Read Grandfather's Dance Online

Authors: Patricia MacLachlan

Grandfather's Dance


For my husband, Bob—
always my first reader


And for my father, Philo (1902–2004)—
who danced


















About the Author

Author’s Note

Also by Patricia MacLachlan

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About the Publisher





His name is John, my little brother. John Jacob Witting, after my papa and grandfather. But Papa and Mama call him Jack. Jack calls himself Doggie. He calls a lot of people Doggie.

“Doggie wants milk,” he says at the dinner table.

When Mama ignores him, he says, “Please . . . Doggie says please.”

He can run now, so Mama has to chase after him.

Around the house . . .

Out to the barn . . .

And into the meadow . . .

He’s so little that he can get lost in the fields of corn.

Every day I hurry home from school to see him. I never expected to like him. Or to love him.

“I will never love this horrible new baby,” I told my sister, Anna. “I won’t speak to the baby ever, either.”

But I was wrong.

Maybe I am under a spell like in a fairy tale. Maybe someone somewhere has cursed me.

I can’t help it.

I love him.


pring. School was hard in the spring. Even fourth grade was hard. The windows of the small school were open and the sweet smell of new grass blew in. I couldn’t pay attention. Neither could Ian or Min or Grace. Will was half asleep, and Isabel looked out the window. There were only six of us in school, from first grade to fifth. Mr. Willet read out loud to us, but no one seemed to hear. One of the horses whinnied outside and we all looked out the window. Finally Mr. Willet put down his book and looked out the window, too.

“Let’s go home,” he said softly.

Ian, the youngest of everyone, only six, clapped his hands, making Mr. Willet laugh.

“Go home, go on home,” he said, still laughing. “We’ll try again on Monday.”

I gathered my books and helped Ian with his. I made sure he got home every day. Today I’d ridden Molly, and I gave Ian a leg up. We rode together, Ian’s arms around my waist.

“Caleb and I used to ride home from school just like this,” I said.

“Caleb’s big now,” said Ian.

“Yes. He’s big. Away at school.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Yes. I miss Caleb.”

“Does he tease you?” asked Ian.

“Yes, Caleb has always teased me.”

“I tease my little sister every single day,” said Ian.

I heard him yawn behind me, and I turned and wrapped a long scarf behind him and tied it in front of my waist. Sometimes Ian fell asleep on the way home. I didn’t want him falling off Molly.

“Lily loves me even if I tease her,” said Ian matter-of-factly.


“Let’s do twosies,” said Ian.

“Okay. Two times two is . . . ?”


“Two times three is . . . ?”


Ian laid his head against my back and Molly walked slowly down the road to his house.

“Two times four?”

Ian didn’t answer. I smiled. He’d fallen asleep, his breath warm on my back.

Way off in the fields, meadowlarks flew and the smell of prairie spring followed us home.


“Cassie! Cassie!”

Jack ran out of the barn, Papa and our dog Lottie following him. His pale hair was long and curly around his face. Mama once said he looked like an angel. Grandfather said most times he didn’t act like one.

The surprise was that Jack did act like an angel around Grandfather. He never frowned at Grandfather. He never showed Grandfather his temper. Every evening he sat on Grandfather’s lap and made him tell a story, made him sing. From the very beginning, Grandfather had been Jack’s favorite.

Papa lifted Jack up to sit with me on Molly. Jack leaned down and kissed Molly on her neck, and we went into the barn.

“Doggie,” said Jack.

I smiled.

“Horse,” I said to him. “Molly’s a horse.”

Jack turned and frowned his fierce frown at me.

“Doggie,” said Jack, making me laugh.

I kissed the top of his head. It was warm and sweet smelling.

“All right,” I said. “Doggie.”

“Horse,” said Jack, smiling back at me.

“A joke!” I cried. “You made a joke, Jack.”

I got off Molly and reached up and slid Jack down beside me.

“Doggie,” whispered Jack.

I laughed and took his hand. We walked out of the cool, dark barn into the light. He jumped up and down beside me as we walked.

His hand was tiny and warm in my hand.


e ate stew for dinner—Grandfather, Mama, Papa, Jack and I, Jack in his wooden high chair.

“You came home early today, Cassie,” Mama said.

I nodded.

“Spring came in the window,” I said.

“Now, there’s a poem,” said Mama, smiling at me.

“Mr. Willet said that he couldn’t pay attention, either. So we all came home.”

“And Ian?” asked Mama.

“Fell asleep in the middle of twosies,” I said.

“There’s a poem again,” said Grandfather.

“Doggie wants stew, please,” said Jack.

Everyone laughed.

“That’s a nice ‘please,’ little Doggie,” said Papa, spooning some stew into Jack’s bowl.

Papa took a letter out of his jacket

“I forgot, Sarah. This came today from your brother.”

Mama grinned.

“The aunts and William! I invited them to Anna’s wedding.”

Quickly, Mama opened the letter.

“Old women in the house. That’s all we need,” grumped Grandfather.

“That from an old man, of course,” said Papa.

“They’re coming! All of them!” said Mama. “Except for Meg. Meg can’t come.”

Meg was William’s wife.

Mama’s eyes filled with tears.

Papa got up and put his arms around her.

“I know,” he said softly. “It’s been a long, long time.”

“Where will they stay?” I asked.

“In the barn,” whispered Grandfather. “We’ll throw down some blankets.”

“We’ll make room,” said Papa. “Harriet and Mattie and Lou can stay in Caleb’s room.
something to think about.”

stay in the barn,” said Grandfather in a strong voice.

“Doggie stay in barn,” said Jack.

Grandfather reached over and took Jack’s hand.

“You bet,” he said.


It was dark outside. Mama was sewing, the light of the lamp falling across a white dress. The dogs sat nearby, Lottie at her feet, Nick by the wood stove.

“What are you doing?”

Mama looked up.

“I’m sewing my old wedding dress. For Anna.”

I nodded.

“Why do people get married?” I asked.

“They love each other. They want to spend their lives together.”

“I don’t love anyone for marrying,” I said. “Except for Lottie and Nick. Do you think I could marry a dog?”

Mama smiled.

“That would be nice,” she said. “They are always glad to see you. Always forgiving if you speak sharply to them. They love you no matter what.”

She bit off a piece of thread.

“I think marrying a dog would be splendid.”

“Me, too.”

Mama and I smiled at each other.

“You’re happy that the aunts are coming?”

“And my brother, William.”

“I don’t remember him,” I said.

Mama shook her head.

“You weren’t born, Cassie. But you’ll like him, Cass. He’s wonderful.” She stood and held up the white satin dress. “Wonderful.” She looked at me and grinned.

“Like a dog.”


It is my wedding, and I am in my long white dress. There are many, many people there. The sun is overhead and a breeze blows my veil. I am beautiful.

Everyone turns to watch Papa walk me down through the garden. Everyone smiles. Mama is there, and Jack, who is quite tall. And Caleb, home from school. And Anna. I can’t see Grandfather. Where is he?

At the end of our walk is my wonderful, tall husband-to-be. He is black and white, with a long feathered tail. He wags it. He is beautiful. We will live happily ever after.


It bothered me that Grandfather was not at my wedding.

Where were you?” I asked him when I read my journal to him.

Grandfather looked a little sad, but he smiled.

“I was in the barn,” he whispered.


he days grew warmer and now it was light long into the evening. Mama and Papa and Anna planned the wedding. Anna had come from her room in town with pictures and lists.

And Jack began to talk and act like Grandfather. He called Grandfather “Boppa,” his own private name for Grandfather. He tried to walk like him, with his hands behind his back. Once
Anna and I saw them both walking to
the barn this way, Jack just behind Grandfather.

“Peas in a pod,” said Anna.

Jack began to say everything Grandfather said.

“Yep,” said Grandfather.

“Yep,” said Jack.

“You bet.”

“You bet!”

When Grandfather slept on the daybed, Jack lay down beside him, watching him closely. Jack lay back with his hands across his chest and tried to snore.

Papa came in from the barn and smiled at them.

“Jack is a very small Grandfather,” I said to Papa.

“He sounds like John more and more every day,” Mama said. “Pretty soon he’ll start being stubborn and cranky.”

And he did.

Anna and Justin came to dinner. They would be married soon, and there was talk of flowers and food and music.

“Eat your beans, Jack,” said Mama, pointing to his plate.

“Doggie no beans,” said Jack, frowning.

“They’re good, Jack,” said Justin.

“No,” said Jack.

Grandfather dropped his fork on the floor.

“Drat,” he said.

“I’d like you to eat some beans, Jack,” repeated Mama.

Jack climbed down out of his chair.

“Drat, drat, drat,” he yelled.

Everyone was quiet.

Grandfather finally spoke.

“That sounded . . . a little bit . . . like . . .”

“You, Boppa,” said Papa.

Grandfather sighed and stood up.

“I guess I’m the one who should take care of this,” he said.

He took Jack’s hand and they went outside.

Mama bit her lip. Papa stared at his plate. Suddenly, Mama began to laugh. We laughed, too.

“Poor John,” said Mama. “This is a very hard job. Keeping Jack in line behind him.”

“Huge,” said Anna.

“Nearly impossible,” said Justin.

And they began to laugh all over

A long time later, Grandfather and Jack came back. They were very quiet. They sat next to each other at the table where Mama and Papa and Anna and Justin were drinking coffee.

Grandfather poked Jack gently.

Jack looked up at Grandfather.

“Doggie sorry,” said Jack.

Grandfather poked Jack again.

“Jack sorry,” said Jack, using his name for the first time.

Grandfather sat back.

“That’s very good,” he said, pleased with himself.

“Drat,” whispered Jack.


The aunts were coming by train. In seven days. Mama’s brother, William, would come after.

“Two weeks of aunts,” said Papa. “That’s a lot of aunts.”

“They’ll help,” said Mama.

“Oh, I know that,” said Papa, laughing. “They may take over.”

“I remember the aunts,” said Anna. “Papa made all of us leave here when the land dried up.”

“He stayed here all alone, while we were in beautiful green Maine with the aunts,” said Mama. “By the ocean that stretched out like the prairie. Where it rained all the time, while Papa waited and waited for rain.”

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