Susan Rowan Masters
Author and Playwright

Summer Song


Though her mother abandoned her when she was a baby, Etta May's doing just fine. She's got her best friend Quentin, her grandfather Gent, and their trailer home with Gent's prized rosebushes out front. But Gent is seriously ill, and when Ma comes to help out, Etta May is torn between anger and longing. Struggling to accept Gent's terminal illness, Etta May finds herself relying on her mother more and more. Gradually learning that change can mean new beginnings, not just endings, Etta May allows Ma back into her life-and keeps her promise to let Gent die at home, as he wishes.

A teaching guide is available.


I've got this skirt. It's navy polyester and it sucks up all the lint and dust within a six-block radius. All I have to do is put it on and whoosh, I'm standing there in this dust rag. I'm like that skirt. I suck up every speck of disaster that's lying in wait.

That morning while I was cooking up some scrambled eggs, I couldn't help but eye Ma's letter over by the fridge. It's addressed to my grandpa Gent. I've been dying to take a peek at what was inside, but I didn't dare in front of Gent. He'd been awful quiet since it came. Seeing him like that gave me a bad feeling, like a whole new batch of disasters were sitting right there on the counter ready to pounce.

"Git off my property, you scalawag!" shouted Gent.

I turned around to see what was happening. We lived in this trailer, Gent and me, so I could see him in the living room from where I stood. He had a big ol' stuffed rocker plunked smack next to the front window, where he spends most of his time. That was so he could see what's going on with all the neighbors. 'Course, he'd never admit to it. Anyway, Gent was out of his chair waving his arms and banging on the window.

I knew it had to be the next door neighbor's mongrel either peeing on our trailer or digging around Gent's roses. Zip seemed to prefer SummerSong, Gent's favorite rosebush, to anything else. Gent's roses lined the place, fanning out to the driveway on either side. Starting in late spring, our tiny piece of land changed like Cinderella did when the fairy godmother waved her magic wand. After my grandma Manny died, Gent didn't work on them as much, though, mostly just doing some hoeing and shooing ol' Zip away.

"I'll go scare him off with a stone." I hoped that would calm Gent before he got worked up any more and started wheezing.

"Scat!" Gent shouted, jabbing both hands in the air. He lost his balance and began to fall toward the window.

I dropped the spatula and plowed into him like a star linebacker. The collision sent Gent flying backward into the rocker with so much force that it fell over too. He ended up with his head touching the floor and his feet pointing up at the ceiling.

"Gent, are you okay?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from trembling. I got down on my hands and knees and clasped the back of his chair. "Speak to me," I begged.

He sat completely still. Deep-set eyes under wiry brows stared back, unblinking. Oh, Lord, could somebody die with their eyes wide-open? I panicked. Leaning over his left ear, I screamed, "Gent!"

He blinked. "I ain't deaf. And I ain't dead yet, neither."

"You trying to give me a heart condition?" I asked.

Gent was always saying that to me. I thought it might make him chuckle a little so he'd forget it was me who accidently pushed him a bit too hard into his chair. But I knew why he wouldn't answer till he had to -- so he could scare the wits out of me. That's Gent, always giving back just enough so you know not to do it again.

"You look kinda funny with your feet pointing straight up to heaven like that." This time I heard him chuckle. Then before he could say anything, I grabbed the back of the chair and shoved.

"Stop!" demanded Gent. "I don't need no more of your help!"

I kept pushing. "It's no bother, Gent, honest," I grunted.

"I can get up my--" Before he could finish, I gave the chair one last big heave, and pushed it back into the upright position. Gent, sitting stiff as the Lincoln Memorial statue, stared out the window in stony silence. Finally, he muttered, "That dog's gonna rot out the place."