Tradition’s Tall Tale

(From the Writer’s Digest creative writing prompt “Bizzarre Family Traditions”)

I lean back in my armchair, my grandson on my knee.  He watches me expectantly, waiting for a story.  “It was a long time ago, when I was about fifteen. I—”

“How long ago was that?” he interrupts.  His wide blue eyes shine with disbelief that I was ever so young.

I ruffle his hair.  “A looooong time ago.”  I wink and he huffs at my evasive answer. “I decided I wanted to go to the old battlefield for lunch that Independence Day, rather than spend it with my boring family.”

My grandson snickers at this. “You thought Mommy was boring?”

“She wasn’t born yet, not for many more years.”

“Wow, you’re old, Grandpa!”

I can’t help but laugh at his exclamation, and my daughter’s voice drifts out of the kitchen. “Steven, don’t call Grandpa old. It’s not polite.”

“Sorry for callin’ you old, Grandpa,” he apologizes. “Keep going with the story.”

“So I grabbed some leftover taco fixin’s from the fridge to take with me, because my mother insisted. I walked out to the battlefield, and saw that there were reenactors out there.”

“What’s a…ren-i-akter?”

“A reenactor is someone who dresses up from a different time and pretends they’re back in history. These were soldiers, pretending to fight a war.”

“Cool! Did they have guns?”

“Yes, they did. I wanted to get closer, to see the fighting better. But as I did, I realized these were real soldiers. I had somehow gone back in time! I couldn’t believe it! I needed to be careful though, because I didn’t want them to see me.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’d think I was a spy, for the other side.” I lean forward conspiratorially and whisper, “You know what they do to spies, right?” Steven shakes his head, his eyes wide. “They put them to death.” I lean back again as he thinks about that, pausing before I keep spinning my tale. “So I’m watching these soldiers from where I’m hiding behind a tree, and all of a sudden I feel something at my back. It’s one of the soldiers.”

“Oh no!” Steven yelps. “Was he gon’ shoot you?”

“If I made any wrong moves….” I point my finger like a gun. “Pow!”

He jumps. “What’d you do?”

“I raised my hands up reeeaaal slooow…” I lift my hands in demonstration as I speak. “…and I tell him I was just there to eat my lunch. He looked like he’d been short on rations so I thought if I gave him my lunch I could get out of there and get back home.”

“What’s…ratchens?”

“Army food. It’s pretty gross stuff, especially a hundred fifty years ago. Well he was looking around like he didn’t wanna get caught with the enemy, ’cause then he could get in trouble with his bosses. I told him there was enough to share, after I convinced him that he’d rather eat than shoot me. So I leaned down and picked up my lunch, and when I turned back to the soldier…”

Steven’s leaning so far forward he starts to slip off my knee. He catches himself and squirms back in place. “What Grandpa? What happened then?”

“Nothing. He was gone, just like that.”

“Grandpa! People can’t dis’pear.”

“He did! I went out the next year, same day, and I saw him again. I started going there every July fourth, to share homemade tacos with a soldier in the past. We live too far away for me to do that anymore, so we have them instead of hamburgers as a way to remember.”

My grandson sits quietly for a minute, his young mind processing the story. The look on his face is a conflict of disbelief and awe. He finally hops down and runs to the kitchen where my daughter is making tacos. “Mommy! Is Grandpa making fibs again?”

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2 thoughts on “Tradition’s Tall Tale

    1. I had three or four starts to ideas that I trashed before this one found me. And then this week’s prompt is up a day earlier than I expected so I was late getting this one posted.

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