I wrote this story today for class, I haven’t yet received a grade, but either way I am quite proud of it. I am planning to take this short story and build it into a novel. So if you are reading this now, you are getting a sneak peek at my next novel!
She walked with purpose, although her gate was slow. She raised her head high and stepped forward onto the stage, nearing the podium. Her graying hair flowing out behind her as if there was a breeze in the room. She grasped at it nervously, smoothing it down, but kept her gate steady as she did so. This was it. The moment she had been waiting for. It had taken her a long time to get here. Longer than anyone in this room knew.
None of the onlookers were there for her. She couldn’t think of anyone to invite, she had even thought about opting out of today, but two weeks ago she decided she was going to show. It didn’t really matter who was watching. This day was for her after all. She was graduating from college at the ripe old age of 65.
She knew she stood out like a sore thumb from all the young twenty-somethings in the crowd. Spoiled kids, she thought to herself, they don’t know how good they have it. It took her over 30 years to complete her degree with life constantly getting in the way. It wasn’t until her retirement 3 years previously that she was able to attend school regularly and finally complete the degree of her dreams. All these young kids, her grandson among them, didn’t even realize how lucky they were to be able to attend school directly out of high school.
Things hadn’t been that way for Magdeline. Maggie had gotten married straight out of high school to the love of her life only to have lost him a few years later in the war. Left on her own, she had needed to go to work right away to support herself and turned to retail. Back when she started in retail, working at a department store was a respectable job. It didn’t pay much, but it got her through the hard times and kept her afloat. She was able to keep her own apartment, and pay the bills, three years after starting her job, Maggie met Chuck, a nice older man who worked in management at the store. After a two year courtship they married and her life became even busier as the children were born, one after another, until she finally stopped at eight. Eight children doesn’t leave one a lot of room to attend school and pursue the kind of dreams Maggie had.
Maggie strode forward, her arm outstretched to shake the dean’s hand before she was finally able to grasp her college diploma. Her hand shook as she accepted the roll, so pleased was she to finally have accomplished her goal. She strode off the podium amidst the claps, and went left to take her seat again to await the end of the graduation service.
Maggie’s thoughts wandered as she sat in her chair, her husband, Chuck, would have been so proud of her. Sadly, she lost him a year ago to the big “C.” Cancer, as they learned the hard way didn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason to it and Chuck’s struggle although thankfully short, was also very hard on the family. She remembered her conversation with one of her daughters when she had finally let the family in on the fact that she was not going to stop going to school amidst Chuck’s struggles. To say they were shocked was an understatement. They were horrified.
It is not that Maggie wouldn’t have stopped going to school, but Chuck had insisted that she finish college – regardless of what he was going through. Chuck was a good man like that, always thinking of others first. So Maggie had continued college, even though her children thought it was an awful idea, and began to think her unfeeling. Maggie did however, cut down to half-time classes so that she could spend as much time with Chuck as possible particularly when his health really started to deteriorate.
This was why at graduation, she found herself without guests. She refused to invite her children who had not forgiven her for continuing with her education while their father suffered. It is not that she didn’t want them there, but she realized she didn’t need them there to give her their approval. It would be years before any of them would understand her position at the time, if they ever did and Maggie knew she’d be willing to accept their forgiveness whenever that time came, but for now, Maggie was finding her self quite alone.
Maggie tried to pay attention to the concluding speech at the graduation, but she found herself lost in her thoughts again, having no need for most of the advice they were giving to brand new twenty-something graduates on life. She couldn’t wait to get out of here really and start her job hunt in earnest. Maggie had finished her degree in Art with an emphasis in painting. It was a long time hobby of hers that had grown into so much more over the years, and when she learned that you could actually do something for a living with it – Maggie had been officially sold on the idea.
Now that her children were grown, her husband was gone, and all she had left was her retirement, Maggie felt this the opportune time to try out the one thing she’d always wanted to do and see if she could actually make something of herself – on her own terms.
Maggie had built herself a studio, her children referred to it as her “she-shed,” in the backyard last year in preparation for graduation. Today she was planning on leaving graduation and heading straight to the nearest art supply store and buying herself a new set of paints and variety of canvas as a gift to herself for all her hard work.
Maggie stood as all the folks around her began to rise in preparation for leaving the ceremony. She found no sense in hustling through the crowd as they moved as one towards the exits, instead turning towards the art building off to her right. Maggie had one last stop to make before leaving graduation and getting started on her new life. She wanted to see the Art show one last time. Her latest work, a painting, was in the show. It was a painting of Chuck during one of the last days of his Cancer treatment. She wanted to pick it up and take it home today, as the show was ending today.
Maggie slowly headed out against the crowd over towards the art building, where the show was displayed in the front hall. She walked along the path looking at each of the art pieces created by her fellow students admiring each in turn. She stopped in front of one in particular, feeling saddened, it was a painting of a woman surrounded by her family. The woman was the center of the piece with all the family members surrounding her and, as Maggie imagined, demanding from her. The piece instantly made her miss her family, and wish she had indeed decided to invite them to the graduation, but her fear that they would have rejected her held strong in her heart prevented her from having even considered it.
Maggie, wiped away the tear that had suddenly appeared in the corner of her eye, and continued on stopping here and there to admire other pieces done by students until at last she reached her own painting.
The painting was filled with reds, blacks, and blues, all colors that expressed her feelings about the painting, the anger (at cancer), the love, and the sadness. It was incredibly important to her – this painting. She picked it up off the stand, carefully placing it in the portfolio carrier she had brought with her.
She shuffled out of the room, trying not to stare too long at the painting of the woman surrounded by her family as she was filled with a sense of guilt for having not invited them. Maggie walked out of the building, and heading to the parking lot she turned her thoughts to happier things, like what she would get for herself at the art supply store on the way home. She needed paints and canvas, but new brushes would be nice as well.
Maggie pulled into the art supply store, with lots of ideas in mind and spent a good two hours lost in a trance looking for just the right paints. (Maggie only ever bought the primary colors – knowing she could mix all the rest.) She found the ones she wanted then picked out several canvases as well, making sure to get a variety of sizes. Lastly, she headed towards the paint brushes, and after a careful perusal she chose the best brushes for oil painting.
When she was done shopping, Maggie realized it was just starting to hit her that she had finally graduated with her Art Degree. Her excitement was growing, but she felt sad as well, since she didn’t have anyone to share it with. Maggie decided she would just head straight home from here so that she could get to painting that much sooner, since painting always soothed her soul.
Maggie pulled in at her home, so intent was she on getting her art supplies out of her car that she failed to notice the large number of cars lining her road. As she slowly went to unlock the door, suddenly it was pulled away from her and standing in her doorway, was her grandson, the very same who attends the school she just graduated from! Behind him stood several more people, her son’s and their wives and behind them her daughter’s with their husbands, she could even see her grandchildren playing in the living room behind them!
“What’s going on?” Maggie asked, surprised.
“Surprise!” Shouted her grandson, Gabe, “Granny, you had to know we weren’t going to let you graduate alone today.”
Her son, Michael interrupted then, pulling her inside the door, “Mom, we were all there, we saw you graduate. We wouldn’t have missed it. We know this is important to you.”
Her daughter, June, the one she had thought for certain would never have come to her graduation approached Maggie, “Mom,” she said almost shyly, “I saw your painting of Dad in the art show. It was…It was…beautiful.” June reached out kissing her mother on the cheek.
Maggie felt overwhelmed, Justin, her son-in-law, pushed his way through to take her bags, “I’ll take these!” He said, setting them off to the side, out of the way so she could greet everyone.
As Maggie walked into her home that day she realized how much fear had kept her away from her children and grandchildren all this time. She had always assumed they were disappointed in her for her choice to remain in school, and here they were supporting her as if none of the past had even happened. Overwhelmed, was just one way she was feeling, loved was the other.
Maggie couldn’t even express how grateful she was that her family was suddenly surrounding her. As she was led over to her favorite easy chair, Maggie, thought back to the painting of the woman surrounded by her family, and this time when she thought of it, she wasn’t sad.