This is a true story, faithfully based to my best of recollection, on true events as I experienced them.
THE SILVER CROSS
We were rushed into the station wagon, all four of us crowded into the back seat. I was thirteen or fourteen and my brothers and sister, younger. My older brother and sister sat in the middle seat.
"What happened?" asked my sister Betty, who was only nine years old.
"Grandpa died," I said dramatically, "and you're supposed to be quiet."
"I am quiet," said Betty, never one to hold back, "you're the one who's talking."
"Children, please, Gloria, keep quiet back there," said our mother to me, turning her head slightly. I noticed her voice was subdued, she seemed different today, somehow, all dressed in a somber black dress that gave off a whiff of mothballs. I had always known my mother hated to dress in black. The air was sharp and cold, and the mid-January morning silvery gray. I adjusted my muffs and elbowed my brother, Henry, who had elbowed me.
"Stop it or I'll tell Mom," he said,
"You did it first," I said and looked out the window at the bare branches. Some dirty snow was bunched up against the curbs and weighing on the eaves the houses. It was a sad day to die. When I die, I thought, I hope it's a warm, sunny day. The kind of hot, dry typical summer in El Paso, where we ran wild all summer long. In this cold winter day my thoughts raced eagerly to summer, when we rode our bikes or went to the Pershing Theater. The feel of the air-conditioning, exotically cool, rushed to me and I could even smell the popcorn that floated in the air and feel the icy cold of a Coke on my lips.
On the other hand, I wouldn't like to die so young, either, I thought. Better to die like grandpa did, his life already lived. I remembered how methodically his medicine bottles were always arranged around his place at the table.
We arrived and the doors of the station wagon were thrown open and we all scrambled out. I realized, with the uncanny raised awareness one gets on such occasions, that we were being rushed to my grandmother's house to get a last glimpse of our grandfather. He had always seemed a bit distant to us. There seemed to be a mystery in his past, a sad secret no one talked about. I had caught the tail end of a hushed conversation once and that's how I knew. But even that bit of talk had not helped much. It had only made me aware that grandpa had a sad secret in his past.
We filed into the bedroom which seemed the same and yet not the same, for grandpa was lying on top of the bed covers straight as a rod, and with his hands folded over his chest. His eyes were closed. One glance at our grandfather lying still on the bed and my brothers and sisters turned on their heels and ran out the door.
My grandmother was explaining to my mother that the priest at the Catholic Church we attended had given her a cross, which was on top of the dresser and which she showed to my mother, briefly.
"It has been blessed," she said. I followed her hand as she placed it back on top of the dresser.
They spoke a few words about grandpa being taken soon to the mortuary and they walked out of the room.
I suddenly realized that I was the only one in the room, with my dead grandfather, and I froze, unable to walk toward the door and leave the room as the others had done. Then I glanced briefly at my grandfather's face and realized that even though his eyes were closed he looked sad and worried and nervous all at once, as if he were still alive. He seemed to be in a strange sort of pain. I glanced at the silver cross, which was made of plastic and was about six or seven inches long and reached out to the dresser and took it in my hand. Then, surprising even myself with my action, I lifted my grandfather's hands, which were icy cold and seemed to be clutching each other, and placed the silver cross firmly underneath them. I glanced at him again. Perhaps I imagined it but his face seemed to have relaxed a bit, or at least I hoped it did. I shivered and walked out of the room, crossing myself.
I told no one what I had done with the cross.
Soon thereafter we left the house and went home. The next day a heavy snow blanketed the city and soon the funeral was held as we all stood around the gaping hole in the ground and saw my poor grandfather lowered into the earth. We stood silently around as the grave diggers covered the hole with the soil and then the flower wreaths were placed on top of it. Soon a gravestone would mark the place, but for now, only the bright flowers shown against the dirt and the trampled white snow around it.
* * *
"Gloria, my dear, I must tell you something that happened," said my grandmother to me two weeks after my grandfather's funeral.
She seemed very serious and I sat at the kitchen table on the chair she had directed.
"I am certain it happened in real life," she said while I looked at her, perplexed, "and it seemed as real as it is speaking to you right now." I said nothing and waited for her to continue.
"But," she said, shaking her head, "since it cannot be real life, then it must have been a dream. People would say I'm crazy if I insisted on it being real."
"I wouldn't, Grandma," I assured her. To me she was the sanest, most down to earth person I knew.
"I know, my dear, but listen closely," she said, leaning a bit toward me.
"It was two days ago that it happened. "Louigi," she said, referring to my cousin, whom she had raised ever since he had been orphaned at birth, "often watches television after I have gone to bed. That night the sound of music woke me up. I thought that perhaps the music was coming from the T.V. and that Louigi was still up watching some program.
"I got out of bed and started to walk down the hallway to investigate, then I realized that the music that was coming from the living room was unlike anything I had ever heard in my life...it was music that was strange and eerie and yet lovely.
"The closest I could describe it would be violins," she added, "but even that would fall short. It was such an angelic, incredibly beautiful and sweet sound that I remember I felt an odd peace as I listened to it as I walked down the hall. Then I suddenly became aware that what I had thought was light coming from the television was actually a blazing purple light that was getting stronger and stronger, as I reached the source.
"I was overwhelmed by a feeling of joy rushing through me from the music and the violet light that drew me toward it."
Grandma paused for breath, "Then I reached the kitchen and at the doorway I looked in and saw your grandfather sitting at the kitchen table," she said, "and I realized that the purple light was coming from a ring on his hand. He looked up and smiled at me and then looked down at the ring on his finger, and I was able to see a clearly marked cross on the ring, and from the cross was where the purple light was blazing from. The light even had the shape of the cross as it lit the whole room with this strange violet light.
"Your grandfather turned to me again and still smiling with an expression of ecstatic joy which I cannot begin to describe, said,
"This is the cross that Gloria gave me." Grandmother looked at me, "Why do you think he said that, Gloria?"
"Because I gave him the cross, Grandma, that's why," I said, "I put that silver cross that had been blessed in his hands, right before they took him away."
(c) Copyright, 2007 Gloria Gay