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."

Creating 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 not good."

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 relaxing."

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 work out.

"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."

--Charlie Breitrose

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 were boring.

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.

The End

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 characters."
--Katy Obringer, Caryn Huberman Yacowitz and Cynthia Chin-Lee

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.