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Time to Make a Change
3: Record Breaking (Hamfast Gamgee)
Entering that room was the hardest thing Samwise Gamgee ever faced. Nothing else even compared – not leaving his Master in the darkness of Shelob’s Lair, not taking the Ring unto himself (and later having to give in back), not even asking Rose to marry him. No, the hardest thing for Sam to do was open the door to his father’s bedroom.
Sam could still feel the blood pumping in his ears. It had started when his sister, Marigold, had come racing up to Bag-End’s door. The Gamgees – Sam, Rose, Elanor, Frodo, Rosie and Merry – had just sat down for lunch when Marigold burst in.
“Sam! Dad’s had a nasty fall!”
Both Sam and Marigold knew that their father was often involved in activities far to strenuous for his age. He had turned 102 several months earlier – a record in the Gamgee family – but he still insisted on tending his garden, doing odd jobs around the neighbourhood and building outdoor toys for his grandchildren.
Sam had left his half-eaten meal and ran to his father’s home, with Marigold close behind. It was fortunate that he lived so close. As they ran, Marigold filled in the details.
The Gaffer had been helping a neighbour paint the window frames of their home. He had insisted that he climb the ladder, since said neighbour was old Widow Rumble. The ladder had not been very stable and had collapsed beneath him. When he did not get up, Widow Rumble had found Marigold, who had brought her two children, Sam and baby Lily to see their grandfather.
Tom Cotton, Marigold’s husband, was waiting outside Number 3 when Sam and Marigold arrived, making sure that young Sam did not venture inside.
“Where is he?” Sam managed to pant.
Tom motioned to the hobbit-hole, and Sam immediately walked inside. It was not until he came to the actual door of his father’s room that he felt frightened.
He took a deep breath. “Get a hold of yourself, Samwise. You can do this.” And he pushed the door open.
Hamfast Gamgee smiled weakly from his pillow. The local healer, Violetta Bunce, stood near by. Sam tried to ignore the grim look on her face, but the one thing he could not ignore was the dried blood at Ham’s nostrils and ears.
“Hullo, Sam, my boy!” It was then that Sam noticed that his father could not seem to move his arms or legs.
“Hullo, Dad,” Sam replied, forcing a brave face. “Been climbing ladders again, I hear. You shouldna be doin’ that at your age!”
“Aw, don’t lecture me about that! Marigold already gave me an earful!”
“And so she should have! You’ve given us quite a scare.” Sam saw the healer motioning for him to join her. He quickly excused himself from his father. “Will he be all right?”
Miss Bunce kept her voice low. “He had quite a fall, I’m afraid. Broken many bones.”
Sam cringed, remembering all of the broken bones he had suffered, not to mention those of his friends and children. “Do you suppose he’s in much pain?”
The healer became very uncomfortable at his question. In fact, it took her several attempts before she could explain the full extent of the Gaffer’s injuries. “To be honest, Mister Samwise, he can’t feel naught at all. One of the bones he broke was his back. He’s lucky to be alive at all.
Sam felt crushed. He had hoped – though foolishly, he knew – that there was some chance of his old Dad pulling through. But a broken back was a morbid injury. Ham would not have much time left.
“Thank you, Miss Bunce, for your help,” Sam muttered, when he found his voice. “My sister is waiting outside. Would you mind explaining the seriousness of the situation to her? I am sure she will send word to the rest of our family.” Miss Bunce nodded and left the room. There was nothing more she could do.
From the bed, there came an unexpected cackle. Hamfast, despite his condition, was grinning broadly. “Handled that like the true Mayor, you did, Sam. Never thought I’d see the day a Gamgee became the Mayor!”
Sam found a stool and dragged it to the side of the bed. He felt it his duty to explain everything to his father, however difficult it may be. But the Gaffer just smiled sadly before Sam could even start. “Sam, I took a nasty fall. I heard the bones crunch when I landed, but I didn’t feel anything. I think I should be glad of that. I also know I’m lucky to still be here – and I’m glad of that too.”
Sam took one of his father’s hands in his own. He massaged it gently, as if trying to work feeling back into it. “The healer says you’ve broke your back.”
“So I thought. Ah well, never did me much good anyhow.” Ham grinned at his youngest son. “Sam, my boy, have I ever told you how proud you’ve made me?”
Sam was now certain that Ham knew he was going to die. The Gaffer had never been one to bother with fancy speeches, or explain his feelings for his family. But his children, and grandchildren, knew that he loved them dearly, even if he could rarely tell them so. For him to voice his pride in Sam was a great deal.
“And I don’t just mean for becoming the Mayor and giving our family a good name,” Ham continued. “Or helping put the Shire right. I never much liked it when you went away to strange lands with Mister Baggins, but he told me some of the great things you did.”
This was a surprise to Sam. The Gaffer had always turned a deaf ear whenever talk came to Sam’s adventure. Sam eventually gave up even trying to tell him the stories, but evidently Frodo had not.
Ham saw the look of shock on his son’s face and cackled again. “Yes, Sam, I know a good deal more than you think. ‘Samwise the Brave’ – Mister Baggins told me he never would have made it without you!”
Sam could not find the words to tell his father how much this meant to him. Growing up, Ham had been Sam’s entire world. He could not remember his mother very well. She had died after the birth of Marigold, when Sam was only three. His memory of Bell Goodchild Gamgee had quickly faded, though the rest of his family told him that Marigold was a mirror image of her mother. Ham meant everything to Sam and Marigold. And now they were going to lose him.
“I only made it that far because of everything you taught me, Dad,” Sam choked out. It was true. The good, common sense that Ham had drummed into Sam since he was old enough to listen had pulled him through many a tight moment.
“Well, I’m glad to hear you learnt something! I hope you’re teaching it all to young Frodo – and to Merry when he’s old enough.”
“Of course!” Sam’s thoughts suddenly turned to the baby that was growing in Rose’s belly. She was not very far gone, and the baby would not be born until the next year. Sam grieved that his father would never meet his next grandchild.
“You know, Dad, I’d love to name this next baby after you, but we promised Mister Pippin that the next lad would be named after him. Besides, I think this one will be a lass – little Goldilocks, if Mister Frodo’s predictions is anything to go by. He’s been all right so far.”
“Well if it is a lad, name him Pippin as you have promised! You know as well as I, that a Gamgee never breaks a promise. Just promise me you’ll name the next lad Hamfast. Did Mister Baggins mention anything about little Hamfast?”
Sam shook his head and laughed, despite his tears. “No, he only made it as far as Pippin-lad, but he did say there’d be many more to come that he could not foresee.”
“I don’t doubt him either!” Ham chuckled. “You and Rosie will give the Old Took a run for his money at the rate you’re going.”
Sam blushed. “Well, Mister Bilbo managed to beat the Old Took in age, and Mister Merry and Mister Pippin have beaten the Bullroarer in height. I have to break some record!” He pushed his father’s thinning grey, curls away from his face. “I will miss you, Dad.”
“I know, my boy, but I can’t be around forever. I’m not one of your elvish friends.”
They both looked at the door when they heard the sound of soft footfalls. In the doorway stood Tom, Marigold with little Lily, Rose with Merry, Elanor, Frodo, young Sam and Rosie.
“Well, half the family is here now!” Ham joked.
“Daisy and May should be here soon,” said Marigold. “I’m not sure about Hamson and Hal. We sent a message to them to come as soon as they can.”
“Then I shall try to hold on until they get here.”
Many tears were shed that day. Daisy and May – Sam’s two older sisters – arrived with their families in the early afternoon. Hamson and Halfred arrived just as night began to fall. Sam was impressed – it was no short journey for either of them.
Surrounded by his family, Hamfast smiled blissfully. His eyes closed for the last time. “I’m so proud of all of you,” he whispered.
* * * * * *
Sam sat in his favourite chair and cried the tears that had been threatening to fall all day. The funeral for Hamfast “Gaffer” Gamgee had been held, and Sam had had to make a speech to honours his father’s memory. It had been an exhausting day to say the least.
Rose shuffled the children passed the sitting room. The last thing Sam needed was four children demanding his compassion and attention.
She returned, silently, moments later, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders from behind. “You did well, my Sam.”
“You think so?” Sam asked, pulling his wife around so that she was sitting on his lap. “I don’t know that I did him justice.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the ceremony. Even Mister Merry and Mister Pippin were drying their eyes.”
Sam didn’t like to tell Rose that both Meriadoc and Peregrin could be very emotional when need be. He could still remember their tearful farewell to Frodo at the Grey Havens.
The loving couple sat in silence, just drawing on each other’s company. Sam finally broke the silence, as he rubbed Rose’s ever growing belly. “Rosie?”
“After little Goldilocks and Pippin, we’ll have to have another baby. I told Dad I’d name a lad after him.”
Rose nodded. “I promised your sister Daisy I’d name one after her.”
“I suppose we should honour old Mister Bilbo too.”
Rose grinned. “We can have as many children as you’d like, Samwise. After all, you have to break some record.”
* * * * * *
A/N: Well, Merry’s chapter will be next.
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