Once Upon a Time is Foreverbyronde©
Little Jack took care of her too, and when she was forty-four, he and her new daughter-in-law, Margie, made her a grandmother. Victoria was not ready for this milestone until she saw the little pudgy face peering out from the blankets. After that sight, she forgot about everything except for the tugging in her heart. Victoria thought “Lizzie” was a bit casual for her granddaughter’s name, but Aunt Elizabeth was ecstatic. Barbara was also excited by the tiny girl that instantly went to sleep on her breast. It was like having a baby of her own again, and Victoria could understand her happiness.
Life spun on merrily for Victoria; she now had two men to look after her every want, a daughter and Jimmy’s wife to talk with about women’s things, and it seemed to everyone as if her life was perfectly complete. Few knew that Squeaky still had a prominent place on her bed; even though he was faded with age and some of his stuffing had come out after Lizzie found him. He still heard her most private thoughts about how much she missed Jack, and he was always there to give her the hug she needed. If anything was missing in her life, it was the companionship of the man she had loved so completely, and had lost so very early.
The circle turned again when Jimmy’s grandson entered her classroom. The third generation of Greenville’s youth had come under her care. Victoria was sixty-two, and all the other teachers thought she should retire. Jimmy and Little Jack also urged her to stop working and take things easy. She had thought of retiring, but what would she do if she couldn’t teach? Jimmy and Little Jack didn’t understand the satisfaction of seeing a little face lit up with new-found knowledge. What did a grocer and an engineer know about teaching? And that worry-wart doctor. She’d told Jack about her last Sunday.
“Well, Doctor Lindsay says I’m getting on in years and should slow down, but what does she know? She’s only thirty. When I was her age, I’d had Little Jack and was raising him by myself. She asked me if I was ever tired, and I told her I’d been tired since Jack learned how to walk.” Victoria giggled at her little joke. “She told me I was in fine shape, but my blood pressure was too high. I don’t feel bad, so I don’t know why she’s worried. The only time it ever felt high was when we...well, you remember too, don’t you. I miss that, sometimes. Anyway, I told her I’d take it easy, but I love being with the kids. I know you’d understand if you were here. By the way, Jimmy’s grandson is in my class. That’s one kid who’s parents care. He’s kind of like Jimmy was. I have to keep him busy or he starts to act up. He’s known me since he was born, so he thought he had the upper hand on the rest of the class, but I soon straightened him out. I just told him I’d have a talk with his grandpa, and he got real quiet. He hasn’t been a problem since.”
“Little Jack and Margie are doing fine. You already know that Lizzie got married last month, but you don’t know that she’s two month’s along. Kids these days don’t seem to be able to wait on anything, but at least she’s married now. They seem to love each other a lot, so I’m not too worried. It will be different to be a great-grandmother. I don’t feel that old yet. I wish you were here to see all the kids. I know you’d love them as much as I do. Sometimes, it feels like you’re here, but I’m not sure. It’s just that, I sense something nearby, but I can’t see anything. I haven’t told anybody, because they’d just think I’m crazy. I wish it was you. I’d like to see you again more than anything.”
When she was sixty-eight, Bert Armstrong, the president of the school board, paid a call at her house.
“Victoria, it’s time you quit teaching. You’ve worked so hard for us for all these years, and you deserve a rest. Why don’t you retire and take some time for yourself?”
“I know you, Bert. You were the same way when you were in my class. You never say what you mean. Am I to understand that you’re not satisfied with my teaching?”
He was instantly nine years old and back in her class. “Now, Miss Morton, you know better than that. There’s hasn’t been a board member in thirty years that hasn’t had you for a teacher, and none of us has anything but good to say about you. It’s just that...well, you’re too old to still be working. You should be playing with your grandkids and taking it easy. Dick says you’re getting a prescription for high blood pressure filled at his drug store, and he’s worried about your health. He says the stress of the classroom isn’t doing your condition any good.”
“Dick Jameson has a big mouth. Has since the second grade. He should learn to keep private things private instead of telling everybody he knows.”
“Dick and I are the only ones who know, besides your doctor, that is. You know Dick wouldn’t do that to you. I think you know I’m right, and you’re just being stubborn.”
She retired at the end of the year. The “small” retirement party that Jimmy and Little Jack threw was held in the gym, and involved most of the town. One wall was covered with pictures of her classes, and she kept hearing the children asking, “Dad, is that really Mrs. Morton?, and then the answer, “Yep, she was my third grade teacher too.” The school board presented her with a plaque honoring her years of service, and then made the announcement that the name of Greenville Grade School was being changed to the Victoria F. Morton Grade School in her honor.
Victoria traveled a bit for the next year to visit distant relations. She and Little Jack’s family made one trip to Johnson City to the Mountain Inn where she and Jack had spent her honeymoon. She couldn’t stay there on this trip, because the little motel had succumbed to the invasion of the big chains. The office was now an antique store, and the rooms that spread out on either side had become low-income housing. She did find their room, and after she had explained her reason, the old couple had been gracious enough to ask her in. It had changed a lot, but she still felt the thrill of her wedding night as she walked inside. When she readied for bed that night, on the second floor of the Ramada, she thought how sad it was that all the little motels had disappeared.
That February, Lizzie had her third child, and Victoria was the center of attention when they put little Barbara in her arms. She knew Momma would have been proud to give her name to the little bald baby girl. The picture taking went on for an hour, since the other two grandchildren wouldn’t be left out, and she was tired when Little Jack took her home. She tired easily anymore, she thought, but shrugged it off. A nap would fix everything up just fine, and then she’d read a few chapters of her latest book.
The hospital waiting room was filled to capacity, but there were no shouts or arguments. There was only the quiet murmur of the concerned friends of the woman in intensive care. The men and women shuffled from group to group, or sat on the worn chairs and couches. Occasionally, one or two went outside to smoke, but quickly returned in hopes of hearing some news of her condition. They knew they couldn’t see her, but it made them feel better to be there in the waiting room. Jimmy came down to see if Little Jack had gotten there yet, and caught bits of conversation as he entered the room.
“I remember when I was in Mrs. Morton’s class, we were doing science, and I brought a frog. I thought she’d be scared, but she just picked him up and put him in that old aquarium. I had to catch flies for that frog until the end of the year. When my Davey started in her class, she remembered. Can you imagine that, remembering such a little thing after all those years?”
“When the principal came to get me, when Mom died, Mrs. Morton walked me out into the hall and gave me a hug. She said I should be brave, because my dad would really need me. She was crying as hard as I was, but she shook Dad’s hand, and said she was very sorry for him, and if he needed anything, to just let her know. We’d just moved to Greenville, and she didn’t even know us that well, but she still wanted to help.”
“Back then, teachers could whip kids, but Mrs. Morton never did. She’d make you feel about this high, just by talking to you, and you’d never do whatever it was you did, again. And she never even raised her voice. I wish teachers were the same as they were back then, or at least that more of ‘em were like her.”
After every story, nods of agreement or quiet chuckles were exchanged.
Jimmy told Mr. Reynolds, the grade school principal that there was no change, and went back upstairs. He knew Bill would spread the word.
The scene in the ICU hadn’t changed for hours. Jimmy and Margie were by her side and each held a frail hand. Jimmy’s wife, Betty, went to get coffee for them once in a while, and had stood her turn at the bedside. None of them saw the young man with the flat-top haircut who stood by her pillow. If they had, they might have mistaken him for Little Jack, but Little Jack was rushing back from a business trip.
“He’s coming, Aunt Victoria. Betty got hold of him on his cell phone, and he’ll be here any minute.”
“Vicky, we don’t have to leave until he gets here. Just relax. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Victoria heard the words in her mind, as if they were a dream, and she only had to think to answer. She knew Jack was with her, and if she turned her head, she could see him. She had smiled when he first came to stand beside her, because she knew they would soon be together again.
“I know. I need Little Jack to see me off, and I can wait that long. I kind of wish I didn’t have to leave them, but their kids have kids of their own, and they have their own lives to live. Thank you for giving me Little Jack. He gave me the strength to go on after you left.”
The gentle touch of his hand in hers reassured her, and she knew this was not the end, but would be the beginning of all they had missed over the years.
“We’ll watch over them together, just like I’ve been watching over you all these years.”
Little Jack walked quickly to the bedside.
“Mom, it’s Jack. I got here as soon as I could.”
Victoria opened her eyes to gaze on her son. She was always amazed at how much Little Jack looked like his father. He was a little taller, and had put on weight over the years, but the face was the same. He took her hand in his and Margie went to be with Betty.
“Little Jack, my little baby Jack.” She squeezed his hand, and he was shocked at how little pressure he felt.
“You take good care of your family when I’m gone. And you too, Jimmy. Just like you both took care of me when I needed it most. I never thanked either of you, but without you two, I don’t think I’d have made it.”
“Don’t talk like that, Mom. You’ll be home before you know it, and we’ll still be taking care of you.”
“Yes, I’m going home, but not with you. I’m going home with your father. He’s waiting for me, and I’m ready to join him. I know you don’t understand, but you will, one day. Don’t feel sad for me, feel happy.”
Victoria closed her eyes, and although they never told each other afterward, Little Jack and Jimmy both felt a chill pass over them. The little sigh from the white-framed face on the pillow marked her final breath. Both leaned to kiss her cheeks, and then tried to see their way from the room through their tear-filled eyes. Margie and Betty held them as they silently grieved for this great lady who had left their lives.
Even had they looked, they wouldn’t have seen the young woman rise from the bed and join the young man with the flat-top. They wouldn’t have seen him envelop her in his arms and kiss her.
“I’m ready now, Jack. I’m ready to go wherever you take me.”
“It’s a pretty nice place, but it’ll be better, now that you’re here. It’s a little like a fairy tale, really. Everything that happens is good. Your mother is there, and Aunt Elizabeth. They’re anxious to see you.”
“I’ll be happy to see Momma. When we were driving back, that day, I was thinking that I should tell her she was wrong.”
“Wrong about what?”
“Before I went to college, she told me things weren’t always perfect. She said that once upon a time never happens. Somehow, over the years, I forgot to tell her that it happened for me.”
“Like you kept telling me on those Sunday afternoons?”
“Yes, like in the fairy tales she used to read me. You know, once upon a time, there was a princess? Well, now I can tell her that once upon a time is forever.”
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