The next morning, Andrew woke Ashling early to announce that they would be taking a drive together. Their plane would not be leaving until late in the afternoon, so they had plenty of time to see some sights that Mr. Welsh had planned for them to see. After they had been driving for about half an hour, however, Mr. Welsh stunned Ashling with a monumental piece of information. “Ash,” he said. “I know that Mom told you that her parents were both dead, but that isn’t quite true.”
“What?!” Ashling exclaimed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, the truth is…” he trailed off for a moment, trying to come up with the right words to say. “The truth is that your mom and her parents just didn’t get along very well. Some things happened in the past that caused your mom not to want to see them anymore.”
“What happened?” Ashling asked. “What could be so bad that Mom wouldn’t want to see her own parents?”
“Well, actually, I don’t really understand it myself, Ash. I think Mom’s parents just wanted something for their daughter that she didn’t want for herself, and they were too insistent. Eventually, things came to a head and things were said that shouldn’t have been said. I met your Mom a year later, but she was already telling people that her parents were dead. A few years ago, your Mom got a letter from a friend, telling her that her father had died. I think your mom wanted to see her mom again at that time, but you know your mom. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.
I sent a letter back to your mom’s friend and had her send me the address in California. Now that I’m finally here, I hope we’re doing the right thing. The place we’re actually going is your grandmother’s house and we’re going to be there in about half an hour.” Ashling didn’t make a sound as he struggled to digest this information.
Mr. Welsh continued, “When we get there, I need you to pretend that Mom didn’t tell you they were dead. I think that might be a little hard for your grandmother to hear. Can you do that?”
“Okay,” Ashling said softly, nodding his head. He had become quite talented at pretending that things were different than how they really were. He could imagine up a new grandmother. No problem, he thought doubtfully, but trying to convince himself.
Twenty minutes later, Andrew Welsh pulled up in front of a nice suburban house that appeared almost identical to all the other houses on the street. “Are we there?” Ashling asked.
“No. This is your Mom’s friend’s house. She’s going to go with us. They already know each other, so I think it might be better. I don’t want to scare the old lady.”
“How old is she?” Ashling asked.
“Your grandma? I think over seventy, but not by much.” Mr. Welsh got out of the car and shut the door behind him. “Why don’t you just wait here,” he said to Ashling when Ashling had opened his door. “Maybe you should move to the back as well. That might be best.”
“Okay,” Ashling agreed.
As Mr. Welsh walked up to the front door of the house, Ashling moved to the back seat and continued to watch his father through the car window. The door was opened by a child, but a woman was soon standing there as well. Ashling could see them exchange greetings, though he couldn’t hear anything from within the car. Two minutes later, the woman was following his father toward the car.
“You must be Ashling,” the woman said in a friendly voice as she sat in the car. “You are your mom’s favorite conversation topic. You know that?” Ashling turned red with embarrassment.
“This is Mrs. Watkins, Ash,” Mr. Welsh informed his son.
“Hi,” he greeted her before falling silent again.
“I visit your grandma from time to time,” the woman continued as Mr. Welsh started the car, “so she knows quite a bit about you as well. She is going to be so happy to finally meet you!” Ashling smiled, but maintained his silence.
“Not very talkative, is he?” Mrs. Watkins commented to Mr. Welsh a minute later.
“Like father, like son,” he responded. “He always gets quiet when people are talking about him. He’s not really very shy. At least not when he’s with his friends.”
Ashling continued to blush as he tried to ignore the two adults. He looked out the window for a while, but there wasn’t much to see. House after identical house. A couple minutes later they were back on the main road, but Ashling had become used to all the cars already, so he thought instead about what meeting his grandmother might be like.
All too soon, Mr. Welsh had turned back onto a suburban street and was slowing down in front of an average looking house. In front of the house, however, were several flower beds that were being watered at that moment by a silver haired woman in a plaid dress.
“Oh look,” Mrs. Watkins said cheerfully, “she’s expecting us.” Ashling could see from the elderly woman’s smile as she turned toward the car that she was indeed expecting them. The car’s three passengers opened their doors near to simultaneously, though Ashling took just a moment longer to actually step out.
The smile on the elderly woman’s face was warm and friendly. Her face radiated great joy. “You are a good man, Andrew Welsh. A good good man,” she said happily. “Is this Ashling?” she asked in the same cheerful way. “Is this my grandson?”
“Hi…” Ashling started nervously. “I guess so. Nice to meet you.”
“More nice than you know, dear boy. More nice than you could possibly know. Come in. Come in. Come into the house.” The elderly woman put her arm around Ashling’s shoulders and directed him toward the house, talking all the while, repeating over and over again in different ways how nice it was to see them, especially Ashling. “How long can you stay?” she asked Mr. Welsh once they had sat in the spacious parlor.
Apologetically, Mr. Welsh informed her that they could only stay for a couple of hours due to their flight that afternoon. “No matter. No matter. I’m just so happy you’re here now. So happy. So happy.” She had a tendency to repeat herself, Ashling noticed. He couldn’t help liking her, though curiosity about the estrangement between his mother and grandmother kept pressing in on Ashling’s enjoyment of the situation.
After much conversation about Ashling’s school life, friends, and anything else that his grandmother could think to ask, Ashling finally got up the courage to ask a question of his own. “Why don’t you and Mom talk to each other? What happened?
A look of sadness came across his grandmother’s face, causing Ashling to regret asking his question. “Stupidity. That’s what happened. Stupidity. We just butted heads too many times. Her whole life, I don’t think we ever agreed on anything. Finally, when your mom finished high school, she wanted to attend a university on the other side of the country. I wanted her to stay close and to attend the local college. Her father agreed with me and we both pressured her pretty hard.”
“When her boyfriend left for the east coast and we didn’t allow her to go, she was very upset. That was the real reason we didn’t want her to go away – that boyfriend of hers. He was a drug using hippie and no good for her. When he overdosed a year later and word got back to Morgan, your mom, she blamed us. She said that he never would have overdosed if she could have gone with him. That he would still be alive. Poor young fool.”
“Well, we were all pretty stupid back then. We were so happy to hear from Kate here,” pointing to Mrs. Watkins, “that Morgan was happily married and pregnant with you. She refused to give Kate her address though, so we had no way of contacting her, to tell her how proud we were of her. When your grandpa died a few years ago, Kate tracked her down and sent a letter. I guess that’s why we’re all here now,” she said, growing quiet for the first time since Ashling had arrived. His grandmother’s description of his mother didn’t sound much like his mother now.
Well, people do change. But then, why had this silence lasted for so long? Ashling supposed that when he eventually spoke to his mother about this, he would hear a different description of his grandmother as well. “So, Andrew,” Ashling’s grandmother began again, “Kate’s told me that you’re originally from England. I was surprised not to hear any accent.”
Mrs. Watkins answered, “I said he was born in England. He probably came to America when he was very young. Isn’t that right, Andy?”
“Well, uh…” he looked embarrassed. “Actually, I think it was my accent that caused Morgan to be interested in me in the first place. She loved anything that was different back then, and I guess, I was different.”
“Keep going,” Grandma said when she realized that Mr. Welsh was finished already. “What happened? We’re all very curious.”
“Um, well… Morgan and I met in New York,” he began. “I had just come over from England to audition for a play. I always enjoyed acting and I thought that I might have more opportunities in America. I was wrong about that, but I did meet Morgan, which made coming to America worth it.”
Ashling was astounded. His quiet, non-talkative father had once been an aspiring actor. And from England! He couldn’t believe that he didn’t even know that much about his father.
His father continued, “She was attracted to my accent initially, but later found it less attractive. Whenever we were in groups with other people, the topic of conversation often turned to my accent and why I was in America. Morgan got tired of it eventually and asked if I could possibly tone it down. She enjoys talking much more than I do, so I was happy to give people less cause to talk with me. It wasn’t hard to lose my English accent. I mean, I had been an actor.”
“Fascinating,” Ashling’s grandmother remarked. “Absolutely fascinating! My Morgan was lucky to have found you.” Ashling was embarrassed to see his father blush so he decided to change the topic.
“So when will you come visit us? You and my mom aren’t still fighting anymore, right?”
“No, we’re not fighting anymore, but I think she’s still angry with me. When she calls and invites me, I’ll be thrilled and on the first flight out to see you, but until then, I’ll just be very happy that you and your dad came here to see me,… and dear Kate, of course.”
Continued in A Touch of Green