Title: A Change of Grace
Excerpts from Grace’s Journals 1883-1963: Part 4 of 4
Summary: Taylor ends up traveling back in time to New York in the 19th century. There he meets Kathryn, Benjamin, Joshua and Grace among many others. The story follows both Taylor’s adventures in the past and Isaac and Zachary’s search for him in present (1997/1998) time.
November 7th, 1919
I fear for Josh’s health as of late. More and more he seems lacking in energy, out of breath at the simplest of activities. His singing has all but ceased, he no longer has the breath to sing even a verse without coughing endlessly. Thank the Lord there is enough saved to live on comfortably, and our little apartment is a very light cost. Still, he seems such a young man to have such problems, after all we are only 52! Ah, at 16 I remember so vividly how old that was. Strange the way old becomes young, is it not? He’s seen the doctor, who unfortunately only gazed seriously, muttered under his breath, and advised Josh to take things slowly. I fail to see how much more slowly he could take things. We do know it is not consumption, and thank God for small blessings, but he is not well.
His obsession with his dreams and visions had taken him over, a replacement for his lost songs, which he so loved. He avidly attends construction all over the city, triumphantly watching the buildings grow taller, and the advent of motor cars thrilled and terrified him. His drawings grow more fevered and nightmarish, as the visions of his youth take the attention once reserved for music.
He spends many hours sitting near the Dakota, sketching, photographing, simply staring, as if by will alone he can bring him back out. His photography has become another heavy interest, and the clutter of photographic material in the house is truly an annoyance. Still, I would never deny him these small pleasures, no matter my irritation or suspicions against his sanity.
April 1st, 1920
Josh’s health continues to decline, and at this point we see little left to do. The doctors tell us it is a cancer, and that we should have done something about it many years ago. Though Josh feels, as do I, that he would always have been better off to die of it than to let the surgeons near him.
Still, he appears to suffer it less than I do, his life lived now primarily in the past, other than when visiting with Louise. She is the bright light in his life, and her children, who dearly love their uncle Josh and his funny stories about his life as a “famous singer” and his tales “from the road” as he says. His stories about what the city is going to look like both thrill and confuse, especially the older children, who have seen some of his predictions come true. They look to me for confirmation, but I keep my own counsel. Josh doesn’t realize where these ideas of his come from, and I know in my heart it would undo him were he to remember. Let them think his imagination is overactive, and he should have been a writer.
December 25th, 1920
Christmas for the first time, at our home.
Josh is unable to leave now, once down the front stairs he cannot climb up again. That he should be denied even his walks in the park pains me greatly, yet he doesn’t complain.
The holiday was pleasant, though a bit louder than either of us is used to, dampened slightly by the loss of Josh’s Da, just a few days prior, a funeral we were unable to attend. Still, for the sake of the children merry was made, and many a toast drunk to Da, so all in all, I do believe he would have been pleased.
One of the children gave Joshua a framed photograph of him onstage, as a very young man, and he was more pleased than I have ever seen him, the gift of course triggering an astonishing flood of stories, I’m sure a not unsuspected side effect.
Ah, to see him with his lap full of little ones, a bittersweet joy, yet there seems no sorrow in him.
June 30th, 1921
Andy came to the house today, clutching in his hand a very interesting photograph. I only wish I had managed to pry it away from him before his departure. It would seem that, aside from the newspaper photo taken the weekend Joshua proposed to me, there was another photo taken of me that evening. In this photo, which now strikes me as a rather tame reality to a very scandalous memory, I sit at a table, mug of beer! Such a lady I was! in hand, astonishing silly smile on my face. Andy found it delightful, refusing to answer my repeated inquiries as to where the foolish thing came from and also refusing to give it up!
From my point of view, far more interesting than myself, was the person caught to the far left, sitting alone at his own table, pensive faced and out of place. Taylor, will I never forget you? Will you continue to surface from the murky waters of memory when I least expect you?
Andy didn’t wish to speak of Taylor, the boy frightened him, even moreso now that some of his rambled words make sense, Andy a child of a world with no leeway to deny his reality.
We talked far into the evening, the three of us realizing how unreal it seems that Andy’s children are grown, as ours would be, had they lived. None of us, not even Josh with his failing lungs, feels a day over the giddy youths we once were. As Joshua said “I feel sixteen. Sixteen and just ran the mile, but sixteen…” Such an overpowering thing, time, aging, the world moving on. When we are young we feel we will be here forever, our world solid and immovable, yet looking around now, we find we feel no different and yet so much has changed!
Joshua has lost both of his parents, and their loss is heartily felt, whereas though my parents both still live, they shun us, preferring to pretend we don’t exist. Yet at 16 which of us could have foreseen either? I spent a great deal of the evening simply looking at them, trying to see them as the aging men they are, and do you know dear friend, I could not do so! They looked no different in my eyes!
How I wish my reflection in the mirror were so kind! These wrinkles, this sagging flesh, this whitening hair as invisible to my eyes… but no, there it all is, it’s own imperfect reality, while in my Joshua’s face I still see the beauty of youth.
How, I do wonder, does he see me? I shall not ask him, I do not think.
September 15th, 1921
I returned from the market today to find my Josh sitting on the front steps! How, how did he expect to get back inside?! The man sometimes seems to have less sense than a goat. Still I understood his desire, to breath the outside air, though why he would choose to breathe motor fumes confounds.
He claimed he was watching the people, an old pastime he often employed, but the intensity in his gaze made me fear he was looking for people, rather than watching them, and this strikes fear into my soul.
His reality is shifting, his mind more and more locked into that one strange summer. While some would seem to find this tragic, it seems to bother Josh not a whit, his mind eternally busy pondering, sorting, explaining. I imagine he’d have made quite a good philosopher, though the operation involved in getting back inside was more than equal to his powers of solution.
One step at a time, and an hour later we had managed the dozen stairs, but I sense his time is growing short. As does he. He thinks I do not notice, but he spends much time apparently lost in thought, in reality making arrangements for his moneys and possessions. I will not tell him I have noticed, give him his peace of mind if he can have nothing else.
January 4th, 1922
I sit here this night, perhaps officiating at the death of my beloved, perhaps simply sitting helplessly. Words mean nothing, I wait only to hear the sound of his breathing stop.
January 18th, 1922
Apologies once more for a shameful lack of attention, the desire to write, to think, to be, only a hint of an existence do they have.
I write this from Louise’s spare room, my room now, she says, though I suspect nothing shall ever feel as if it is mine again.
How can it be that it is the 18th? My last memory is of the night of the 4th, the night I wrote such an entry in you that it frightens even me. Oh, but I do remember that night, and the terror at realizing that he was gone, and I had no idea what to do, where to go, how to think, or even what to do with him. I suppose that is a type of shock, is it not? The total and complete inability to think or feel? But what then? There has been a funeral, there has been a move, and yet I remember none of it, my only memory that of a square of light I suppose must be the window. It seems impossible to me that I will ever again care about anything, or find any joy in my day to day existence. If my life were to end this moment I would have no real regret.
March 14th, 1922
Dear friend, would that you had a voice, and hands, to slap me and tell me to stop being a silly, depressed old fool!!
Lila paid me a visit today, and asked me if I were ever going to come out of my room! She informed me, at my query, that it has been well over a month since anyone has heard me speak, or seen me so much as read a book or pick up a pen!
Louise told the children to let me be, that I needed time, but I would think Lila has decided that I have more than enough time to wallow in self pity. Her exact words were “Auntie Grace, just because Uncle Josh is gone doesn’t mean you are! We love you, when are you going to come out?”
I do so love this child. This child who dared to speak the words “Uncle Josh is gone”, words I realize now nobody had dared to speak, and I have much less dared to think. Bah, such foolishness, he is gone and I can say it! Am I a weak, sniveling old woman who cannot live on her own? Would that be the woman Joshua married? It would not. Would he be disgusted and ashamed of me? He would not say so, but that would not change the fact. Grace Margaret Gage, you are WHINING and you will stop it this instant! There! And now, dear friend, I put you down and venture out again. There is indeed a world out there.
June 20th, 1940
The city grows around us, taller and taller and I wonder that the very buildings don’t topple and kill us all. Such wonders never imagined in the days of my youth, taken for granted by those around me, born to such marvels.
Ah, I know more surely than ever that this is where he came from, our mysterious stranger who brought us together as surely as the sun rises. But not even this time, no, further ahead, further forward. My Good sweet Lord what can await around the corners of time?
I began my garden yesterday, the mild weather a good reason to shed my sweater, and the sun tanned my arm. When I removed my wristwatch later, the white mark it had caused hit me like a brick to the face. Taylor, and that silly white spot he consistently checked before reaching for his watch pocket. He wore such a wristwatch, and could not get used to it’s not being there. What else will play out as time passes? Oh what I wouldn’t give to tell people! That a young boy made such a sacrifice, to repair the ailing lives of two people who could not possibly have meant anything to him. And I believe it was a sacrifice, dear friend, the longing on his face was unmistakable, his tears that last night… but why? And who was he? He was one of us, I am certain. I watch now, and I wait.
September 3rd, 1943
I have become childminder to the world. How is it that each and every niece and nephew considers me their permanent and total babysitter? And how is it that they know I love it so very much? Ah but they tire me out! I am no longer as young as I think I am. 76 has a difficult time catching up to a two year old! Still, I am filled, and loved, and as my friend Lois is fond of saying, in this the autumn of my life, I should be nothing BUT filled and loved. Happiness it would seem, is to be mine. If I could but keep them out of the tomato patch!
August 2nd, 1950
They’ve gone and done it the lousy little ingrates, they’ve gone and stuck the crazy old woman in a home! Ah, dear friend they are not ingrates, and I do suppose are concerned for my welfare, but wouldn’t you suppose that I would be the best judge of that? With age does not come idiocy! Ah if Louise were still here she would put a stop to such nonsense! Still, I do have Lila, though she smiles indulgently. Perhaps I should be grateful they keep bringing the children to me, a new crop of them daily it does seem, to the annoyance of the fine staff here. Alas the days when my stories of scandalously wearing trousers have ended, as the children now will wear anything that covers their nakedness, and care not what it looks like! Ah but such days were those, thrilling the children with tales of my indiscretions. I suppose all good things must come to an end, though I wonder what it would take to shock the children of 1950. Well dear friend, I must set you aside, Lila is due in at any time, with Deirdre, who is just married and simply MUST show me her wedding photos. Whatever makes them think I treasure looking at photographs of a man I have never laid eyes on. Ah, grouchy old coot am I not? I am.
May 17th, 1954
Ah, Deirdre has just left dear friend, as pregnant a woman as I have ever seen, smiling sweetly and graciously. She makes me ill, I just know her back was aching and her shoulders screaming, and her feet swelling… ah nostalgia. Was I so gracious and uncomplaining? I really do not remember, though it seems unlikely that I was. I’m sure I must have complained unmercifully, to poor Josh at the very least. Did he ever speak a harsh word to me? I recall none. I hear the way my nieces husbands speak to them, the way my nephews speak to their wives, and I wonder. Do people love each other still? They seem to full of anger, bitterness, in this, this world of easy marvels! I have my eye on Deirdre. Her face is too familiar, her manners too suggestive of… someone else I knew once. Be mysterious with yourself Grace, you withered old thing, are you afraid to say it? That you think you may be here for the birth of that boy’s mother? There it is said. And what do I suppose I shall do when it happens?
May 20th, 1954
Well, it has happened and there is now now doubt in my mind. That boy, that wonderful, sweet, frightening boy from my past is in reality a boy from my future. How is such a thing possible in this world? The day she left here, Deirdre Mae gave birth to her daughter, and today she and the babe paid me a visit. All new babies must be passed by Auntie Grace for approval. Thank the sweet Lord I was not holding the child when they told me her name. Diana Frances. I’ve known for decades it would happen, known in my heart, in my soul, watching each successive generation, preparing for it. And yet when my eyes set on that tiny face, and those blue eyes stared out at me I recognized in them the eyes of the son this child would one day bear! And when her name was uttered dearest friend, I am ashamed to say I fainted dead away! The first time I have ever done that!! Goodness knows what would have happened had I not already known! I suspect I would be dead! But now… the boy’s mother is here. A good long time before she’s of childbearing age, but here nonetheless. Would that I were not so confounded old!
July 4th, 1963
The child is a delight. A simple delight. Should anyone ever accuse me of having a favorite among this tribe we choose to call a family I would shamelessly admit it. Diana can do no wrong in my eyes and I well know it. Ah, she skips in and out of my room, breathless and chattering, so filled with stories and tales, more than half of which can’t possibly have happened, and I indulge her, feeding her cookies and believing every preposterous word. We have had serious discussion, and she has asked my counsel on small matters so far from my ancient mind it’s painful to think back! Oh and times were so different when I was her age!
She seems to love my stories though, and listens raptly to the way things used to be, and most especially my tales of that summer, the summer I put on a fancy dress and went to the bar with my scandalous friend!! The night her uncle Josh realized he loved me. The child has such a romantic soul, the story captivates her.
I feel guilty though, dearest friend, that I pay such special attention to this girl. Unfair to the other children yes, and unfair to Diana, for is my love for her based on her own merits, or on the merits of the child she will one day bear? Is it her I love, or the shades of him I see in her? I’ve asked myself these questions over and over since her birth, as I held her as an infant, and rocked her as a toddler, looking more forward to hers than to any other visits, though I love them all so dearly. I realize how lucky I am, to have a family who loves me, unlike some poor souls in here, who’s own children are not half so devoted as these my great grand nieces and nephews, who know me only as crazy old auntie Grace! Ah, but a loving tribe we are and have been.
More than ever now I feel my time growing short, and know, as Josh must have known, that my end is near. I cannot say I am not ready, mine has been a long life, and things are failing now in terribly inconvenient ways! Yet I would so love to be here to see his arrival… and how old would I be? If I think life is inconvenient now, how would it be then?! But yes, the time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things… and this is the time to talk of taking care of my children, making sure everyone has something from Auntie Grace. To Diana, I already know, because for Diana I have a task. If she is the sort of person I believe her to be, it will be carried out.
August 14th, 1963
Well dear friend, the trunk is packed, the memories of a lifetime stored inside, ready to be given into the hands of a ten year old girl, more interested in the daisies in her hair than the possessions of an old woman. Yet I feel in my heart that this is right.
Ah, goodnight dear friend, I tire so quickly these nights.