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Slow Steps




Beth Mathison



The stairs going down to the beach were steep and ragged, so I took Gamma’s hand in my own.


There was a time when she would have objected, offended by the offer to help.  That time had passed, the offers always accepted now without comment.


Our family had traveled to this stretch of beach each year long before I was born.  Maxie told stories of generations before us that arrived by horseback, before the advent of automobiles.  Some quiet genius had deemed the surrounding area federally protected land, and the oceanfront retained much of it’s originally beauty.


“OK, Gamma?” I asked, squeezing her hand. 


“Right as rain,” she said, smiling up at me. 


We took another step, stopping at the next level.


She had held my small hand when I was a child, usually holding a heavy picnic basket in the other.  “You balance me out, dear,” she always said.  “I’d topple right over if I didn’t have you on the one side.”


Of course I’d pulled away from her when I was old enough to run by myself, shedding my shoes so I could dive into the water as soon as possible.  Of course she didn’t topple over, but a sad smile always played on her face.


The sun was hot today, warming my back.  I was looking forward to home-made lemonade in the thermoses, fried chicken, and fresh apple pie.


We took another step, Gamma swaying slightly until she regained her footing.  I held on fast.


“One summer when your mother was small it stormed,” Gamma said, her voice strong.  “We loaded up all seven of us in the big car, your mother in front since she got sick sitting in the back.  The lightning was coming on something terrible, hitting trees and houses.  Your Grandpa, though, he wouldn’t hear of not going.”  Gamma laughed softly.  “He said it was a family tradition, and that we’d get there lightning or not.”


I smiled back.  I could feel the sweat slowly running down my back.  There were two more steps until the wood met the sand.


“We sat in that car for two whole hours before the storm let up, playing the radio and singing songs.”


Gamma inched forward, and we went down another step. 


“When the storm was done coming through, the heavens opened up like a jewel,” she said.  “We all stood outside the car at the top of the steps, looking out at the sea and the sky in awe.  Nobody said a word for a long, long time.”


My Uncle Bob saw us from the beach, and raised a hand in greeting.  I waved back, the swim towel draped over my arm shifting as I tried to balance.  The others were there with baskets and blankets, Maxie already splashing in the surf with the younger kids.


“It was a thing of beauty, that day.  Like God reached down and gave us a glimpse of something more.  More than just this.”  She looked out at the family and the sea beyond, her eyes bright. 


Her hand was fragile under mine, as fragile as small bird bones.  Laughter and the simple noise of family floated up from the beach, and I felt something adjust within me.  Perspective, my adult mind told me. 


But another voice, deeply buried, showed me a summer when I was young.  Very young, and just walking.  I had arrived to the beach with my parents and yelled with delight when I saw Gamma next to her car, waiting for us.  I could feel the strength in my small legs and felt my shoes slam against the ground.  I ran into Gamma and wrapped my arms around her legs, knowing that all was right with the world.  She had taken my hand and we walked down to the shore together.


I squeezed her hand gently.


“One more step, Gamma,” I said. “Just one more.”



BIO: Beth Mathison is a freelance writer living in the Upper Midwestern United States. During the cold winter months, she dreams of warm days and cold drinks on the beach.


MOTIVATION: Grandma Marie, who has stepped on to that other shore.


Photo by: Ben Earwicker





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