So Many Years

My grandmother, Cleo Harley, lived 102 years. I taped her talking one day when she was 94. I barely changed a thing.

The hand trembles slightly as it pulls upon the drawer
She reaches for the photographs it holds
She says, “You take them now. I’ve only saved a few
Your father won’t keep them, they’re just all brown and old”
The son of her son says, “No, you hold them for a while.”
He laughs a little, smiles a nervous smile
She says, “Oh I don’t know, I’ve already lived too long
Won’t someone take them now, before I’m gone.”

“So many years, so many things forgotten
I could write a book with all I have inside
But the pain from all these memories made me brush them all aside
But I’ve survived, I’ve survived”

“My grandfather built the house, just south of Spartansburg
It’s made of red brick, it’s standing there today
My grandmother used to tell me, when they moved to Preble County
How her father stripped the trees, so she could find her way
Howard used to visit me on Sundays in his buggy
My father hounded Howard. Howard was a Democrat
‘Til mother cornered father and said, ‘You leave that boy alone!’
And that was the end of that.”

“Your grandfather was a doctor, you never got to meet him
He died so young and let me all alone
Everybody told me so after he was gone
They said he was the best man they had ever known
Your father’s brother George was a venturesome boy
He was on the Hornet in the navy, in the war
He was in a car on his way back to the base…
I’m sorry… I can’t tell you more.”

The voice trails off, until it’s just a whisper,
“It’s not easy living all alone
But I’ve always mixed with people, I’ve always had my friends
Your mother’s made me welcome in her home.”
She bows her head, she holds it in her hands
Her grandson reaches towards her, but then the moment’s gone
She says, “Look outside the window, the trees have lost their leaves
I can feel it, winter’s coming on.”

© Bill Harley, all rights reserved. Reprints with permission only.


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