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Abbie Counts Toilet Paper
Abbie Counts Toilet Paper
The car wound its way up the long gravel road, and Abbie’s heart soared when she saw her grandma standing on the front porch of the small house in the distance. Oh how she loved that woman! It was finally Abbie’s turn to spend the summer with her grandparent’s; she had been looking forward to it so much! The past few weeks there had been numerous threats that she would not get to go, once because she hadn't washed the dishes just right, another time because she had gotten a B on a test at school. But deep in her heart, Abbie knew that she would get to go, and that these little threats were just her mother’s way of controlling her, as she did each and every day. Abbie knew for certain that her mother was glad to be rid of her, and wouldn't have passed up the chance no matter what atrocity Abbie had committed, real or imagined in her mother’s mind. All she knew was that it was finally here, and she was going to cherish every moment.
Grandma and Grandpa lived on the top of a very large hill in the mountains of West Virginia. Their house was not much more than a small shack, but to Abbie, it was the best and prettiest house she had ever seen. True, there weren't a lot of frills, and Grandma counted and rationed everything, even the toilet paper. “Two for a tinkle, four for more” was the motto when you spent time at their house. Years later she would understand just how poor her grandparents had been, but to her twelve year old mind, counting toilet paper squares seemed just a bit extreme… At this particular moment though, she didn't care if she had to go without toilet paper, all she could think about was getting out of this car and into grandma’s arms – she gave the VERY best hugs…
Hugs were passed around, dinner was served, and Abbie could almost tune out her mother going on and on about the things she was not “allowed” to do while she was there. It was a pretty sad and long list. No boys, no television (she did get a “bad” grade after all!), no dessert, no reading unless it was the Bible, and so it went on and on. Abbie saw her grandpa looking at her, and caught his wink.. It was then she knew that her mom had no say here, in this very safe haven. As much as she loved her dad, she could not wait for the whole week to pass and looked forward to them leaving. Until then, she would be the “good Abbie”, the one who always sat quietly on a chair, didn't ask for seconds, didn't ever dare ask for dessert, and certainly never looked like she was having a good time. Oh no, as long as her mother thought she was going to endure a summer of long hard labor, with no smiles in sight, they would leave. Until then, all she could do was patiently wait for the week to go by.
Two days had passed, and Abbie was getting antsy. She watched an exchange between her grandma and her mother and contemplated if her grandparents actually liked her mother. They were her parents, but she certainly didn't seem to be very welcomed in their home, in spite of the blood connection. It would take her years to find out all the “whys”, but for now she just wondered why no one liked to spend time with her mother. Surely most people thought her mother to be the wonderful upstanding Christian woman that she was – right?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone, and by the look on her dad’s face, something was very wrong. When he hung up the phone, everyone began asking questions at once. No, it was not good news, yes, they had to leave right away, and no they could not wait for morning. His grandmother had passed away, a short, plump and proper woman that Abbie also adored. She found tears of sadness springing to her eyes even as there was discussion on whether or not Abbie should go back home as well. She herself was very torn, as she really wanted to see great grandmother one more time, but she also did not want to give up her summer. In the end, it was decided that Abbie would stay – her mother probably felt it was even more of a punishment that she couldn’t attend the funeral, and that she had a long dreary summer ahead of her. While she was sad to miss the funeral, and it was something she wished her whole life she had gotten to attend, she knew the summer was going to be anything BUT dreary.
The first week, her grandparents were pretty easy on her. They seemed to understand that sometimes a girl needs space to explore, and to have a little freedom. She explored the entire five acres that they owned, and when she had scoured every inch, she hopped the fence and got lost for hours on the neighboring property. Sometimes she would find a sleeping cow, use them as a back stop and read for hours, or she would just walk as far as she could and see what she could find. There were the wild strawberries she had found. Running back to the house, she had gotten the biggest bowl she could find and filled it up for grandma to make pies. Grandma had laughed when she saw the bowl full of strawberries, but had driven her to the neighbor’s house to ask permission to use them. There was the little stream that ran through both properties, that Abbie could spend hours just sitting by, feet in the water, amazed at how cold and wonderful it felt on her toes.
By the second week, Abbie had begun helping out with all the chores. She didn’t much like the actual digging of the garden, but she loved helping to weed it, and getting to help with the canning was her ultimate favorite thing to do when she was there. Grandma always seemed to teach her so much, without it seeming like a lesson. It was at the proverbial feet of her grandma that she learned to cook, making almost everything from scratch, and never wasting anything. Peas were shucked, corn was husked, and cherries were pitted. There wasn’t a lot of money, but there was always a lot of yummy food. She decided that she could go the rest of her life eating the homemade biscuits and gravy – for every meal, every day. She had learned to garden, can, and clean. She had learned how to cherish everything that had worth, and she had learned about God, not just with words, but with actions. She could sit for hours listening to her grandpa singing or whistling along with the radio. He loved old country songs, and gospel hymns, and she never outgrew her own love of the same types of music. Years later, every time she would hear an old Negro spiritual song, she could just imagine her grandpa sitting there, singing along. She loved this place, and never wanted to leave.
With a month left in her summer, Abbie suddenly and unexplainably fell very ill. No matter how hard she tried to feel better, the feelings just would not go away. She got sick to her stomach every time she went outside. The headaches were so blinding that she felt like her head was going to explode, and the rash on her face never seemed to go away. Her arms swelled up, and her feet became so big she couldn’t wear shoes. No matter what she did, she felt like a little old lady, hardly hobbling along. She felt so guilty when precious money was spent on a doctor who was just as baffled as everyone else. It was finally decided that she would have to go home. She was crushed. It would take another twenty-four years before a doctor finally figured it out, but here in this moment, there was no explanation, these kinds of things didn’t happen in the hills of West Virginia where the only doctor was a little old man who also helped deliver calves and other farm animals.
Bags were packed, and the car was loaded. Abbie could not stop crying. She felt like she was a disappointment to her grandparents, a burden to her uncle who now had to take time to drive her home, and she could only imagine the wrath she would face when she came home “early”. As the car hit the interstate, she found herself wishing she was still counting toilet paper….
If this story touches you in any way, good or bad, please feel free to comment below. Your comments inspire me, encourage me, or help me to see the error of my ways and are always welcomed!