Stephens Street, one of the longest avenues in Midway, Kentucky, was originally spelled Stephen’s Street—belonging to Stephen. It was named for Stephen A. Douglas, the Illinois politician who famously tangled with Abraham Lincoln in a series of debates when the two men vied for a U.S. Senate seat in 1858.
That’s what Grampa Floyd told me. And he had more details about Mr. Douglas.
“Stephen A. was in cahoots with Henry Clay. Those fellers worked up the Compromise of 1850,” Grampa Floyd told me. “Henry Clay lived in Lexington, but the two of ’em took the train to Midway so as to avoid being seen together. Tempers were running high in those days—slavery was a hot topic.”
But that wasn’t the only time Douglas was in Midway, according to Grampa Floyd. He told me that Lincoln himself also came to Midway. Abe’s wife was from Lexington—her father and Henry Clay were friends—and there was one time, when Lincoln and Douglas were both in Kentucky, they agreed to hold another debate … in Midway.
Grampa Floyd wasn’t clear on the date, but he was certain the two famous statesmen arrived in Midway by rail and met at the home of L.L. Pinkerton, a house on the corner of current-day Stephens and Winter streets.
“Little known fact,” Grampa Floyd said to me, “What we call Winter Street today was named Lincoln Street, so that Midway’s two main streets were named after the two debaters, see, and the two streets crossed where the two men met.”
In telling the story, an energized Grampa Floyd had raised up in his bed—almost to a sitting position when he got to the part I just told you—and then he collapsed back onto his pillow, exhausted by the memory.
“Not everybody in Midway liked Lincoln, you understand. Some of ’em thought the government shouldn’t be saying who could or couldn’t own slaves,” Grampa said, whispering with exhaustion. “Enough of ’em were on the city council, and they made the city change the name of Lincoln Street. “
“How’d they come up with Winter Street, then?” I asked.
“It was January,” Grampa Floyd said. Then he fell asleep.
I stood there in Grampa’s bedroom, looking at a man I barely knew. I had been in Midway only a few hours and already had serious doubts about coming, especially so close to Christmas. I had heard from a cousin that Grampa was doing poorly and living alone, so I drove up from my home in Cleveland, Tennessee, to see if I could help.
Why now—after all these years? And why leave my family three days before Christmas? I wasn’t sure.
I hadn’t seen my grandfather since I was a kid—maybe forty years ago. My family—Mom, Dad, Eloise, and me—had stopped by Midway on our way to vacation in Michigan, coming up from Chattanooga. It was early June in Kentucky, and already it felt like hot August.
Grampa Floyd was glad to see us that day, I think. Surprised, for sure. I don’t think my mother had kept in touch very well through the years … I guess not at all, really. And she hadn’t told him we were going to visit. Maybe she even was hoping he’d be away from home when we drove into town.
I honestly don’t know what Mom’s deal was with her dad and stepmom. Sometimes family secrets involve mistresses or shady dealings, and sometimes they’re darker things. I always had a feeling a dark truth laid at the bottom of Mom’s growing up days in Midway, and she hardly ever talked about it—like never.
Grampa Floyd’s wife, my mom’s stepmother, had died a few years before that June day we were in Midway. Maybe her passing cleared the air enough for Mom to visit, but it sure wasn’t a warm and huggy reunion. We stood at the door for a full two minutes—with Mom explaining to Grampa Floyd why we dropped in on him—before he finally thought to invite us in.
The day was sunshiny, but Grampa’s house was mighty dark inside. The TV was on, and there was a lot of stuff in that front room. Grampa Floyd had to clear off the couch and two chairs for us to sit down, removing piles of books, mail, laundry, and dishes.
It was a really awkward hour or so we spent there in Grampa’s house. He was polite and asked Mom and dad about work, and me and Eloise about school. He told us about his life in Midway: He was still a few years away from retiring from Midway College, he went to church at least twice a year, and he ate at The Depot restaurant at least once a week.
That was in 1980, and I didn’t see him again until this week. I was thirteen then, now I’m fifty-five, just a year or two younger than Grampa Floyd was when we stopped by all that time ago. I know that sounds awful, me not seeing him for so long.
Families can take weird turns, but time can bend an even odder path.
In the years after that trip to Michigan, Mom would call Grampa Floyd on his birthday—July seventh, if I remember right—and usually on Christmas Eve. She sent him announcements and pictures when Eloise and I graduated, and newspaper clippings about my minor sports accomplishments and Eloise’s big scholarship to Georgia Tech. And she sent him a copy of Dad’s obituary. But he never visited us in Chattanooga, and we never passed through Midway again.
Cousin Myrna did, though—a couple of weeks ago—and she called me when she got home to say that Grampa Floyd was in his final days, and it sure would be nice if somebody from the family could be there to help him out.
I wasn’t eager to go. As I have told you, the man was a virtual stranger, and the prospect of sleeping on Grampa’s couch and taking care of him and his who-knows-what bodily functions led me to give Myrna a firm “maybe.”
But hell, I was taking time off during the holidays, anyway, and Beverly gave me the green light. Our two daughters were home from college, and Bev said the three of them would do some Christmas shopping and decorating while I was away. So I drove to Midway.
And let me tell you: It wasn’t like Grampa Floyd welcomed me with open arms.
At first, he complained about nobody in our family coming to visit him. He told me he’d had two heart transplants, brain stem surgery, and an exorcism, and “not one dang time” did any of us have the courtesy to visit or call—or even send a card.
I couldn’t argue with him about my family’s lack of attention, and even if he was as much at fault as we were, I didn’t want to get snippy with a dying man. Besides, I was momentarily stunned by the number and severity of physical ailments he had overcome. It sounds silly to say I believed him about all that, but I had basically just met the man. I didn’t know he was prone to exaggeration.
After Grampa Floyd woke back up and I convinced him that it made sense for me to stay with him for a few days, I offered to get us some lunch. He told me about a place called Wallace Station that had good sandwiches. I used my phone to find the menu, and Grandpa told me he wanted a catfish sandwich.
“They named that restaurant after me, you know,” Grampa said as I was heading out the front door, which he could see from his bedroom. His house was pretty small.
I paused, thinking about his name: Floyd McCarthy. Was his middle name Wallace? I didn’t even know.
“Is your middle name Wallace?” I asked.
“No, it’s Gash,” he said. “I’m related to the Gashes over in Anderson County.” He picked up a magazine from a stack on the table by his bed and flipped the pages slowly.
You know, when somebody you know pretty well says something odd, you can call bullshit on ’em. But when it’s somebody you don’t really know—and you’re still in the extra-polite phase—it’s more of a challenge.
“I’m not sure I follow you, Grampa Floyd,” I said, with one hand still on the doorknob.
“They was gonna call it Gash Station, but they figured it would confuse people passing through town and looking for a fill-up,” he said, not looking up from the magazine. “I heard they just picked ‘Wallace’ out of the phone book.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s pretty neat. I’ll be back soon.”
If this conversation had taken place a few hours later—after I knew more about Grampa Floyd’s adventures with truth—I would have been more circumspect during my visit to Wallace Station. As it was, though, after I ordered sandwiches from a teenager at the cash register, I introduced myself as the grandson of Floyd McCarthy, the man who was almost the namesake of the place.
The kid looked at a girl beside him who was boxing up another to-go order; she had stopped boxing when I shared why Grampa’s middle name was rejected.
The boy spoke slowly. “It’s called Wallace Station because this area was called Wallace and this building was the train station.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, maybe my grandfather got mixed up. He’s pretty old, you know.”
The boy just nodded. The girl went back to boxing.
I heard a chair scoot behind me, and an old man ambled over to me. Not as old as Grampa Floyd, but older than me.
“I’m Avery Jackson,” he said, grabbing my hand to shake it. “Did I hear you say you’re Whopper’s grandson?”
Here I was again, fielding a screwy comment from a stranger. “I’m Jay Bellows. My grandfather is Floyd McCarthy,” I said.
“Yeah, I know Floyd,” Mr. Jackson said. “Known him all my life. We call him Whopper. It’s not because he’s a fan of Burger King, either. It’s because of the tall tales he tells. Some of ’em sure are whoppers. Most of ’em, really.”
I told Mr. Jackson it was good to meet him, and I grabbed the bag of food and headed out the door. I sat in my truck for a minute, embarrassed for repeating Grampa’s version of Wallace Station history and thinking about what Avery Jackson said. When I got back to my grandfather’s modest house on Stephens Street, I chose not to bring up my conversation with the restaurant staff or with Avery.
Grampa nibbled at his catfish and asked me to save the rest for later. I re-wrapped most of his sandwich and half of mine—country ham and pimiento cheese—and asked him if he needed anything else. He told me he wouldn’t mind having a chocolate milkshake from the drugstore.
“Is it on that street beside the railroad track?” I asked. When I had first driven into town off the interstate, I had seen a string of shops and restaurants lining the two one-way streets on both sides of the track.
“It’s in the middle of the street that runs on the high side of the tracks,” Grampa said. “It’s funny about that street. Some people were calling it Main Street and others called it Railroad Street, so years ago the city council decided it would be Main Street on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and Railroad Street on Tuesday, Thursday, and over the weekend. What day is today?”
“It’s Thursday, Grampa Floyd.”
“All right then, the drug store is in the middle of Railroad Street.”
I laughed a little. “I don’t take the time to shop much at home, but I’ll do some shopping while I’m downtown. Christmas is in three days, Grampa. What can I get you?”
I was mostly joking, but Grampa looked out the window and got a little teary eyed. I guess he knew he wasn’t in great shape, health-wise.
“I’d sure like to hear the Christmas bells in Midway one more time before I’m gone,” he said softly. “Lordy, how I love those bells.”
His wistful wish made my breath catch a little. I was about to ask Grampa about the bells—who sold them or played them or what were they—but he rolled over and turned his back to me.
I quietly left the little house on Stephens Street and headed toward Railroad Street on foot. I called home and talked to Beverly while I walked. I told her it was a good thing I had driven up to Kentucky; Grampa Floyd was pretty frail and all alone. We talked about whether I should drive home for Christmas and maybe come back, but when I told Bev how weak Grampa seemed, she said maybe I should just stay in Midway as long as it took.
The one name on a building I had spotted on Railroad/Main Street as I drove into town was the Midway Museum, and now I figured that would be a good place to learn a little more about the naming of Stephens Street.
I remembered enough U.S. history to know that a Lincoln–Douglas debate in Midway was unlikely. But because Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky and married a Kentucky woman, I figured part of Grampa’s story might be true. Surely the appearance of Abraham Lincoln alone—much less in a renewal of the most famous debates in American history—would be the centerpiece of the Midway Museum.
The museum’s big room offered a number of interesting exhibits, memorabilia, and photos, but there was no mention of the sixteenth president nor of a debate. I wanted to make sure, though.
“Did Abraham Lincoln ever visit Midway?” I asked the museum docent, whose name tag identified her as Velma Adams.
She thought for a moment. “Well, we know that Mr. Lincoln passed through Midway on a train more than once, and it’s thought he and his wife, Mary, spent some time just west of here at the summer estate of Mary’s father.”
So maybe Lincoln was in Midway. And maybe Grampa’s story was true! I prodded Velma for more.
“Are you aware of a debate that took place here in Midway? Between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas?”
A look of doubtful concern flickered across Velma’s face. “No, I’ve never heard anything about a Lincoln–Douglas debate in Midway,” she said carefully. “I believe they were up in Illinois.”
“And Stephens Street isn’t named after Stephen Douglas?” I asked, trying to show I didn’t believe it myself.
“No, the first streets were named after officers of the railroad company that founded Midway,” Velma said. After the silence that followed, she added, “You might see if you can get on the Midway History page on Facebook. I get a lot of my information there.”
I thanked Velma and spent a little more time in the museum. They pack a lot of information into a little space, but the main reason I stayed is because I was trying to be nonchalant after asking what must have been the dumbest question Velma had ever fielded.
I left the museum and figured I’d explore more of Midway. Railroad Street had a lot of shops, and because I had not done any Christmas shopping, I stopped in at one named Cozies. It was indeed a cozy place. Shelves in the store were loaded with candles, picture frames, funny phrases spelled out in wooden letters, pillows, wine glasses, bookends, and clocks. There were separate displays for pet items (collars and clothes), bar ware, and lots of stuff made from wool. Further back was room with a sign above the door that said Jessie’s Jewelry.
A woman of about forty put down a book she’d been reading, told me her name was Jessie, and asked if she could help me find anything. I told her I’d like to buy some Christmas presents.
“I have two daughters, nineteen and twenty-one, and a wife who’s fifty-something,” I said. “I’m sure they’d like your jewelry. If you could pick out three pieces and wrap them up, I’d be a happy man.”
Jessie took me into the jewelry room and asked me questions I wasn’t sure how to answer, like whether the women in my life wear silver or gold, and do they like dangly earrings and chunky necklaces or not. I said “silver, yes, and not sure,” but I wasn’t sure about any of it.
After she had selected three pieces that I was OK with—and they were the first three pieces she showed me—Jessie wrapped them in gold paper and tied them with red string. While she wrapped, she made small talk.
“Are you visiting Midway for the first time?”
“Well, I was here many years ago, and I came back to check in on my grandfather, Floyd McCarthy.”
“Oh,” Jessie said with a sympathetic look. “I heard he was feeling poorly. How is Whopper?”
I had to chuckle inside about the pervasive use of Grampa’s nickname, and I told Jessie that he was doing as well as could be expected. I remembered then about the bells.
“Say, do you know anything about Christmas bells in Midway?”
“I have these cute bells here,” Jessie said, walking across to a table holding several white service bells with “Beach, please!” painted on them. She dinged the top of one.
“No, I think he means bells that are played at Christmas—maybe in a church tower or a performance,” I said, smiling about the beach bell.
“Who’s ‘he’? Whopper?”
“Yeah, my grandfather.”
“Oh Lord, if Whopper told a story about Christmas bells, it’d be that the Drifters recorded ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ in the Midway United Methodist Church or something,” Jessie said, laughing.
“No offense,” she added.
“I think I know what you mean,” I said. “But you don’t know any local traditions that involve bells at Christmas?”
Jessie thought for a minute.
“Well, one of the churches had a hand bell choir there for a while. Maybe they played at Christmastime,” She said. “And the Christian Church plays Christmas carols from its bell tower, but they play hymns all year round.”
“Yeah, maybe it’s the hand bells,” I said. “Grampa seemed pretty serious about it. I’ll keep asking around.”
After gathering up my newly wrapped gifts, I got directions to the drug store from Jessie and left, thanking her on my way out.
Her simple directions were accurate—four doors down—and when I settled onto a stool at an old fashioned soda fountain, a fella came from the back of the store and took my order. We talked while he made the milkshake, and I was surprised to learn that my soda jerk, Stan, is also the town’s only pharmacist.
“How long have you lived here, Stan?”
“Oh, I guess it’s fifteen years now,” he said as he looked for the whipped cream.
“Do you know anything about Christmas bells in Midway?”
Stan paused and thought. “I heard about a group of college girls that sang—must’ve been years ago. They called themselves the Midway Belles,” he said. “I imagine they went home every year for Christmas break, though. Why do you ask?”
As soon as I told him who I was—or, to be exact—who my grandfather was, I got the Whopper reaction that had come to be familiar. Stan told me a story.
“One time, a couple from Indiana was in here and asked about the train schedule. And Whopper—sitting right there on that stool you’re on—told them that a train bearing John F. Kennedy’s body had passed through Midway in 1963. ‘Real slow,’ Whopper told them.”
I thought for a second. “President Kennedy didn’t have a funeral train.”
“That’s what the guy from Indiana said!” Stan replied, animated at the memory. “And you know what your grandfather said? Whopper said, ‘Well, maybe it was Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train I’m thinking of.’ Like he was here for it!”
Stan was laughing so hard he almost dropped the milkshake. As I rescued it from his hand I said, “Yeah, Grampa has lots to say about President Lincoln.”
Grampa Floyd was awake when I got back to his house, but he took only a few sips of the milkshake and said he’d had enough. I asked if he had been seen by a doctor recently. Grampa said that Dr. Rorschach had been by to see him only yesterday, adding with his pride that it was his personal physician who had invented the inkblot test. Then he drifted asleep again.
While Grampa slept, I poked around his phone in the kitchen, looking to see if he kept a list of frequently called people. Sure enough, I found a short list that included the drug store, the Corner Grocery … and a Dr. Rorchester. That had to be him—or her—I thought.
I went outside and called the doctor’s office from my truck and was surprised when the receptionist put Dr. Rorchester on the phone right away. We talked for only a few minutes, and he confirmed—very sympathetically—that Grampa Floyd was indeed in his last days, and how wonderful it was that I had come to town to help Grampa in his final journey. As we were wrapping up, I had to ask the doctor if he knew about any Christmas bells.
“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. “The last time I dropped in on Floyd, he mentioned how much he’d like to hear the Christmas bells one more time. I asked him what bells he was talking about, but he only shook his head and smiled.”
For lunch the next day, I returned to Wallace Station. Grampa wasn’t eating much of anything—which Dr. Rorchester had predicted—but I was sure hungry. I had eaten the other half of my first sandwich for supper, and for breakfast I had drunk most of Grampa Floyd’s milkshake.
The same boy was taking orders at the cash register, and he eyed me warily as I approached. I thought he might be bracing himself for another ridiculous pronouncement, but instead, he had a statement of his own.
“It’s a good thing you came when you did. We’re closing at noon today because of the blizzard.”
“Blizzard?” As soon as I said it, I realized I hadn’t watched any local news or checked the weather since I had arrived. The boy said a heavy snowfall was predicted, and after I ordered my sandwich, I stood lost in thought, wondering if I would be able to drive home for Christmas, now two days away.
“You mean Whopper didn’t tell you about the winter of ’63?” I recognized the voice and turned to once again see Avery Jackson. “We had some deep drifts on Christmas Day that year, and I’m surprised he didn’t tell you that he turned into Midway’s Santa Claus.”
“No he didn’t mention it, Mr. Jackson,” I said. “To be honest, Grampa Floyd isn’t doing too well. He hasn’t been up to watching TV, and we didn’t know anything about this blizzard that’s coming.”
Mr. Jackson’s smile vanished. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, son. Whop—I mean Floyd … really stepped up that year. The roads were covered with deep snow, and the two of us delivered meals to a lot of people who couldn’t spend Christmas with their families. Floyd even gathered up some toys, we took them to homes where they weren’t expecting much Christmas even before the storm hit,” he said. “It was his finest hour.”
“I appreciate your telling me that,” I said. “Say, Mr. Jackson, do you know anything about Christmas bells in Midway? Grampa has been talking about them, and I’ve been trying to track them down. It’s been sort of like his last wish.”
Mt. Jackson paused, then shook his head. “There’s always bells at Christmastime. Maybe Floyd will hear his ring.”
I left Wallace Station with a big sandwich and a heavy heart. I didn’t mind going to the Corner Grocery and stocking up on a few things in anticipation of the blizzard. And I was fine to stay with Grampa Floyd, even if it meant I’d be late getting home for Christmas with my own family. But Grampa Floyd was family, too, and I was sad that it had taken me so long to connect with him. I knew he’d never see another Christmas.
You can bet I turned the news on when I got back to Grampa’s house. His heating system did a good job of keeping his small house warm, but I brought in several armloads of firewood from the shed in case the power went out and we needed to use the fireplace.
The curly haired weather lady on Channel 18 was calling for fourteen to eighteen inches of snow, starting at sunset and lasting until noon the next day, Christmas Eve.
I told Grampa Floyd I’d met Avery Jackson and he had told me about a big snowstorm in 1963. Grampa pulled his covers up to his chin; it seemed like he was chilled at the memory. Then he spoke in a voice just above a whisper.
“That was some snow. Me and Avery were hauling people and presents and Christmas dinners all around town,” Grampa said. “Avery did the driving. It was his finest hour.”
I wanted to ask Grampa how they managed to drive in such deep snow. I didn’t know if four-wheel drive vehicles were around in 1963. But he had fallen asleep.
I called Dr. Rorchester again, not bothering to get out of earshot from Grampa, and I told him Grampa Floyd was growing weaker. I asked if I should take him to the hospital, and the doctor said if Grampa wasn’t in pain, it was probably better for him to stay in his own bed. He thanked me for staying by Grampa’s side.
I made another call, to Bev and the girls. They knew about the snowstorm bearing down on Central Kentucky, and they told me they were likely to get a couple of inches in Tennessee. I apologized for missing Christmas, but Bev said we would celebrate whenever I got back.
I was sad to be away from home, but I knew I was doing the right thing.
Within a couple of hours, the wind started howling. There was a streetlight in front of Grampa’s house, and at first, I could see the snow in its glow, racing in a nearly horizontal line … until the snowfall was too thick to see exactly where the streetlight was. Bundled up on a couch with a well-worn comforter, I slept off and on through the night, waking whenever a cold gust of wind rattled the front door especially loud.
Around seven or so, I got up from the couch with the comforter wrapped around me like a half-swaddled baby. The storm was over and the house was quiet and still warm, as we had not lost power. I checked on Grampa; his breathing was slow, with alarming pauses at the end of each exhalation. I tiptoed around his house, making sure every window and wall had survived the blizzard.
The sun wasn’t up yet, but the snow had stopped; the streetlight once again shown brightly, illuminating Midway’s own new comforter: a puffy white blanket of snow. The curly haired weather lady had been right: There looked to be about a foot and a half of snow.
I put Grampa’s old Mr. Coffee to work, and I turned on the TV—with the sound down low— to catch the local news. The same crew was still working the Channel 18 newsroom. A young reporter said it was safer for them to stay at the station, and for the morning crew to stay home. He said one lane had been cleared on the interstate, and with temperatures expected to warm into the upper 30s and remain above freezing in the night ahead, Santa Claus would be able to make his rounds.
As I was thinking about my wife and daughters, I heard Grampa start to stir. I set my coffee down, went to his bed, and asked if I could get him anything.
“I might take a drink of water. I’ve got a straw on that table, I think,” he said quietly. “I slept all night but I feel so tired today.”
After I handed Grampa a cup of water with his straw, I described last night’s storm and today’s snow-covered scene.
“Is it Christmas?” he asked.
“No, it’s Christmas Eve,” I told him. “They said on the news that it’ll warm up a bit, and Santa should be able to land on all the rooftops tonight.”
“I think I’ll be hearing those Christmas bells, son,” Grampa whispered. I was coming to understand the bells meant death, and as sad as that made me, I felt my face flush with another emotion. He called me son.
Grampa raised up on one elbow and moved as though he intended to get out of bed, but he laid back onto his pillows, exhausted by the effort.
“Jay, do you reckon you could get me to the front room? I want to look out the window,” he said softly.
I told him I could try, and I gathered up a blanket off his bed and threw it over my shoulder. Then I eased the bed coverings back and slid one arm behind Grampa’s shoulders and the other under his knees. I lifted him with surprising ease. I had a dog back home that weighed about the same as Grampa Floyd.
I figured Grampa just wanted to see how deep the snow was, and when I got to his big window in the front room, I hooked my foot around the leg of an upholstered chair and swung it around to face the window. I set Grampa in the chair as gently as I could, covered him with the blanket, and gathered a few pillows from the couch I had slept on. I had Grampa propped up and covered up pretty well, and I asked if there was anything he needed.
“Naw, I don’t need anything. But if you could open the curtains, I could see out the window better.”
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I asked after I had given him a better look outside. “And quiet. I don’t see any car tracks or footprints, except where a rabbit went across your yard.”
“The sun’s almost up,” he said. “I expect we’ll hear the bells soon.”
Oh Lord. I knew Grampa was ready to die, but I didn’t know if I was ready to watch him fade away. While he gazed outside, the daylight growing brighter, I covered my eyes and tried to calm my nerves.
And then I heard it.
At first, I thought it was Grampa’s wheezy lungs, maybe even a death rattle. But as I kept my eyes covered and concentrated, I could hear the sound more distinctly.
I heard Christmas bells.
I opened my eyes to bright light, the early sun splashing onto the brilliant white snow. I couldn’t tell where the bells were coming from, but Grampa seemed to know. He leaned forward and craned his neck to the right, looking up Stephens Street as it led away from town. I followed his gaze, and then it all became clear.
Coming into to Midway in the middle of the snow-covered street was a team of two horses pulling a sleigh. It wasn’t a Currier and Ives-looking sleigh, but more of a working sleigh that a farmer would use to haul stuff. Both horses had neck straps that were loaded with jingle-jangly bells. Christmas bells.
And as the team drew closer, I was able to recognize the driver, his face only half-covered by a woolen scarf. It was Avery Jackson.
“Looky there. Avery’s come to get me,” Grampa said in whispered excitement. Then the certainty of his situation caught up with him. “But I guess old Avery’s gonna have to make this run without me.”
I’m sure the heavy truth hit the old storyteller hard, as he recognized his best balderdash was behind him. He put on a good show for his pal, though, as Avery guided the team into Grampa’s yard and up close to the window. With each plod of the horses’ heavy hooves, the round bells rattled and rang, pealing through the clouds of warm breath the horses snorted out. Grampa smiled big for his visitors, and though he tried to wave, he could raise his arm only a couple of inches.
Avery took his scarf away from his face and shouted to us, “I’ll bring you a turkey dinner at noon!”
Then he guided his two-horse team away from the window and back to the road. He gave the reins a gentle snap, and the horses broke into a trot, setting off a new round of ringle-dingles. Avery looked over his shoulder and waved to Grampa in the window.
Grampa Floyd watched them drive away, the sight of them … and the sound of them … fading.
He heaved a big sigh. “I do like those bells, son,” he whispered. “Especially at Christmas.”
Then Grampa closed his eyes.