A Cup of Cold Water

By: Dennis Bates

I remember quite clearly how frightened I was. Hospitals had never been my strong suit anyway, and there I sat in the waiting area by myself.  My mother and father were working and my wife had been in the operating room for what seemed like a very long time. The doctors had assured us that the chances were very high that the growth on her thyroid was benign, and her family had a history of similar thyroid problems, but successful removal of the growth and most of the thyroid while likely was not a certainty. 

I don’t remember now who watched our two young daughters, but the thought of having to tell them something had happened to their mommy still  brings an ache to my throat. I had alerted the two prayer chains I knew about and prayed myself almost constantly. Still, I felt the cold fear of the unknown as I sat there. We were far too young for this; that’s all I could think. Our early 30’s with so much ahead of us. A person’s thoughts simply aren’t rational at times like that and mine certainly weren’t.

 At just the right moment my grandfather walked into the waiting room. A small, peculiar working class Englishman, he smiled when he saw me and came over to sit with me. His entire family came to this country in the early 1900’s when he was 17. They spent the rest of their lives working on railroads. They had the dirty jobs…the tasks that brought you home at the end of the day, grimy, hot, but with the knowledge that they had earned an honest day’s pay.

He patted my arm when he sat down, and said simply, “I know what this is like. I thought you might need somebody to sit with you.”

 Indeed, he did know. He lost my grandmother to cancer when she was in her early 60’s and lived without her or anyone else for the rest of his life. I’m not saying he was a perfect husband, but I know he loved my grandmother deeply. I could always see it in his eyes after she died.

 My grandfather was not a well churched person and he rarely went, but I know his heart was right. He told me when I asked him about that once, that he still had unpleasant memories of being marched in neat little rows to the local state church in the working class neighborhoods of the English Midlands. Being watched by stern adult eyes so they remained absolutely quiet and orderly stuck with him.

 But he sat there beside me when I needed him, and he didn’t say much; he just sat there patting my arm, mostly. At one point he got up and went to the water fountain bringing two cups of water back…one for me and another for him. I remember after more than 30 years how cool and refreshing that water tasted. He didn’t seem to think anything of it, and frankly I didn’t either at that moment. However, I think about it more and more these days.

 When the doctor finally came out and told us that everything went well with my wife’s  surgery and that the mass was benign, I remember how grandpa hugged me. Then, in his typical fashion, he nodded humbly. “I guess I’ll be going then,” he said. “Ta Ta.”

 I thanked him and he left. There were no flashing lights, no angelic choirs singing…just a humble little Englishman walking out the waiting room doors. He never owned a car that hadn’t  been owned by at least two other people before him or a house with more than two bedrooms, even though he managed to raise three boys in it somehow. He had no money by today’s standards, and he was never a deacon or an elder in a local church. He was only a kind old man who had the time to get his grandson a cup of cold water and sit with him when his grandson needed him.

Somehow, I think that counts for something.

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