Advice From One Generation To Another

Bradley Harshaw’s careless mistake ruined Cameron Barker’s life. Staring out the passenger window, the thought replayed in Cameron’s mind the same way his mother’s words of ‘it’ll be alright,’ played over and over.

He’d feared for his mother’s safety the moment he laid eyes on Bradley all those months ago. It was an uncomfortable thought just thinking about his mother out in the dating pool again. Giving the app a thorough background check, and finding no glaring red flags he thought maybe she might have success. But then she brought Bradley into their lives.

For years it had only been the two of them. His father died during a hospital complication when Cameron was far too young to remember. With the passing of each year, his mother never failed to remind him how much he resembled his father. It was a snow day the first time Cameron met Bradley. Unfortunately, three feet of snow wasn’t enough to stop his mother from having to go to work, so he had the entire house to himself to spend it playing video games and raiding the refrigerator to his heart’s content. That evening, when she came home, rather than hear the sound of her keys being set down, he heard her giggling.

“Cameron, this is Bradley.”

Bradley extended his arm, a coughing fit erupting from his lungs. “Hey sport,” he said, wiping the corner of his mouth. The pungent stench of tobacco on his breath turned Cameron’s stomach. Cameron couldn’t decide if it was Bradley’s greasy and unkept appearance, or the primal urge in his eyes when he stared at Cameron’s mother that bothered him more.

Three months had passed into his mother’s new relationship with Bradley and Cameron still hadn’t seen what his mother saw in him. He worked in construction, but when the weather grew colder, Cameron found Bradley on their sofa more and more. Bradley’s behavior was neurotic most days with absurd arguments, and after snooping through his coat pockets one night, Cameron learned why.

Setting the rolled marijuana cigarette on the table when he and his mother had a night without Bradley around, his mother’s eyes widened before she shook her head assuring Cameron that Bradley didn’t do drugs and that that must’ve belonged to one of his friends.

It would take six more months and the pile of ash that had once been their home for his mother to realize who Cameron knew Bradley was all along. It wouldn’t be until after the fire was put out, with Cameron’s mother in shock, that Bradley would explain he had accidentally lit a rolled marijuana cigarette and left it burning in the living room. He justified it of course by claiming the lack of jobs at work drove him to just need what he called “a little relaxation.” I only closed my eyes for a minute, he’d claimed.

Unfortunately, Cameron and his mother were now left standing in front of a pile of ash. What little remained of their beautiful home had become nothing more than a marijuana stench-filled pile of ash. The drug-laden smoke had become so pungent, it had their neighbors covering their noses as they stood on their front porches while they stared in horror.


Glancing over at his mother, her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that she was leaving indents in the pleather. According to the GPS, they still had another thirty minutes to go before they arrived in Samson county.

“Grandma Evelyn is looking forward to seeing you.” His mother gave him a weak smile as she loosened her grip on the wheel.

Cameron let out a heavy sigh and pulled out his phone. His girlfriend - Jaryn - had been venting along with him last night about how much she too hated this new situation and how she didn’t understand why he couldn’t just stay with her and her parents. It wasn’t like they were newly dating, or that their parents had never met.

Seeing no new messages from her, he shoved his phone back inside his pocket.

His mother reached out for his hand. “Cameron, please don’t do this.” Rolling his eyes, he jerked his hand away.

“This is your fault,” he muttered.

It was Bradley’s lit marijuana cigarette that ultimately led to the fire, but Cameron pushed the blame solely onto his mother. Bradley had bought her off with flowers, fancy dinners and promises of a future he had no intention of following through on. Just weeks before the fire, Cameron came to her with another concern, and she brushed him aside. He’s trying his best to get to know you, but you refuse to give him a chance, she told him.

Now he was being forced to live with his grandmother who he hadn’t seen in over a decade. Would she even recognize him? What would they talk about? She didn’t even have a cell phone. Cameron threw his head against the seat trying to determine how he would survive the next week.


His grandmother’s home looked surprisingly modern, a brick exterior with large Hydrangea plants lining the sidewalk. A fresh set of snowflakes fell on his shoulders while he went and gathered his suitcases out of the trunk. When he got inside, his mother and grandmother were standing in the foyer, his mother giving his grandmother’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“Thank you again, Evelyn.” Evelyn set her hand on top, nodding.

“Of course, dear. You’ll always be family.” Cameron noticed the way his grandmother’s nose upturned and the curves of her body. She looked like the kind to shop at Tiffany’s. It was clear Cameron would be forced to tidy her home like a teenage servant.

Pulling her keys out of her coat, his mother gave Cameron one final hug, promising him that when she came back, they would have a permanent residence again. He didn’t respond to that, nor did he return the ‘I love you too’ when she walked out the door.

His grandmother eyed him up and down, making Cameron feel like he was a mannequin on display. Satisfied with her inspection, she gestured towards the velvet couches in the other room.

“Come along. We have a great deal to talk about. I’m looking forward to getting to know my grandson.”

Reaching for her cane, she shuffled over to the couches. Refusing to follow her, he glanced inside the room. Set against the large window, he saw a large fish tank. Inside, blue, yellow, and red tropical fish lazily swam around.

Instead, Cameron reached for his suitcases and treaded up the stairs without so much as a nod or a wave. All of the doors upstairs were shut except for the one at the end of the hall. The carpet squeaked under his weight and he slammed the door as he took in the room. The furniture had been freshly polished but the room smelled vaguely of moth balls. On the far wall, a shelf of trophies stared back at him. They were his mother’s. Bowling, softball, and cross country.

Falling onto the squeaky mattress, he questioned what happened to the woman his mother used to be. His heart twinged at the thought and refusing to give her anymore thought, he pulled out his phone instead. There was only one person he whose voice he wanted to hear. His call went straight to Jaryn’s voicemail. Feeling perturbed and the weight of two sodas on his bladder, he went to find the bathroom.

“Cameron!” At the bottom of the steps, his grandmother stood holding the railing. Her voice had an unnatural cheeriness to it that reminded Cameron of those Hallmark movies his mother loved this time of year.

The closed door wasn’t enough to stop her from continuing. “I’m getting hungry. Are you hungry? I was thinking-“

Stepping into the hall, Cameron eyed her and shouted out, “I’m not hungry.” She raised her eyebrows, biting back a smile. What was so funny? Was the fact that his life had completely been turned upside down humorous to her?

She opened her mouth, hesitated and closed it again. She turned and headed down the hallway. Staring down at the front door, Cameron debated on making a getaway tonight. He’d take a bus, but he was willing to walk if that’s what it took. Being here with a woman he hadn’t seen in years, miles away from his life and everything he knew, was torture. He’d call Jaryn again and ask her to come pick him up. But where was he? The numbers on the mailbox had been covered in snow when they pulled in earlier. Somehow though, he would get out of here.


An hour later, empty protein bar wrappers covered the comforter. Cameron’s stomach continued to growl. Turning on his side, he tried to put the intoxicating aroma out of his mind. Fresh garlic, basil and tomato sauce carried itself into his room, tempting him mercifully. Cursing his lack of snack preparation, he went downstairs into the kitchen.

His grandmother turned and greeted him with her wooden spoon in hand. Behind her, a pot of tomato sauce was bubbling on the stove. His mouth watered just looking at the bowls of freshly grated Parmesan placed on the counter.

“I’m glad you changed your mind,” she said.

“I didn’t. I just came for a glass of water.” He filled a glass, drank half, then went to look through her pantries. They weren’t as bare as he’d expected and he was relieved to see a package of his favorite crackers. Making sure his grandmother wouldn’t see, he smuggled them inside his sweatshirt and headed back upstairs.

“There’s more crackers in the other pantry if those aren’t enough.” Cameron froze for a moment and turned back towards her. How had she known?

She pointed to the cupboard beside the stove. “In there. You just help yourself, okay?”


Back inside his room, he called Jaryn.

“Hey,” she said. She sounded like she’d just woken up.

Cameron’s tone was solemn. “Hey.” He could hear her shuffling around her room and the distant whine of Winne asking to be let in.

“Did you make it to your grandmother’s?”

“Yeah.” He grew quiet, wishing he were with her. “Any chance you’d be open to a late-night adventure tonight?”

She sighed, but Cameron knew she was smiling. “If you’re asking me what I think, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you.”

Not satisfied with her answer, he probed more. “And why not? Don’t you miss me?”

“Of course I do, but my car’s in the shop,” she sighed. “Brent took it out the other night.” Jaryn’s brother had the worst driving record of anyone he knew. He laughed, but felt a twinge of sadness that he’d be stuck here for the night. They spoke for a bit longer and when she hung up, Cameron could hear the familiar nightly news channel coming from downstairs.

With the crackers unsatisfying his endless hunger, he went to make himself a plate of whatever his grandmother had been preparing earlier. He could hear her in the living room, narrating her thoughts alongside each story, and the sound of knitting needles clicking together. After a moment, the sound stopped.

“Cameron? Is that you?” She asked.

Grabbing his plate from the microwave, he stood in the doorway, staring back at her.

“Sit.” The entire couch was covered in various balls of yarn and without saying a word, she pointed over to the empty chair beside her.

She grew impatient as he stood there. “Now.” On autopilot, he immediately sat beside her. Her tone had been overly sweet earlier. Now it had the power to command a room. He noticed the curve of her lip turn up as she resumed her knitting. The lack of conversation didn’t bother him, but it must’ve been bothering her, for she felt the need to open her mouth.

“Do you want to talk about it?” He didn’t, and instead shoveled another forkful of pasta into his mouth.

His grandmother glanced over at him for a moment, as if she were waiting for him to accept her olive branch. “Let’s try this instead. Why don’t you tell me about the loser your mother brought home this time?”

Cameron nearly choked and grabbed his glass of water. “What?” He asked, wiping his mouth.

She let out a soft chuckle. “Pardon my language. That may have been too blunt.”

Seeing what his grandmother was trying to do, he straightened against the chair. “My mother’s life is her business.”

He watched her pull more yarn from beside her feet, her fingers swiftly moving. “But you’re angry.” That was an understatement. He was livid, but refused to discuss his frustrations, especially not with her. Not with a woman he didn’t even know. He didn’t care if she was family or not.

“It’s alright to have mixed feelings about your mother,” she said. She was trying hard to coax him to unburden himself and talk, but he refused. Taking his plate to the sink, he headed back up the stairs to his room.

“Goodnight Cameron,” she called out to him. He slammed his door shut in response.


The past couple of days had been duplicates of his first day. His grandmother might need a cane, but she didn’t seem to use that as an excuse. Each morning he heard the hissing of the coffee pot, and the sizzle of breakfast being cooked. Being a local volunteer at the library downtown, she left him to explore her home. Cameron spent most of his time watching her collection of tropical fish. The water was spotless and the bottom of the tank was filled with hand-painted ceramic corals for the fish to swim through. She had photographs scattered throughout the rooms, some with thin layers of dust on the frames. Neither of them had spoken more than a gruff ‘morning’ and the occasional weak smile. Their conversation from the other night hadn’t been re-visited and for that, Cameron was grateful.

On a table beside the couch, Cameron noticed what must have been his grandmother’s journal. That must be where his mother gets her love of journaling from, he thought. He eyed the journal once more, curious as to what was written in between the pages. Had she written about him? As his fingers lifted the cover, he heard the slam of the front door. Swiping his finger away, he gave himself a paper cut in the process.

His grandmother hung up her coat, slipped on her slippers and made her way into the kitchen, without saying a word to Cameron. He’d spent the previous night asking Jaryn to help him decipher what his grandmother meant that first night.

“It sounds like your grandma’s no stranger to your mother’s taste in men.” She’d said. Cameron wondered what their early relationship was like when his dad was alive and what it had become after he died.

“Do you think there’s bad blood between them?” He asked.

She sighed. “I don’t know. If you’re curious, just ask her.”

Thinking about his girlfriend’s words, he headed into the kitchen and sat on the barstool. He watched as his grandmother reached for a paper plate before setting three chocolate balls on it.

She slid the plate towards him. “No bakes. My personal recipe.” Cameron returned her smile and broke one in half. He could smell the hint of vanilla and dried cherries. They were as delicious as they smelled.

“About the other night…” he began.


“What did you mean? About my mother’s taste in men, I mean.” She made herself a plate and sat next to him. It was clear that she was thinking her words very carefully. He doubted she’d be blunt this time around.

“My son – your father – was the first man your mother had dated that wasn’t plagued by any sort of addiction. I remember him coming to me after their first date and telling me that she was the one. Your father was picky when it came to women, so you can imagine my excitement.” She finished her last cookie and wiped the chocolate from her lips. “And she was lovely, your mother. I struggled to believe someone like her had been through as many tumultuous relationships when she was so sweet. To be honest, I felt a sense of relief when they became serious. She was happy, truly happy. He was happy too, and I knew that Aaron would never let anything bad happen to her.” She pulled at her sweater, but left her hand over her heart. “As a mother, it was just a relief.”

That was the first time Cameron had felt any sort of connection to his grandmother. She was honest with him in a way that his mother never could be. He felt like his mother rejected emotional intimacy, and now his grandmother was here doing just the opposite.

“But then…the complication?” He asked.

She nodded. “I was wreck after hearing the news. As a mother, to loose a child creates an unbearable pain that you eventually learn to live with. But I knew that I wasn’t the only woman in his life that just suffered a tremendous loss. Your mother was shattered that day and I’m not sure she ever recovered. I’m still not sure she has.”

Cameron understood the words his grandmother wasn’t outright.y saying. He’d wondered the same thing. He had no strong memories of his father, and all he had to go off of was what he saw in the photo albums. He knew however, that the men his mother had brought home must’ve been nothing like his father, because Cameron felt no similarities between them. Not all of them were bad – he rather liked Paul, the local car salesman his mother had dated briefly. His secrets ultimately became too much for their relationship to handle and one day, Paul’s name was never brought up again.

Cameron rubbed his fingers over the granite countertop, taking in the simplicity and softness of his grandmother’s kitchen. He was suddenly struck with the realization that he’d never step foot in his own kitchen again. He’d never step foot in his own bedroom again, never see his favorite signed football jersey framed above his bed again.

His grandmother’s hand brought him from his thoughts. “You must be very angry.” She said.

He hadn’t felt any anger today. In fact, he’d felt peace. But the thought that he would return to somewhere unknown in a few days, with Bradley possibly still in the picture put knots in his stomach.

Suddenly, the weight of it hit him. “She chose him.” He spat out. “She chose him over her own son!” Cameron’s grandmother watched, and listened as he spewed out all of his frustrations. He’d hated Bradley for so long and for someone to finally listen to him felt like he was being validated for the first time in years.

In the midst of his complaining, she stopped him with a simple question. “Can you forgive her?”

Could he? He felt torn in half. He loved who his mother used to be. This version of her – the kind that didn’t listen to his concerns or validate his feelings was foreign to him. On more than one occasion, Jaryn had voiced her concerns about his own behaviors to him. You hardly talk about your mother anymore, she’d said.

Cameron shrugged. Forgiving her seemed like it would be a lot of work.

Giving his back a gentle rub, his grandmother cleared away their plates. “Think about it.” With that, she went outside to the back patio where she spent the rest of her afternoon.


That night, Cameron tossed and turned, unable to get any sleep. He spent the better part of the night downstairs in front of the television, too lost in his own thoughts to notice what was playing. He’d debated on calling his mother, to ask if Bradley would somehow manage to worm his way back into her heart, back into their family. Each time he pulled up her number, his finger froze and he decided not to. He knew from past experience what the answer would be, and he wanted to pretend that it might be different this time for just a bit longer.

He was woken up to his grandmother looking over him. He’d fallen asleep on the couch, the television turned off. She smiled warmly at him and handed him the mug in her hands. The scent warmed him and he took a generous swallow, ignoring how hot the coffee was.

“I put some powdered espresso in there, because I need your help running some errands today.”

They began their day at the local library, where his grandmother dropped off another box of used books to their donation pile. Cameron was introduced to the other women, and each one must have known his father because they all complimented him on their resemblance. That was followed by the craft store “I got a twenty-five percent off coupon in the mail, and that never happens!” before finally finishing up at the grocery store.

When they returned home and put away all of the groceries, Cameron was exhausted, but he felt fulfilled. Grabbing a napkin and the last no-bakes from the Tupperware container on the counter, he made his way to the living room.

“I’ve given what you said more thought,” he began. “About if I could forgive my mother.” His grandmother set down her needles in her lap and waited for him to continue. “I think I’m finally ready.” He was still fearful, but ready to face the fear head-on.

“I had to learn to forgive her many years ago too.”

Cameron raised his eyebrows.

She laughed. “Oh yes, she tried my patience too. After Aaron passed, I realized that she wasn’t my daughter-in-law anymore, and that she was free to make her own choices, but…” she shuddered, “her choices were just so…bad.”

“What did you do?”

“I had to separate myself from her until she came to her senses.”

“But she hasn’t yet.”

“And I’m still separating myself from her.” This puzzled Cameron. If that was true, why had she leapt at the opportunity to help them? It’s not like either of them had been in his grandmother’s life in the last decade. As if she could read his mind, she nodded.

“I wanted to know you, Cameron. Call me selfish, but I wanted to know how much you were like Aaron.” She stared down at the floor. “I did want to help too,” she quickly added.

“I’m grateful that you did help us and that I’ve gotten to know you.” Throughout the week, his grandmother had taught him how to make homemade compost with garden vegetables, how to fix a leaky faucet and how to make the best lasagna he’d ever eaten. But more than that, she’d taught him how to forgive those who are simply trying their best. His mother was trying her best. Cameron hadn’t thought about the struggle that she faced when his father died, and the hole that created inside of her. She was looking for something that might resemble the love she had for his father. Unfortunately, old patterns had stepped back in, placing her back into a vicious cycle.


On Saturday morning, Cameron and his grandmother split her world-famous omelet. While he finished loading the dishwasher, he heard the expected knock at the front door. Wiping his hands on the dish towel, he rushed to the front door where his mother stood.

She looked exhausted, but she gave him a weak smile. “Hi baby,” she murmured. Taking her in his arms, Cameron felt his mother stiffen at the unexpected gesture but immediately relaxed into his embrace. “Hi mom,” he whispered.

Together, the three of them sat around the television, where his mother showed Cameron and his grandmother the website containing pictures of their new residence. She’d worked enough overtime at the firm to afford a deposit on the complex’s newest apartment. It would never compare to his childhood home, but it was beautiful. It had white countertops, plush carpet throughout and both bedrooms had a view of the golf course. The photos off of the website, showed everything in the summer, but his mother had driven to the complex herself and taken photos. The golf course laden with snow reminded Cameron of the view he had here at his grandmother’s.

As his mother put her phone away, Cameron’s grandmother gave him a knowing look. Nodding, he swallowed. “Um, mom? Is Bradley…is he coming back into the picture?” His mother went silent, and without realizing it, Cameron held his breath. Finally, she shook her head. “No, Bradley’s…out of the picture.”

A wave of relief washed over him as he let out all of the air he’d been holding in. While his mother stepped out of the room to answer a call regarding the apartment complex, Cameron eyed his grandmother. She had the same smile on her face. A smile of relief.

Sitting back down, his mother cleared her throat. “Cameron. Evelyn. There’s something I’d like to share.” Once more, his grandmother’s needles stopped clicking. “I want to apologize. I owe an apology to both of you. Evelyn, this past week, it’s made me realize just how far I’ve…fallen. I’ve never recovered since Aaron and yet you’ve still never wavered in your love for me.” She blinked back tears, trying hard to swallow the lump in her throat. “I’m just so grateful…” Cameron’s grandmother set her needles aside and rose to hug her. Cameron watched his mother bury her head in his grandmother’s neck, her eyes squeezed shut.

Crouching down in front of Cameron, his mother grabbed his hands. “Honey, I owe you the biggest apology of all. You kept trying to tell me over and over about Bradley and I just…” She shook her head. Clearly, she’d been beating herself up all week. Cameron grabbed his mother’s shaky hands. “Mom, I love you. And I forgive you.”


The following weeks proved to be a smooth transition. The rent ate up most of his mother’s paycheck, so his grandmother banded her friends together and gifted Cameron and his mother with all of the essentials they’d need.

On a particularly sunny December afternoon, Cameron was awoken to a knock at the door. His grandmother stood on the other side, a large paper bag in her hands.

“May I?” She asked.

He moved aside and he watched as she set the bag down on the carpet before grabbing her cane. “Oh my, why this is just exquisite!” His grandmother had been busy volunteering and hadn’t been able to make a trip out to see their new home yet. As she explored each cupboard to inspect his mother’s organizational skills, Cameron eyed the paper bag that sat beside the door.

“What’s in the bag?”

“That’s for you,” she called out over her shoulder. Without wasting a moment, Cameron dug into the bag, removed the gift wrap and froze. “Is this…?” Whipping around, he set the frame down. “Grandma, where did this come from?”

She smiled, a coy smirk on her face. “Your father also happened to be a football lover too. I’d been saving it just in case the love of football was hereditary.”

Cameron stared at the signed football jersey. Wiping his cheeks, he wrapped her in his arms. “Thank you.”


After his mother landed on solid financial footing, Cameron encouraged her to seek therapy for how to grieve the death of a spouse. She’d resisted at first, but with some gentle coaxing, she eventually realized that she needed to face her biggest battle head on. She made remarkable progress and for the first time, Cameron got the sense that finally he would get his mother back.

And he was right.

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