"Mom, I really don't want them."
It was always the same. Even now that I was well over thirty, she spoke to me as if I were still ten. Once she started down that track there was no turning around the train. It was best to allow her to run her course, always straight ahead, full bore, and the world be damned.
"No one wore them after Henry. Not really. Your father tried them on once...just the once for a moment or so and he knew," she said softly.
Folding them over her arm, she stroked them gently as if lost in some personal memory.
"Mom," I protested half-heartedly.
"Just take them, Jack. If you don't feel you're ready, if you decide you don't want them...save them for someone who will," she said, pushing them into my hands.
I held the pants for a moment, trying to ignore the tears welling in her eyes.
"They look like they might fit," I offered cheerfully, holding them out in front of me. A light beige gabardine, nice for their time but obviously dated, the cut and lines were all wrong for today's fashion. "Connie will be back this weekend and I want to put my best foot forward."
I wanted to change the subject, to get her on a different track. The only other two she traveled with any regularity since dad died was my search for a wife and then, with that accomplished, children.
"They will, trust me. If they fit anyone, it will be you." She ran a sentimental hand over the belt loops. "Promise me you’ll wear them this Friday."
As she spoke, I spotted my escape from this unwanted, thirty year old, hand-me-down: a small repair in the left leg, just above the knee. Repaired with a thread of exact color, the patch seemed to run against the grain of the material, making that spot rough to the touch.
"Ah, look. What a shame. There's a hole," I said, turning them to show her.
"Used to be a hole. That's where Grandpa Henry was shot," she absentmindedly fingered the mend.
"Shot?" I exclaimed, dropping them. "Why haven't I heard about this before?"
"You would have to know Henry. He never liked to talk about himself."
"He's been dead for nearly fifteen years, and it's never come up before now?"
"Force of habit, I suppose. I thought you knew."
"So, tell me now," I said, sitting on the couch.
"To hear Henry tell it, it was nothing really. Before the hardware store your grandfather worked as a mechanic. He was on duty at the station late on a Saturday afternoon. The night guy called in sick and asked Henry to pick up his shift. Shortly after dark, a man showed up with a gun, forcing Henry to surrender the money.
In those days a cashbox sat next to the pumps. Everything was full service. People were more honest, not like now."
"It used to be nice. People were happy to be of service. That's all I'm saying."
"Mom." I sighed.
"The little bastard took the money from the island and then put the gun in Henry's back and told him to open the office so he could get to the safe. When Henry opened the door he went through first and slammed the door closed on the robber's hand.
"Well, the gun went off, hitting your grandfather in the leg. It made him so angry, he threw the door open, took the gun from the man and beat him within an inch of his life.
"The police, the fire department, and an ambulance came. Henry made them all wait while he continued to pump gas, check oil, and wash car windows because he was still on duty. He let them treat him between customers, saying it was his responsibility, refusing to close the station until someone came to take the keys.
"The police threatened to arrest him if he didn't cooperate but eventually even they relented. Soon they were pumping gas and washing windows for him so the medics could do their job."
"That's crazy. He was shot, a bullet in his leg, and bleeding and he refused to stop pumping gas because it was his job? Mom, that's nuts."
"That was your dad's dad," she patted my knee as she stood.
"That's why he limped?"
"Yes, it is. You're a lot like him, Jack. More than you know. Wear them on Friday, for me. Connie Johnson will appreciate them," she offered before closing the door.
For a moment, the silence that filled my house was laden with guilt. Mom was good at that. All women are, I guess.