Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
1st Place - 9-11 year olds
by Sara Kwasnick
| About Sara Kwasnick
When asked about the emotional, heartstring-tugging story
of a girl losing her beloved grandmother, Sara Kwasnick, 11,
said, "I just made it up. My grandparents are still alive."
stories is nothing new for the Jordan Middle School sixth-grader.
She first started writing when she was four years old.
"It was simple stuff like 'Once upon a time there was a deer
who lived it the forest. One day he got lost, but he found
his way out. The end,'" she remembers.
Kwasnick moved to Palo Alto with her family two years ago
from Upstate New York. While she likes her new home on the
Peninsula, she does miss some things about New York.
"I like it here, but there's no snow," she said. "That's
Writing has become one of Kwasnick's favorite pastimes. During
the summer she writes one or two stories a day, but during
the school year she's only allowed to use the family computer
on the weekends.
"I do it just for fun," Kwasnick said. "I really find it
When not typing a new tale, Kwasnick enjoys playing "The
Sims" on the computer, hanging out with her nine-year old
brother and four-year-old sister, or riding her friend's unicycle.
People would have trouble understanding most of her stories,
Kwasnick said, because they are full of jokes and references
only her family and friends could follow.
The story she entered in the Weekly's Short Story Contest,
"Grandma," was Kwasnick's third attempt. The other two didn't
"I wrote a couple new ones without (the inside jokes). One
of them wasn't done, and it was already 2,000 words," Kwasnick
said "The (word limit) was kind of annoying.
"Another was stupid. I just didn't like it."
Every year, my parents would send me to my grandma's house for
a week. would fly half way across the country and stay with my grandma
for that one week. It would be the happiest week of the year. I
would sleep in the same bedroom every year. The walls on three sides
of the room were painted with trees and rabbits and clouds and flowers
and a big sun right by the window. But the corner where my bed stood
was dark and peaceful, with thousands of sparkling stars and a huge
silver moon right over my head.
Grandma didn't believe in keeping pets. She said it was because
they mad the house dirty, and took too much attention away from
people. So her house was always clean and airy, with the bay window
letting in warm light, and the back door opened to let in the breeze.
Grandma also had a big glass bowl with dark blue swirls on the
coffee table. Usually, she kept hard little candies in there that
tasted like molasses, but when I came, she poured those in a jar,
plopped it down cellar, and bought a big bag of Skittles and M&Ms
and Butterscotch and Hershey's Kisses. She'd pour them into that
glass bowl, and I could eat as much as I wanted whenever I felt
in the mood.
Grandma had been born and raised in a town about ten miles from
where I lived with my parents. As a girl, her mother and father
had told her all about the place that they had moved from, with
forests in the back yard and crickets singing you to sleep at night.
When Grandma had grown up and married Grandpa, (who had died before
I was born,) they had moved back to that place with forests in the
back yard and crickets singing you to sleep at night. Except for
now it was a regular town, with a plaza and community center, a
grocery store and a hospital. But Grandma and Grandpa got a house
there, anyway. It was across the street from the house that Grandma's
parents had lived in. The house was yellow with white trim and a
big porch. Grandma planted flowers all along the sidewalk. The house
was small, but they didn't mind.
Grandma still planted the flowers along the sidewalk when I came
for my visits. We would do the same things every year, just because
we loved them so much. Since Grandma hated to cook, she would buy
her food from a home style place that made all sorts of things you
might have at home: chicken rice, peas, lasagna, and a whole lot
of other stuff that we would have for our meals. But we did do one
food sort of thing every year. Grandma would buy a big container
of cream. We would pack it in a big bag with sugar, milk and vanilla.
Then we would put the bag in a barrel, with ice packed around it.
We would role the barrel around the yard all afternoon until the
cream became ice cream. Since neither of us like chocolate, we would
buy a big block of toffee and hack it up into little pieces. We
would mix this in the ice cream and have it for dessert with every
meal. We called it "Super Vanilla Toffee Crunch," and I often dreamed
of the taste after I went home when the week was done.
Aside from making "Super Vanilla Toffee Crunch," Grandma and I
did other things. Grandma was an artist. She loved to paint pictures
for her own amusement, and almost every wall of the house was covered
with murals. Grandma had done the bedroom that I slept in.
Grandma's studio was in the third bedroom. The walls were lined
with every color of paint imaginable. The ceiling was painted with
mountains. Eagles and other birds swooped all over the place. Grandma
said it made her feel closer to the Earth. She loved to do landscapes,
but she would always add in some sort of creature that lived in
that particular area. Grandma thought that landscapes without animals
So, on Wednesday afternoon we would settle down in the art studio
and paint. I had a huge easel and every color on Earth. Grandma
hated having to trace out what she wanted to paint first. She just
went right on in and painted. Somehow, she knew what the shadowing
would be and where everything would fit in without shading and tracing.
Grandma could just start a picture from nothing.
I, however, could not. Grandma lent me a slate pencil to draw out
what I wanted. I seemed to have inherited her skill to think of
something and draw it just the way I wanted it. Not many people
can do that. I would usually draw animals, particularly my dog,
Pamela. I would make her be with a pack of coyotes, like the pack
on the bathroom wall in the desert scene, or scouting the city with
some stray mutts. I though it looked clever and just plain funny
to see a fluffy little King Charles Spaniel hanging out with curs
that looked as if they could eat a dog like that in two bites! Grandma
brought these pictures to her art club at the town hall, where old
people talked about art and painted weird designs. According to
Grandma, they all were jealous that they didn't have such wonderful
grandchildren. I seriously doubted this, but I would smile at Grandma
when she said it and we would go on with whatever we were doing.
Grandma didn't believe in spoiling grandchildren with toys from
the mall She believed that every child should have a favorite doll
or stuffed animal, and then some Legos or a board game to play with
on rainy days. I had my stuffed animal, a panda bear named Puffy,
and I had Battleship, Monopoly and Stratego.
Grandma didn't believe in toys, as I said, but she did believe
in books. But there was one little thing that was different from
many peoples' book ideas: Grandma had never owned a single book!
She had gotten every book she had ever read from the library. At
least twice during the week in which I visited, we would walk the
five blocks to the library. I would get a book to read, and Grandma
would get a book to read, and then we would walk home. Grandma's
own library card was yellow with age, but mine was still white and
shiny, as it was only used twice a year.
The way I'm talking about it, you would probably think that Grandma
never spent money on anything but food. But she loved to travel.
Grandma had been all over the world. She visited about two new areas
every year. One time, she went on a safari all over South Africa,
and sent us back paintings of what she had seen.
I loved those weeks I spent at my grandma's house. They were the
happiest days of my life, and the saddest day was just the opposite:
One morning in early summer, I was sneaking out of the house with
Pamela, pretending to be taking her for a walk, but really trying
to come up with some way to convince my mother that I'd practiced
the trombone. Just then, my mom came out of the house. Oh no,
I thought, she's spotted me!
But mom said nothing about the trombone. Instead, she said, trying
to keep her voice calm, "Grandma isn't feeling very well, and Mrs.
Curly--" she meant the lady who lived across the street "--took
her to the medical care center. The doctor suggested we come out
as soon as possible." I was terrified, right then and there. I knew
something would happen before we got to Grandma. A lot of people
don't believe in hunches, but they happen all the time. You feel
something bright out of the corner of your eye, and
when you look the future pops into your head. At least, that's how
it works for me.
We got onto a red-eye flight that night, and arrived at the medical
care center at 8 a.m. When we got there, we found that Grandma had
had a stroke. She was still alive, but was in the intensive care
unit at the big hospital twenty miles away.
When we arrived at the big hospital, we couldn't go in to see Grandma
right away. It was then that I realized my hunch had been correct;
something had happened before we got there.
Grandma died the next morning. When the doctor came into the waiting
room and said how sorry she was that Grandma was gone, my parents
both started to cry. I couldn't. I just sat there with my eyes closed,
trying to make myself be home in my bed with Grandma safe at her
house. It didn't work.
For a few months after my grandmother's funeral, I could not be
happy. But the way I recovered was this: when a stray tabby cat
began to wander the neighborhood, five-year-old Linde down the street
was first to play with her and pet her and feed her at night. When
Linde told me the name of the cat, I almost started to cry. Emma
Jean. Grandma's name. I felt like Grandma had been reincarnated
as a cat. From then on, I confided everything in Emma Jean the tabby
cat. It comforted me to think of Grandma as being down the street
for me all the time. I still missed Grandma more than anything in
the world, but somehow, a cat had made me look at the good side
of life. I think that people like Grandma live on forever.
From the judges
(Grandma) is a moving tribute to a real or imagined grandmother.
It felt like it was based on a special relationship in the writer's
life. It was well-executed with beautiful details and strong, believable
--Katy Obringer, Caryn Huberman Yacowitz and Cynthia Chin-Lee