers at the distance, while he was rocking his chair rhythmically a few feet away… It was a hot summer afternoon … there was hardly any traffic, which made the incessant pounding of the waves, sound louder than usual… Spencer closed his eyes to recollect the conversation..
“why don’t you join your friends at the beach?” grandpa asked.
“I was swimming all day and I already feel sore.” David answered as he turned around smiling to face the old man, “besides, I want to spend some quality time with my grandpa.”
“You could have fooled me… you did not say a word in the last half hour you were here..” Spencer chuckled.
“In fact I have a lot of questions to ask you… I just don’t know where to start… and the truth is, I am afraid I may be a little out of line … some of these questions may sound a little bit … er… um… too aggressive … ” David said, still sitting on the ledge and watching the old man’s reaction closely.
“Aggressive? … out of line…” grandpa asked raising his eye brows, “don’t worry, if it is out of line I shall get you back in line … “
“Well, yesterday I was talking with Mom on the phone and she told me there was a racket ball set upstairs in the attic .. so I went looking for it. After a long frustrating search I did not find it. However .. I fell upon an old chest full of stuff.. when I looked into it… turned up to belong to you… ” the young man stopped and waited to see if his grandpa would be alarmed… but the old man maintained his steady look at the young face staring at him. So David continued, “I found a ton of old pictures … and hand written letters and even some odd stuff which seemed to be mementos or gifts …” he stopped again. When the silence became uncomfortable, the old man eased in,
“Grandpa. Does it make you uncomfortable if I ask about this ?” David asked.
“No, not all… what do you want to know?”
“well… it seemed that you had a lot of social activity.. you.. were very active in the church service.. there were so many groups of people around you in these pictures.. some pictures of birthdays and many pictures of trips all over the country.. it is like you were a completely different person from the man I got to know .. quiet, reflective and …” David stopped again…
This time the old man did not prod him to continue… instead he turned to look at the far horizon across the vastness of the sea… The young man’s voice travelled to his ears as if across miles of space…
“I hardly see anyone visiting you, and rarely do I see you talk on the phone? Where did all these people go?” A long awkward silence ensued.. so David was alarmed, “Grandpa, are you all right? .. I am sorry, may be __”
“No. No David, Don’t be sorry… ” the old man interrupted, “you see Dave.. life is like a swing, you are placed on it at birth..and from that point on it keeps going up and down .. up and down.. until one day it stops and .. you are ejected off the swing .. some people are ejected on the upswing , and some others make their exit on the downturn.. I guess, what I mean to say is… right now, I’ll take what I can and I am very content with it.. you are enough for me… I don’t need too many people .. you are God’s gift to me … why do I want to have all those people around?”
“But grandpa, I am not around all the time… ” the young man said … and then he cracked up laughing, “and most of the time when I am around .. I seem to be more annoying than comforting.. yesterday, you yelled at me to get out of the room and hit me with the umbrella”
“Oh, I don’t mean it.. you know I don’t mean it Dave..” the old man said with a big smile…
“I know … ” David answered and left his place at the ledge and went to sit on a bench next to his grandfather, “why did you stop your activity? You were so involved with so many people … is it because of your condition ? I understand that your health is not the same as before, but I see you take long walks by the beach in the early morning all alone, and I wonder.. “
The old man wrapped his arm around his grandson,
“well, let us take a walk by the beach together.. shall we?”
“Absolutely .. I’d like that ” they both got up to leave the house… through the few steps from the veranda to the sandy Boulevard..
Dr. Spencer opened his wet eyes as he was recalling those days when he could still walk.. he could still remember the imprints of his steps on the damp sand as they reached the edge of the water which was ebbing up and down against their feet.. and he had started to tell David about his youth, “I started my first year in college when I was sixteen years old… at that time, the good servant in church came to me and said that I had to be in a servants’ prep class. Mind you, I did not know what that meant at the time. But, almost a year later … I found myself standing before a group of children talking to them about one of the miracles of Jesus..”
He went on telling the story of his life to a very attentive David, who interrupted him frequently, with amazement and an endless number of questions.. until they got to a point when the old man got exhausted and said, “let us sit down for a while..”
They found some beach chairs and sat down watching the waves trying persistently to demolish the sand castle built by a couple of children nearby..
An inquisitive David continued to press a point he was making
“…But mother never agreed with that… after Vince.. er.. I mean my .. father left … Is this why she tries to go on so many trips for her work.. anyone can see, she is actually trying to avoid you as much as possible?” the young man asked sheepishly ..
“it is the same .. like all those other people.. I love my daughter very much .. I am sure she loves me too.. but that does not mean we agree on everything..” the old man answered. Then after a short moment of reflection, he continued, “please David, you must understand … your mom loves you very much.. very much indeed.. I understand her point of view, and I kind of accept it .. to some extent .. you needed a father figure as you grew up, but you also needed your mother’s full attention..Uh, well let me put it this way” he stopped and closed his eyes for a while..
“Listen,” he started again trying to steer the conversation gently in another direction, “remember the picture of the young man who was washing the car .. did you see that one ?”
“the old blue Chevy ?” asked David.
“yes.. at a certain point, I thought he was in great danger and I had to hurry and do something.. anything in order to save his life … I believed that his future depended on it, and I tried to move earth and sky for him.. then after all my efforts, which included fighting with and infuriating many influential people, he responded calmly saying that he had other plans.. completely different from what I prescribed for him.. plans which shocked me .. it was like he was living in another planet.. or another dimension !”
“Oh, so what happened to him.. ?” David exclaimed.
“I don’t know.. he left .. he went away and I never heard from him again.. my guess.. ah, of course I hope he found his way to success.. but, my guess.. ” he stopped..
“well, But Grandpa, what does that have to do with all these people … and Mom _” David started, but the old man interrupted,
“and there was Laurie.. the young lady in the red dress .. the one who was cutting the birthday cake with a large crowd..? yes.. well, let me tell you.. one time we sat to discuss a few things about business.. we agreed about everything.. almost everything, until she insisted that I should severe all connections to my friend Robert .. the two of them had some personal dispute, and I had nothing to do with it.. I knew Robert for a long time and I did not see why she insisted on such request.. he was a good man, not perfect but.. just a good man.. nobody is perfect , you know.. yet.. there it was.. Laurie left that day making fun of me and calling me a fool .. our friendship ended that day !!!”
David was silent .. he looked fondly at his grandpa trying to figure out what goes on inside that large skull.. The old man finally raised his head to look at the inquisitive eyes of his grandson .. he smiled sadly and continued,
“at that point in time, these and many other similar instances were glaring deviations from my strong conviction that it would be inconceivable for an intelligent person to miss what is wrong when it was staring him in the face.. until I met Carl…”
“which one is Carl?” asked David.
“there is no picture of Carl in the collection.. he was a rogue rebel.. and I knew it .. I tried to find all kinds of excuses for him .. to see the good side in him .. and he seemed to try to help me, help him.. at least, that is what I told him he should do.. and he seemed to agree.. trying hard to follow my advice, until one day while I was not looking, he stole the money, jewelry and all valuables from the house of a friend after I introduced him to that friend during a Christmas party.. naturally I was blamed for the whole fiasco..”
“Oh my.. oh my .. that is a mess” David was shocked.
“I had to sit down and think.. people do not think along the same lines … never parallel lines … it is always curved, twisted and intersecting … even when we seem to agree.. .. in the best of circumstances, we might be aiming at the same target.. the same goal, but each of us has a different plan how to reach that goal and why. Different human beings are the products of different circumstances as well as different genetics, and therefore they become different personalities.. then once the masks of civility recede, you begin to see the ugliness behind .. they may be smarter, more idealistic, or may be more realistic .. whatever.. the fact is no two people are exactly the same.. it does not mean that one is better or worse than the other.. it just means we are all.. different.. and we have to accept that. The most overwhelming fact is, that my way of thinking influences how I behave and what I do.. thereby influences the world around me and the same goes for everyone else.. that goes even for you Dave.. and Mom and .. and that is where conflict and discourse arise.. you understand ? you see Dave ? you see what I mean … Dave…. Dave…
“Dr. Spencer … Dr. Spencer … you have another day dream ??” Miss Margie Grant asked touching the shoulder of the good doctor to wake him up.. “Dr. Spencer, please .. you have a visitor.”
The old man shook himself off his stupor.. and wheeled around to face the attending lady, “What happened ? I fell asleep again ?” he chuckled, “that is what happens when you spend your days in a wheel chair Miss Grant.”
“I am afraid that is not quite true. You used to help Dr. Kohl a lot in the clinic when you wanted to. I don’t know why you stopped. But anyway, here is a surprise for you.. your daughter is here .. shall I bring her out here in the garden or you want to see her inside?” Margie asked.
He thought for a moment and then asked her to bring the visitor out to the garden.
A few minutes later his daughter Patricia approached him slowly with a clearly contrived smile on her face. Having her words rehearsed, she spit them out,
“Hello father, How are you doing?”
He did not answer right away, instead he scrutinized her closely and turning his face answered,
“why are you here Pat ?”
“I just wanted to see you are all right.” She answered as she seated herself across from him. He obviously did not buy it, so he shook his head,
“you know you cannot fool me .. so please go straight into the purpose of this strenuous effort you are making to come all the way here..”
She sat up straight in her chair … and tried to remember the exact words she prepared,
“Dad, listen.. David is coming home next week.. and.. and … ” she mumbled incoherently ..
The old man turned to face her with wide open eyes.. he slowly uttered,
“Dave is coming next week ? why .. he never even hinted at this when he called me last week ? what is wrong? Is he hurt? What happened?”
“No.. No he is Ok.. he wanted to make it a surprise for you .. but…” she answered uncomfortably
“he wanted to make it a surprise.. and you decided to ruin it for him ..and me.. like you always do .. ruin everything .. everything has to be about you..” he was very angry.
“No..” she almost yelled, “No, it is not like that.. ” a few tense moments passed by and then she stood up and walked a few steps away.. then she walked back and tried to remember the words she prepared.. finally she said, “I know this is going to sound strange, especially coming out of me.. but it is David we are both concerned about.. so please don’t just put it aside right away..”
He became slightly worried.. so he raised a circumspect face towards her and said nothing..
“He is bringing with him a friend … a girl.. I mean a colleague .. a girl he plans to marry.” She blurted the words forcibly and then sighed a big sigh of relief.
Dr. Spencer looked at his daughter for a few seconds in bewilderment, and then he relaxed and closed his eyes .. he smiled to himself … and then calmly said,
“My little boy is getting married ..”
Patricia almost had a fit, she screamed,
“Dad.. don’t you see.. he is totally reckless.. he is throwing his life away.. wake up.. you want him to get lost .. completely lost”
Spencer did not answer immediately, instead he looked amused, and then slowly said,
“Indeed, coming from you, this is very strange.”
Patricia was already outraged, she tried very hard to keep her voice down,
“we are not going to revisit the past? .. how many times I have to pay for my stupid mistake ..”
“Pat .. have a seat and calm down. Please, just sit down for a moment… yes. Yes.. do you know this girl?” a cool Spencer offered a chair to his daughter .. she finally relented… she started,
“Dad, I don’t know her.. but none of us do.. he mentioned her once or twice before, but … listen, the only thing we know is that her father is a bar tender .. and her mother… her mother is.. is a drug addict.. it is a broken family already ” she was on the verge of crying.
“Pat, I said calm down.. he is going to marry the girl not her family.. wait, do not interrupt.. remember your beloved husband, Vince … his father was a Minister with a PhD. And his mother was a college professor.. I did not object to your marriage until I met him.. more than once.. and finally I realized he was a sleazy, selfish, arrogant and condescending creature with no principles or morals.. you insisted on marrying him .. charmed by his charisma, and impressed by his family and his education.. it was a farce … and where is he now?? He just left .. he left you with a seven month baby in your arms never to see him again.. do you know where he is now?? No. no stop don’t answer that.. this is a rhetorical question. You cannot reject your son’s choice outright without first meeting the girl and finding out about her character .. her personality.. in addition to the environment where she grew up.. don’t forget that these parents you despise, have worked hard to put their girl into an ivy league school like your son.. “
Patricia calmed down a little, and stood up again murmuring under her teeth,
” so you like the idea of having your grandson belong with addicts and bar tenders.. ?”
“you did not listen to a word I said. Anyway.. what do you expect me to do? What do you want me to do.. ? I admitted myself into this facility so I do not have to fight with you every time our paths crossed at the house.. you did not bother to come visit me for the last eight months .. now you come storming in with this problem .. what do you expect of me when he did not even tell me about it though we talked on the phone only a few days ago?”
She sat down and faced him again.. she was almost afraid to say the wrong words, so she recited her prepared statement in her mind before uttering it slowly,
“I want you to come back home.. and convince him to stop this foolishness.. I know he shall not listen to me.. but he always listens to you .. you are very close and he tells you everything.. so please /”
The old man interrupted her,
” well, this time he did not tell me.. he told you instead.”
“you see,” she answered anxiously, “yes, he did not tell you because he did not want to risk having you disapprove .. your approval is the only thing he cares about”
“and yet he told you !!” Spencer wondered.
“Yes, because he wanted the girl to stay with us in the house. If he did not tell me, he would be risking a bigger problem if I throw them both out.” Pat said angrily.
“then how did he expect this to be a surprise to me?” he asked.
“well..” she hesitated for a while before she answered, “he asked me not to tell you”
The old man smiled and then slowly cracked up laughing,
“wow.. and the first thing you do, is tell me!!!”
“Dad, I don’t know what to do” she clamored.
Dr. Spencer agreed to move back to the house. When David arrived with his girlfriend, he was surprised to find his grandpa home, but he did not suspect any foul play. He introduced Tammy to his mother and his grandfather, who pretended to learn of his plans for the first time. Tammy did not help herself by the way she dressed or behaved … she willfully tried to portray the image of a gypsy… and seemed to enjoy putting David into a contorted state of mind. The first dinner started cordial and uneventful … everyone seemed to behave nicely .. until Pat casually asked, “So David, how long are you planning to stay with us before you go back to school?”
“Well, we are staying for another day or two here in Orlando, and then we shall go to spend a few days in the beach house.. the next semester is our last before graduation and__”
His mother could not hear more so she bluntly lied,
“the beach house is already rented Dave. I think it would be nice to spend some more time with us here. After all we need to get to know Tammy better and there is no telling where you shall be after graduation”
There was an awkward silence .. David looked at his grandpa and then answered,
“I didn’t know that we started renting the beach house!!”
“You did not tell me about your plans ahead of time… besides, we have to stretch our budget and .. you know, it is the times we live in now” the mother said without looking at him.
Spencer tried to change the subject , so he interjected,
“Well Tammy , you said you are studying dancing courses?”
“Yes.. Colin, I am also studying folk music ..” Tammy answered proudly.
“I didn’t know that Ivy league universities have courses in these subjects” Spencer retorted ignoring her addressing him by his first name.
“you still live in the stone ages man.” The young woman answered with a loud vulgar laugh.
No one else seemed to like the joke. David was visibly irritated, but a calm “Colin” answered,
“very well, I wonder, for what possible career does this kind of study prepares you?”
Tammy , oblivious to the sharpness of the question, shrugged it off,
“career .. ? let me see.. frankly I never gave it much thought.. I am planning to join a theater company if I can.”
When nobody commented on her answer, David tried to reduce the tension,
“Tammy is now a member in a music group which is playing in some clubs already … they are very good, actually”
instead of improving the situation, his comment apparently sent horror signs all over his mother’s face.
Finally dinner ended with everybody getting some kind of indigestion, except the merry guest.
David found his grandpa in the study listening to his favorite Tchaikovsky fifth symphony and going over some old pictures album.
Spencer cheerfully welcomed him and pressed the remote control to lower the volume of the music. “David, oh, I am so happy to see you. It’s been a long time .. a very long time. I was reminiscing a few days ago about that time we spent together in the beach house.. our conversations about my picture collection.. remember that?” David was trying to appear calm and confident even though he was extremely agitated, having just finished an argument with his girlfriend about her attitude at the dinner table.
“Grandpa, I know you may be .. I mean.. you see, Tammy was nervous, having to meet you for the first time and all.. she is usually much more .. much more .. reserved .. and, and thoughtful____” He struggled to explain, but the old man grabbed his hand and directed him to sit on the armchair across from him.
“I missed you David.. when was the last time I saw you? Almost six or.. may be eight months ago when you stopped by the nursing house to see me.. how are you.. I mean, how is your life away from home .. tell me about your studies, your friends, your school ..even your debts.. tell me everything.. you know how much you mean to me… last time you spoke to me on the phone, you told me one of your friends was going to run in the marathon..”
“Grandpa, please.. we are here today for a very important matter.. I am almost sure mom already told you.. and, Tammy did not present herself in the way I would expect you to like. I mean.. she is a free spirit .. a carefree person… no judgment, no.. holdbacks.. I mean.. she is not the … the pretentious type.. the .. the starched society girl ______” David was watching every muscle in his grandfather’s face .. but the old man seemed relaxed and even somewhat amused.. when the young man stopped talking at last.. Spencer took a deep breath and smiled,
“My dear and beloved Dave.. tell me.. why do you want to get married? O.. O.. let me rephrase this question.. why do you think people get married ?”
“because they love each other..” David answered without hesitation.. he felt a slight relief that Spencer was at least engaged in a conversation and did not outright jump to the dreaded “No” which he was expecting. The old man was still smiling .. he lowered his eyes to look at the album in his lap.. and after a few moments, he closed his eyes and repeated his grandson’s words,
“‘because they loved each other'”
“is there any other reason .. ” David asked, “any other reason would be foolish and .. and bound to fail.. I know what you mean ___”
“do you? ..” Spencer raised his head back to face his anxious grandson, “do you really know what I mean? You see David, there are many sincere friends .. and family members .. they all love each other .. and I mean sincerely love each other.. they are there for each other in happiness and in pain.. in good and bad.. but that does not require them to get married..”
Signs of alarm started to creep on David’s face.. and a hanging question remained unspoken.. until the old man continued,
“you get married because .. yes.. you love each other, but you also plan to build a future with each other.. create a new family .. support each other .. and accept the fact that neither of you is perfect .. and that both of you shall need your support system which will enable you to realize these goals”
David was visibly irritated,
“Grandpa, you make it sound like a commercial enterprise”
“to the contrary” Spencer answered with a smile, “I am oversimplifying it all.. I am trying to put it in a nutshell ___” he couldn’t finish as David interrupted sharply,
“Mom must have talked to you.. I knew it..”
“don’t jump to conclusions.” Warned the old man, “we are having an intellectual discussion here.. we are both educated intelligent people.. so keep the conversation at that level .. what do you find unacceptable in my words?”
The young man mumbled a little incoherently and finally said,
“I don’t know.. all I know is that this is the girl I love and I want to spend the rest of my life with her .. that should be enough.”
“For now.. yes. Until reality sets in.. you find you have to pay rent.. or mortgage .. insurance, car, food, utilities.. and _____” he started and was again interrupted.
“all these things will take care of themselves when the time comes____”
this time Spencer interrupted,
“How .. how does the rent take care of itself ? if you get sick .. how shall the hospital bills take care of themselves? You have to have a plan .. your girl does not even have a plan for her career after graduation.. is she going to address the job interviewer she meets for the first time, by his first name?” there was a long silence.. then David stood up and walked around like an injured bird.. he then whirled around to face his grandfather with a renewed challenge,
“I know mom hates her because her father works as a bar tender and her mother has an addiction problem.. but these parents are good people, her father works long hours to provide for his family, and her mother.. her mother works two jobs to help pay for the school.. that is why she got addicted to prescription pain killers .. they are good people grandpa.” He appealed to the old man and pulled a chair to sit next to him. Spencer did not answer immediately. He looked adoringly at his grandson and carefully spoke his words,
“David.. did you hear me mention her parents at all? By the way, Did you ever meet her parents?”
his words poured cold water on David’s anger.. he felt a chill go through his body and slumped in his chair…. His grandfather was not going to let him suffer too much, so he tapped his shoulder kindly saying,
“Ok .. Dave.. let us take things, one day at time.. after all we have met her only for one day .. let us see all the wonderful qualities that attracted you to her.. and may be in the next few days we can agree with you .. you are not using your brain my dear, you are using your heart to make decisions ..the heart is a very dangerous trickster sometimes .. that is why we have families.. support systems.. to help us use reasoning when emotions are so overpowering.”
The young man raised his head to look at his grandpa with wet eyes,
“that is why I love you so much grandpa.. you always find a way to get out of a sticky situation.. but I know you too well. First impressions are hard to overcome.”
“No.. No.. No, my dear..” Dr. Spencer replied, “if you know me too well, then you must also know that I can never be satisfied except when I am sure you are happy and safe .. if this is what assures me to make you happy and safe..why would I object?”
By the third day of their stay with the family, David and Tammy were beginning to have their own fights.. she did not like his “old fashioned” family, objecting to her smoking and her use of weed, and he resented her continuous complaining… they agreed at last that the family should have no say in their marriage since they were not planning to live in the same State anyway. David informed his mother that he planned to cut his vacation short to go back and prepare for his final semester and graduation. That night he went to see his grandfather in an attempt to at least have some peace with him before he left the following morning.
“Grandpa I am sorry things had to come to this .. this.. I mean, I never wanted to ______” he started.
Dr. Spencer interrupted him softly,
“Dave.. I am sorry too.. it is your life you are throwing to the dogs.. life is like a candle in more ways than one. I can only advise .. but you are a man and you are the one who shall have to live with your decisions”
“I am not_____” Dave again tried to speak, but the old man would not want to hear it.
“you are not going to try to convince me now .. neither shall I be able to change your mind ..” Spencer cut him off, “I lost you.. the day you surrendered your future to this unwise emotional tempest, I lost you… I just hope you shall be happy .. whatever that will mean to you”
David was angry,
“it is mom.. yes, you and mom have already decided to smash all my plans and my hopes even before we came here.. right? Admit it grandpa.. you both did”
Dr. Spencer closed his eyes and did not listen to any words David tried to say.. at last the young man left the room with a heavy heart..
Almost two years had passed during which the communication between David and his family was completely cut off, except for the occasional short letters which sat unopened on the mantle in the living room. The old man stayed most of his time in the beach house regurgitating the sweet memories of yesteryears .. while the mother buried herself even more in her work. It was a difficult time for Dr. Spencer. His health deteriorated, and he would catch himself weeping while watching the sun bathers from the veranda of the beach house, and imagining David frolicking among them and playing racquetball with his friends as he used to .. he looked like he had aged very fast and did not bother to get eyeglasses when his eyesight got so weak…
One early morning in September, Dr. Spencer was sipping his coffee in his favorite spot in the veranda, watching the noisy dances of the sea gulls across the boulevard, when a young gruff looking man riding a bicycle stopped outside the veranda .. got off the bike and looked at him for a while.. then pulled his bike and walked away.. The old doctor did not pay much attention to this .. he figured the man wanted to beg for money or food and then changed his mind.. there was a short flight of stairs at the side of the veranda to the sandy street, making it easy for the tenants to go to the beach directly from the house..
Two days later, the same thing happened again, except this time the man parked his bike next to the outside wall of the veranda .. and while he was still standing outside, he raised his head to the old man sitting in the wheelchair, “sir, may I come in?”
There was a certain ring to that voice which caused a deep stir in the heart of the old man, so he did not answer immediately.. finally he controlled himself and squinted hard trying to identify the speaker, “what do you want ?” he asked in a shaky voice.
“A word with you .. please.” The voice of the drifter replied..
Spencer did not want to believe his ears, his heart was pounding, and he was so scared of a possible false hope .. it must be another daydream .. He finally answered hesitantly,
“Ok.. come up here..”
The young man slowly climbed the few steps leading from the sandy street to the veranda… and emerged at the top where he stopped for a few moments .. he had a disheveled head of hair, unshaved face .. skinny stature and flimsy clothes barely covering his body.. he stood away breathing heavily and staring at the old man who could not see his eyes overflowing with tears…
Dr. Spencer was too scared to allow the words to smash his hopes so he stayed silent.. while the young man struggled to keep his composure, and finally broke down and rushed to kneel next to his grandpa crying. Neither of them could speak for a while.
For the family it was time to rejoice. Pat cut her business trip short and returned to celebrate with her father and her son .. in their happiness, nobody wanted to ask questions, or discuss the past. They were all afraid to injure the newly found family bond. On his part David did not try to explain or revisit the old wounds. They were happy and wanted to keep it this way. Gradually their life turned to a new routine, as David decided to go back to Princeton, for his Master’s degree instead of finding a new job .. Dr. Spencer stayed most of the time in the beach house and never returned to the nursing home, while Patricia was again busy with her usual business travels.. from time to time David invited some of his New Jersey friends to spend the weekends in the beach house, and that was a welcome incursion for the old man who tried hard to make these visits as pleasant as humanly possible for the young intruders..
Almost three years flew by like a dream. Having finished his Master’s with honors, David returned home and joined a major investment company. It became customary to have his New Jersey friends as well as his new friends from Florida, come to visit and spend time in the beach house, or go on tours all over the endless resorts of Florida. Life was on the upswing and finally smiling to Dr. Spencer, who began to nag his grandson to settle down and have a family of his own … the old man had his eyes fixed on Janet, one of the New Jersey friends, who was clearly the subject of David’s adoration, and seemed to be very much in love with him.
when one Friday in November, David arrived with his friends and before long they were all out for a swim. The old man tried to stop them and called them the crazy bunch, but they reminded him that the temperature was 80 degrees outside. When they all had dinner later, they decided to go for a walk out on the town. Yet, David stayed home to spend time with his grandfather who was completely absorbed in a TV show he was watching.
“Grandpa, what are your plans for Christmas?” David asked casually.
“Plans ? Christmas ?” the old man responded still watching the TV show.
“Yes.. Christmas is just a few weeks from now.” David said, trying to redirect his attention.
“Oh, Yeah .. ” Spencer answered finally looking sheepishly at David with a big smile, “what do you have in mind you naughty boy… we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving and you are thinking Christmas already.”
“Yes, I have a feeling this Christmas shall be special and I want to prepare for it.” The grandson answered enthusiastically.
“OK.. tell me then what is the plan? I take it you have a plan !!” Dr. Spencer asked raising his eyebrows.
“Well… ” mulled the young man, “would you be so kind as to come with me ?”
“Come with you where?” the old man said astonishingly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll go just around the corner.” David answered cheerfully wheeling the old man out of the living room, all the way to the kitchen.. and through the back door where they had a little ramp built for the wheelchair so the old doctor could go to the beach when he wanted. Then they arrived at the parking lot outside the house..
“there..” David yelled happily.
The old man did not get it immediately. There was a blue van parked in the drive way which he assumed to belong to one of David’s friends.
“David.. I am getting worried.. what is___” Spencer started to ask , when his grandson interrupted,
“Dr. Spence .. what do you think of .. this” he jumped in front and pressed a remote control. The side door of the van was opened and a small ramp slowly descended to the ground. The old man was stunned. He opened his mouth and for a while he couldn’t speak. Then slowly as the shock wore off, he looked at his grandson wondering,
“My dear boy, what is the meaning of this?”
David stood there with wet eyes and simply said,
“For you grandpa..” There was silence for a while. Dr. Spencer could not speak until David continued, “I love you grandpa .. you always give to everyone .. and no one I know ever gave you anything back and it is very painful to see you struggle into any of those cars out of your wheelchair … and then the same process is repeated coming back home.. it limits your freedom and mobility.. now you can go anywhere …anytime you want. .. I hope you like it.”
“David.. I do not want anything back.. you are the gift of heaven to me that makes everything else in the world complete .. I mean .. David, this must have cost a lot of money____”
“You taught me never to care about money, remember ?” David was quick to respond.
“But David you need to plan for your future .. you shall need_____” the old man objected.
“I traded my Mercedes .. so this did not cost too much.. ” David announced innocently.
Spencer was taken aback,
“but you needed your car”
“I am getting an old clunker to work with … don’t worry about me I shall be all right .. how about we take your new van for a spin?” the young man was so happy.
“David, I am an old man.. I have problems with my back, my kidneys and .. and my heart.. I am not expected to survive another year or two_______” the Doctor tried to reason with his grandson.
“Stop.” Interrupted the young man, “please don’t say this .. don’t ever say things like that.. I hope and pray that you shall have a long happy life so we all can enjoy your wisdom and your sincere love”
“I cannot imagine what got into you .. to think of this whole project.. I never complained .. or did I? ” Spence asked eagerly.
David did not answer immediately .. he stepped on the lowered ramp of the van and turned around and sat on the floor of the van. The old man rolled his chair to come closer to him.. and waited for him to say anything.. finally David looked straight at his grandfather and decided to open up to him,
“you are the only father I know. Since the .. I mean, since Vince left us while I was yet a toddler, I don’t remember so much as his face or his voice.. to me he does not exist.. as I got older, and understood how you objected to his marriage to my mother.. how he proved to be every bit the swindler you expected him to be.. I was amazed how you still accepted me.. not just accepted me, but you became a father, a teacher, a friend and .. and a guardian..”
The old man tried to interrupt, but David won’t let him.. he continued,
“and after all that.. as soon as I had the chance, I abandoned you..” he started to get emotional but forced himself to continue, “as soon as I fell under the spell of Tammy , I .. accused you of all kinds of stupid things.. and actually abandoned you..”
“David please ___” Spence was seriously agitated and tried to speak again but David continued over his objections,
“and when I found out my error.. when I woke up from my stupor and lost everything.. I came back, and you.. you did not even ask me a single question .. you did not yell or scream at my face.. you took me back in and gave me everything and more than before..” he finally stopped and looked at his grandpa through his tears.. then he walked to the wheel chair and knelt down to hug the old man “anything I do or say cannot be enough to express what I really feel”
It was summer time, a few months later, one Friday evening, at the family house in Orlando, David returned late from work and found his mother home. She was waiting for him to have dinner together with his grandfather. He was surprised but he did not say anything until half way through the meal, the old man asked casually,
“your funny gangsters are coming this weekend?”
“Not this weekend, actually not anytime soon.. they may come the week before Christmas.” David answered.
“you know, I miss them .. they bring a lot of cheers to the house when they are here” Spencer said.
Then Patricia commented,
“especially Janet, I certainly like this girl .. “
David smiled and slowly began to realize what is coming … he chuckled and said,
“OK Mom, nice try. I see this dinner is meant to be a family conference ..”
Spencer laughed merrily saying,
“I told you Pat he is so smart .. “
“Well, I hope he is smart enough to make a move before she is gone..” the mother answered cheerfully.
David did not answer immediately.. he looked sadly at each of them and then spoke the words solemnly, “I think it’s time we all have a little chat… ”
After they finished their meal, they sat together in the vast living room … the mother and the grandfather looked worried .. while David looked somber and reflective.. after an awkward long silence he started to speak,
“I love Janet.. she loves me too.. I know that. But at this time I am not yet ready to … I mean.. it is not fair for her.. I am still suffering the after effects of a very traumatic experience .. my two years away in New York were like some kind of a daydream ..or call it a drinker’s stupor .. I was so utterly stupid, and I woke up to find myself in a horrible nightmare .. the mere thought of repeating this frightens me.. “
Patricia tried to interrupt,
“But David Janet is not Tammy .. and____”
“I know.. but, I knew Tammy for 4 years while we were in college.. I thought I knew her.. and it all turned out to be a lie.. a scam ..”
An awkward long silence was finally interrupted by the phone ringing … Pat slowly got up to answer the phone and when she had finished she returned back to find David covering his face with the palms of his hands seemingly sobbing silently…
“David, my dear you don’t have to revisit these matters.. they are over .. gone .. a long time ago.. you are a new person .. we all made mistakes and we learned from our mistakes” Pat spoke very softly and tried to touch his hair … but he raised his head, stood up and walked away.. to the large window and stayed there looking outside for a long while..
He finally turned around,
“Mom, Grandpa.. I must be a real bad creature .. I do not deserve your love and your kindness___” he started .. His mother tried to interrupt him but he shook his head and continued, “I lived for two years in New York like a dim-witted animal .. we had an apartment in a very good area .. furnished it like we were royalty.. we did not let ourselves need anything.. I had an excellent position in the bank and .. she was working with the theatre .. we were making very good money .. she introduced me to someone she called “cousin Richard” .. and he became a constant visitor .. almost the third person in our apartment.. I was so infatuated that I could not read the signs which were all around me .. ” David seemed so exhausted .. he walked to the nearest chair and fell into it..
“Sweetheart please..” Pat pleaded …
“No Mom I have to get it all out..” he continued, “the irony of it all .. can you believe it? we never got married.. after all the trouble we had when we came to meet you, she later said ‘what good is that piece of paper’ .. and I never questioned anything she said or did.. even when I found out my credit card was maxed .. there was no reason for this to happen, but I did not question it.. until .. until I got that phone call” his face changed into an angry, irate and scary impression, “I got a call at work from the manager of another branch asking if I had co-signed for a large personal loan”
He stood up and walked irritably towards the window again .. he continued without turning around,
“the manager knew my signature.. it is on record .. and the application had my name and all my information .. but the signature was different.. was cleverly copied.. but an alert banker would immediately spot it.. ” he turned around and slowly went to the chair again, “I rushed to the other branch to investigate.. I saw the application.. fifty thousand Dollars .. I stopped the whole thing and the bank had to report it.. then I rushed home like a crazy person .. I went into the guest room to check Richard’s stuff.. I found several passports with his picture bearing several different names.. obvious forgeries.. and I found two guns .. I was shocked.. I was completely off balance.. I called Tammy … and like an idiot, I asked her about the loan on the phone.. she said she was too busy and would explain when she came home.. so I sat there at home like a wounded animal for almost two hours.. I went through her stuff as well.. but I did not find anything else.. she never showed up that day .. neither did Richard .. the following day I had to go to work.. I was suspended pending the results of the fraudulent loan application.. when I returned home, she and her cousin had already vanished, together with all my valuables .. and even my expensive clothes .. later I found out from the police report that she and her so called cousin are well known to the police.. her story about a bartender father and hard working mother was a total fabrication, she was an adopted daughter of a wealthy couple from Connecticut .. they put her in Princeton and she used to swindle them with Richard who was her boyfriend.. they finally cut her off and that is when she found me.. I was a stupid cover for their drug operation.. as well as a cash cow obviously.. because the final straw came when I discovered that the apartment lease payments were overdue for two month and I was forced to leave without any thing to my name..”
David looked like a man in a trance.. he stopped talking … and suddenly he exploded in a fit of uncontrollable sniffling .. His mother ran to hold him …
“David, you are home.” She whispered, ” you are home now.. please sweetheart forget all that.. none of this matters now.. you are home.. you are home.. why are you doing this to yourself? Forget all this .. forget it.. it’s all gone..”
Dr. Spencer was fighting to keep his tears from flowing down.. he kept his calm during the whole ordeal and did not try to interrupt the drama as it unfolded before him.. at last David calmed down.. raised his head to look at his mother saying,
“can you imagine .. walking in New York like a homeless man .. getting hungry and cold when the little cash I had, ran out.. I slept in the park and in the subway .. and finally I decided to hitchhike my way back home.. I did not know if you would accept me back .. I was frightened of meeting my grandpa .. I felt like I wanted to die.. how stupid.. how stupid ” he went back to sniffling like a guilty child..
They never went back to discuss any of these matters after that day. The issue of marriage was never brought up, assuming that when David is ready, he would address it on his own. A process of healing was filling the small family with hope and a gradual sense of peace… even a degree of happiness they never enjoyed before. They decided to go on a cruise to the Caribbean for the Christmas vacation. Dr. Spencer never thought he would be this satisfied, with his daughter around and grandson leading the small group around from one island to the next.
When they returned from their happy excursion, Dr. Spencer was surprised to see Miss Margie unexpectedly pay him a visit. She was always a pleasant nurse and very supportive to both patients and staff. This time she was bluntly asking him for help.
“Dr. Kohl was involved in a car accident and he is going to be away for a while, we already got a temporary replacement. Dr. Nakayama comes to see the patients twice a week as she has her own office the rest of the time.” She explained.
“Dear Margie, I don’t know if this shall be appropriate.” Spence answered.
“How so? The residents already know you and were so sorry to see you leave..” she said raising her eye brows in astonishment.
“you once asked me why I stopped helping at the clinic. It was at the explicit request of Dr. Kohl. Now that he is .. in.. in such predicament .. well, I don’t want this to be misunderstood…” Spencer replied smiling.
Margie was shocked.
“why would Dr. Kohl ask you to stop helping? I don’t understand”
“He said, I don’t need a cripple to come here and tell me what to do.. ” the old man answered.
The good nurse opened her mouth but could not speak. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the old doctor finally said, “anyway Marge, you think this Dr. Nakayama would be OK with my presence?”
“I am sure she would appreciate all the help she can get..” Margie answered anxiously.
“OK, I shall talk to Pat and see what I can do.” He promised.
Dr. Spencer was well received by everyone in the nursing home.. he was pleased to be helping in a productive way again and seemed to savor every new day .. his happiness was compounded when, one Saturday morning, after breakfast, he was surprised to see David accompanied by Janet come to visit him,
“we miss you grandpa .. you seem to get so busy that you forgot about us.” Janet was the one to speak. The tone of her voice calling him grandpa, was unmistakable ..
“Oh, my favorite people are here.. you are a healing sight to a sore eye.. how much I miss you too. I cannot forget you for a single moment my dear.” Spencer replied ecstatically.
When they sat down together in the garden, David smiled at his grandfather sheepishly saying,
“we talked.. and talked .. and .. we decided__”
Spencer did not let him finish,
“Oh my God, I am so happy I can cry”
The two love birds looked at each other happily and said nothing. As a joyful tear escaped Spencer’s eyes, he finally said,
“did you start making arrangements?”
“we are working on it.. probably a small private party for the engagement and then the wedding would be by Easter time … what do you think?” David answered.
“What do I think? I think it is awesome.. tell me if there is anything I can help with.. don’t be fooled by my wheelchair .. I now have a well furnished van provided by a certain precious person and I can do anything I want.” Spencer said merrily.
“thank you Grandpa.. you have already done a lot for us, in order to reach this point in our lives.. we just hope we can do anything to make you proud of us.” Janet replied.
“I am already proud of you two. David, did you tell your Mom ?” Spencer asked.
“Yes, I called her and she is very happy. She should be back from her business trip on Tuesday. And I invited Janet’s parents to come spend the next weekend with us .. I hope you shall be able to join us at home.” David answered.
“Absolutely.. this is the day I was waiting for all my life.. Thank you both for giving me so much happiness and peace.” The old doctor spoke and his voice was trailing like a man in a reverie.
The swing of time was turning up high for Doctor Spencer riding on the wings of joy. The wedding was so splendid that it became the talk of town. And the happy couple flew for their honeymoon to Europe. Pat returned to her travelling routine, and doctor Spencer went back to the nursing home to continue his activity with the elderly patients residing there.
One hot summer afternoon, Dr. Spencer was sipping his coffee after Lunch and going over the newspaper, when Margie approached him cheerfully,
“I have a bit of news for you doc.”
He lifted up his head to face her,
“Good news I hope.” He said.
“I don’t know if it is good or bad.. but for us here it kind of a mixed blessing !!”
He gave her a curious smile and waited for her news..
“Dr. Kohl is supposed to be back next week.. ” she said watching his reaction closely, then after a short hesitation, she added, “I sincerely hope that the two of you will be able to work things out so you can continue to help us here.”
Spencer reflected for a few moments, and just when he was about to reply, Margie continued,
“I know he can be rough and even uncivil sometimes.. but he has a good heart and maybe we should give him a chance to ___”
“Marge ..” Spencer interrupted, “I cannot be in a place where I am not wanted or welcomed..”
“the Board wants you here.. you have been so well received by the residents … they all love you Doctor Spencer ____”
“Marge, again .. it is not a matter of the board .. it is a matter of what is best for the patients.. it is clear I cannot be working full time and be ready for emergencies etc… He can.. like now Dr. Nakayama is basically doing most of the heavy work I cannot handle.. this shall be very awkward when Jim Kohl is back..” she tried to interrupt, so he waived her to wait, “Ok, Ok.. if he is the one who asks me to continue, then we may be able to work something out.. but if he shows the slightest irritation at my presence, it would not be healthy for me to stay.” He made it clear that this was his final response.
It was clear that there were some whispering about the subject behind closed doors. Spencer did not try to get involved in the discussion, until the Tuesday before Kohl’s arrival, he was with Nakayama in the clinic going over a chart of one of the patients, when they heard a commotion in the hall way.. before either of them could react, the door of the clinic was flung open and a crazed young man appeared at the threshold brandishing a gun.
“it’s you.. you killed her.. you killed her and you should die.. ” the intruder was screaming.
The two doctors were stunned.. Spencer could not understand what the problem was.. until Margie came running behind the man and tried to grab him,
“Mr. Thomas .. the doctor did everything thing she could do to help your mother.. her cancer was terminal.. at least she is now at peace and … she is not suffering any more” she was speaking very fast trying to pull the man away from the room..
“No.. it was not the cancer that killed her.. it was this stupid useless doctor .. everybody tells me, if the doctor found it early enough she would be alive now..” He was hysterical.
The man wrestled Margie to the ground and in the process, the gun went off.. and though the whole scene took only a few moments .. a long eerie silence came over the place for what seemed like eternity, as Dr. Spencer looked at the bullet wound in his chest and the blood gushing out like a fountain and soaking his clothes .. he then gradually drifted away ..
Patricia kept walking restlessly back and forth in the corridor of the hospital, until David joined her, “What did the doctor say?” she asked anxiously.
“He shall stay in the ICU at least one more day.. but he is now stable ..” He answered without looking at his mother.
“This is the fifth day.. What are you hiding from me? Her voice was shaking.
“nothing.. nothing Mom.. ” he tried to reassure her, touching her arm kindly, “I think I should get another doctor to see him.”
Before she could speak again, they were interrupted by the arrival of Margie.
“Hi, Is there any progress? Do you have any news ? I am sorry I couldn’t come earlier because everything is going crazy in the nursing home” she asked with a touch of fear in her voice.
“No .. nothing new.” David answered.
“you know, I am so sorry for this horrible disaster .. I feel so guilty and …” she couldn’t continue .. so she hid her face in a large kerchief and sobbed silently.
Patricia wrapped her arm around the weeping woman,
“how many times you are going to apologize for a tragic accident which is not your fault..”
“How is Dr. Nakayama doing?” David asked.
“She is completely devastated. That woman was her patient .. so now, not only that the family is blaming her, but also the man is in jail, and Dr. Spencer who has nothing to do with the whole matter, was shot .. it is a real serious blow to her and to all of us.” Margie spoke through her kerchief.
The following day, David stood by the side of the bed of his heavily sedated grandfather, recalling all the fond memories they shared together and wondering if he should ever have the opportunity to share new memories with him together with his wife and children. After a short while Janet joined him. Grabbed his hand and whispered softly,
“He seems to be so peaceful. I hope he is not suffering any pain”
“Even when he was in pain, he never let me know it.. he just smiled and gave me a hug. I knew it, and it seemed to relieve his pain.. I wish I can hug him now” David said wrapping his arm around his wife.
“Dad called to ask about him.” Janet whispered again
“Yeah, he called me too. Mom has cancelled her trip to Spain so that she would be here when your parent come this weekend.” He answered.
“May I have some water please?” the patient mumbled without opening his eyes.
“Of course..” an excited David answered, happy to oblige.
Spencer opened his eyes as his grandson raised his head gently and helped him sip the water.. he smiled faintly and tried to speak, but his voice was inaudible ..
“Please grandpa, just rest .. do not exhaust yourself” David said gently.
Spencer rolled his eyes between David and Janet with his smile still lingering on his lips. He tried to raise his bed to sit down, running his fingers on the buttons of the remote control.. he couldn’t, so David helped him,
“Are you comfortable? Should I call the nurse?” David asked
“I am OK. Thank you.” The patient answered
“Thank God for your safety grandpa,” Janet said fondly, “we have a lot of plans to share with you, so please, get well soon.”
“Thank you sweetheart.” The patient answered.
The nurse entered and firmly announced that it was time for some tests which required taking the patient to another location.
Despite the utmost care, Dr. Spencer did not make it beyond the second week after his injuries. His departure, though expected, was very traumatic to everyone who knew him. Few people attended his funeral. To everyone’s surprise, he had already previously arranged for his own funeral and burial. David prepared a large photo album of all the pictures he found in his grandfather’s collection and asked to have it enclosed with him in his casket. “none of these people came to say Farwell .. but he never forgot any of them .. he loved them.. he served them.. and never asked for a word of thanks .. this is what he called.. life as a candle”
The original Beach house which inspired the story 1967