by Jeannie Yee Davis
When I was four, Grandpa and Grandma were babysitting me at Grandpa’s grocery store. Grandpa Frank was busy in the back, and Grandma minded the storefront and me. It was a brilliant sun shiny day when a quiet but steady rain showered through the skies so suddenly that the sun didn’t have a chance to hide.
Grandma grabbed my hand, and I ran along with her to the front window. She placed her face up almost to the glass, turning her head left and right like she was looking for something in the sky. Her soft complexion and snowy white hair mesmerized me as it glistened with each turn. She smiled, and the sunlight made her gold tooth that was usually hidden behind her other teeth sparkle. I stared at her tooth, waiting for it to sparkle again when she dropped my hand. She shielded her squinting eyes with both her hands, then she pointed and said, “There. Look. Do you see the rainbow?”
I planted my face and hands up against the window, smelling the fresh rain. My eyes darted towards where Grandma was pointing, and there it was – the hazy hues of red, orange, yellow, apple green, blue, magenta, and purple arched across the sky as far as I could see. I got on my tiptoes to see where it began. My eyes followed the rainbow from left to right, then right to left, but I couldn’t see where it started or where it ended.
“That’s a rainbow.” She tapped on the window. “Do you see it? Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Oooh! Aha, looks like my crayons, Grandma.”
“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” Then she pointed to the window again. This time she was pointing to the writing on the outside of the window. “Do you know what this says?” I shook my head. “Rainbow Grocery. Your grandfather’s store is named after the rainbow.” I smiled and giggled just as Grandpa walked in.
“Grandpa, your store is named after the rainbow.” I ran to him, and he swooped me up.
“I had a restaurant called Rainbow Café too.” Just as I was about to ask him why he named his store and restaurant after the rainbow, the front door opened, and the bells over the door jangled. A customer came in, and Grandpa put me down as he walked over to the counter. “Good day, come on in,” he said, “How are you today?”
“Oh, fine. How about yourself?”
“Fine. Everything is fine. How’s the family?” Once Grandpa started, I knew he’d be talking for a while. He spoke to everybody he met. I skipped over to Grandpa, and he lifted me and seated me on the counter without stopping his conversation. Grandpa placed his strong hands around me, keeping me from falling off. I had never felt so secure as I did when Grandpa held me. I leaned back a little to get a better look at Grandpa’s face. Grandpa’s soft voice soothed me like someone reading a bedtime story. My mind drifted back to moments earlier when I stood in front of the window, watching my first rainbow, and I tried to guess why Grandpa named his store after the rainbow.
A few years later, we moved to San Francisco from Vancouver, Canada, leaving one set of grandparents for another. After that, we didn’t see Grandpa Frank and Grandma much until they retired and began traveling.
My heart sang the day Grandpa Frank and Grandma came to visit us for two months when I was twelve. It was nice being near them again, but they seemed so different from when I was little. They looked pretty much the same. Grandma’s hair was snow-white for as long as I’ve known her, but she now has more wrinkles. Grandpa was still dark like he spent all his time outdoors, but he didn’t. Oh, how I wish I had his naturally tanned gene.
I was like a puppy dog following my grandparents around eager to know everything about them. They were family but seemed so different from my other grandparents in every way. My Mother’s side of the family was loud and verbal. Grandpa Frank and Grandma were quiet and soft-spoken. They got along and never argued and did things together and went everywhere together. I wasn’t used to seeing that.
Grandma was fun to follow around. She is the only person I know who washed her lingerie nightly by hand and ironed them in the morning before putting them on. I giggled when she ironed her pillow bags too.
I never saw grandma use makeup, but every morning and night, she applied moisturizer to her face. She woke up early each day and got dressed immediately before having her coffee and breakfast. I never saw her in her pajamas except right before and right after bedtime. She wore her skirt and blouse over stockings and smelled like an early morning garden.
Grandpa reminded me of Columbo in his tan plaid cap, tan raincoat, brown shoes, brown vest, and eyeglass frames the color of tiger-eyes. Grandpa was always wearing some variation of this. When it rained, he wore brown galoshes over his brown leather shoes. Nobody else I knew did this.
We grew up changing from our good outdoor clothes to old clothes when we came home. If we weren’t going out, we wore our old clothes, but Grandpa and Grandma got dressed every morning like they were going out even if they didn’t. I loved watching my grandparents.
One day after school, I went looking for Grandpa to see what he was up to when I heard an exchange of words between my Mother’s raised voice and Grandpa’s muffled one coming from the living room. I tiptoed closer to make out what they were saying when my Mother stormed out. I shuddered from the tension that overflowed from her as she passed by me. I peeked into the living room where Grandpa was mending his vest. I paused at the doorway when I saw his furrowed brows and scowl. I had never seen him upset before. I tiptoed in, trying not to upset him further. He didn’t lookup. I sat down next to him.
When his scowl diminished, I said, “Grandpa, why was Mommy so upset?” He opened his mouth and clicked his denture but didn’t say anything. I leaned over, resting my head against his arm.
“Your Mother isn’t very happy,” he said. Then under his breath, he said something about my Mother not getting along with some of our relatives. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it, so I changed the subject.
“Grandpa, remember Christmas when I was little?”
He stopped sewing for a moment. His face softened as he nodded his head.
“Those Christmases were the best, Grandpa, remember the angel hair you used to put on the Christmas tree?
“I remember that,” he said, laughing. “You kids hated it. I never understood why.”
“That’s cuz it always made such a mess to clean up afterward.” We both laughed.
“Remember the toy cash registers you gave us one year so we could play store?”
“How could I forget? You and your sister kept opening and closing the registers. The bells drove me crazy. Ding ding all the time.” We laughed some more.
“I loved that cash register, but you know what my favorite present of all time was?”
“The coloring book and crayons you gave me.”
“You loved to color.”
“Ah-ha, that was when I found out how much I loved to color.”
“You were pretty good at it too.” he elbowed me, and I giggled.
A moment later, I remembered the sad look on Grandpa’s face earlier, and I asked him, “Grandpa, are you happy?”
“I’m happy, but I could be ‘more’ happy, ” he said, his smile returning. “I’m doing what I always wanted to do.”
“What’s that, Grandpa?”
“Travel with your Grandma. We go all over without spending much money.”
“How do you do that?”
“We take the Greyhound. Great way to travel. We meet a lot of nice people that way. They always invite us to visit them when we’re in town. We always do. That makes me very happy. We are all people, all the same. Nobody’s a stranger. We should all get along.” He clicked his denture then went back to mending.
I smiled, nodding my head, but I could tell something was still bothering him.
“What would make you happier, Grandpa?”
He paused before answering, “If everybody in the family gets along with each other.” As he said this, his brows furrowed and his smile disappeared.
I leaned against Grandpa, and he put his arm around me, and we sat there for a while. I promised myself then that I’d pray real hard so that Grandpa would get what he wanted.
Two years later, the phone rang late in the evening. “For heaven sakes, who could be calling so late?” my Mother said, racing for the phone. “Hello? Ken?” It was my uncle in Canada. “What’s wrong? Why are you calling so late?” Mommy’s face paled.
My older sister asked, “What’s the matter, Mommy?”
“Your Grandfather was hit by a bus. They had to amputate both his legs to save him…he had diabetes…but it wasn’t enough. They lost him anyway. Your grandfather is dead.”
When the bus stole my grandfather from me, it crushed my heart. Its tire marks left cracks of bitterness, and anger seeped in deeper with time. I choked at the mention of Grandpa. I wanted to lash out at the world for stealing him from me for cheating him of his joy to travel with Grandma. I hated myself for letting him down. I should’ve prayed harder, and maybe he would’ve gotten to see the family get along with each other before he left this world.
It was then I understood Grandpa’s fondness for rainbows. The red, orange, yellow, apple green, blue, magenta, and purple of the rainbow lay side-by-side, gliding across the sky in perfect harmony the way he wanted people to get along. That moment I decided I could neither change the past nor change others, but I could begin living the way Grandpa wanted us to live. Just then, I felt the calming, soothing comfort of Grandpa’s strong arms around me, and I drifted back to that day when I saw my first rainbow.