The Disappearing Case of My Grandfather...
EDIT: this is from a couple months ago, Father’s Day. it’s the most recent thing i’ve written, and as i start getting into writing again, i figured i could re-share it here here for the collective. i’ll be traveling for work these next few weeks, so i am hoping to contribute a few more pieces while i am abroad with my spare time…
earlier this week my grandmother informed me that grandpa miquelon has been diagnosed with an increasingly severe case of dimentia, and that this might be the last father’s day that he’ll be able to experience fully; my dad added that he struggles with everyday conversation. in light of all of this, my grandma emailed the family and asked if we all might send a card or letter with a few kind words or a favorite story about grandpa so that she could include them in a scrapbook and read them all to him. most of you who know me, know i’m not really a hallmark guy, and i don’t see a lot of authenticity in a couple sentences to capture someone’s essence. i ended up writing the following. (if i tagged you in this, it’s only because i thought you might enjoy reading it, since you’re probably a reader. you don’t have to. i realize it’s long).
Who is Grandpa?
the question to the answer. the request behind the truth. the hardest thing to do when writing or creating something meaningful is simply to start, only to put pen to paper and begin building a thought is the biggest obstacle every time, so the solution seems to be simplest at its most ironically challenging. how can one beautiful person so wholly loved by so many be captured so simply in an email? or piece of paper, or even a few kind words?
he cannot. so i share not simple kind words, nor Hallmark-approved message, but rather memories and fragments of a childhood oft-forgotten by the mind that recorded them (me!). some memories carry little significance other than to call attention to their very own existence, never explaining a thing, never providing a “why” it has been remembered all these years. they exist to say they were here, to be companions to the memories more obviously remembered by more profound impacts on the mind being formed. aren’t memories odd that way? they slip the mind for the longest of times, only to sneak up and surprise you at the oddest of times, and strangest of triggers. a wafting scent in the morning, a vocal pitch, a flash of light and color, or even a quiet, thoughtful moment. any of these can lead to a nostalgic flashback that warms the soul, and quiets the mind, only to drift back off into the atmosphere, leaving one both thankful and jealous of a time both long gone and nearly forgotten…
i remember a copper-spiked sign, driven straight into the ground warning all who pay heed to the dangerous quail crossing in Grandpa’s backyard. that any less-fortunate soul preoccupied by the lovely view of orange tree and reservoir out back might be happened upon by a vicious bird of prey, searching for both seed and soul upon an innocent Anaheim lawn.
i remember waiting patiently at the sliding glass door, as a hunter on safari with his rifle (my weapon was a laser gun whose projectiles only i could see, much to my dismay and sanity. also pebbles and small rocks in my pockets), waiting to catch a glimpse of my game and pounce! …only to be foiled by the sound of the unlatching of the lock and the painful heaviness of the door that lay between me and my escaping victims-to-be.
i remember the fence-less backyard, and the wilderness that descended beyond it. as though 300 yards of untamed brush and tree might be an eternity of nature to a suburban kid with a limitless imagination. i also remember the forbidden nature of this wilderness, and the torture it caused, to refrain from unlimited adventure.
i also remember the thrill of disobedience. of waiting until grandma or grandpa weren’t looking, or left the view from the panopticon of the kitchen window. slipping out of sight, down the grassy, weed-infested slopes, slinging rocks overhead with the hopes of scaring out wild new creatures into flight, away from their covered perches. then sneaking back up the mountainside, hoping to escape view as i re-entered the backyard behind my chief view-obstruction: the old orange tree.
i remember grandma and grandpa’s toys. centuries-old cars and lettered blocks saved from a previous generation’s childhood that seemed like ancient artifacts compared to the G.I. Joes and war machines and laser guns that Brett and i possessed. Dad, how did you play with those things? except that hollowed out yellow bus. that thing made for cool shootouts and standoffs between my and Brett’s G.I. Joe war scenes. despite these “toys” that were made out of dust, i found myself surprisingly resourceful, that anything could be a prop, or contribute to my cinema of imagination on the floor at grandpa’s feet in the living room. that despite my grandparents’ obvious contempt for buying any sort of toy that might be considered “newfangled” (or “cool” in my eyes), their unending wisdom seems to have preceded my own understanding: that it is not the toy that makes the play, but rather the play that makes the toy.
speaking of the living room, i remember Grandpa’s chair. something that by today’s standards of a man’s lounging instrument might be considered unworthy and lacking of”stretching-out-ness.” that i have yet been unable to find something as comfortable as that deceiving little devil is a testament to its simplistic design and genius before its time. grandpa was smart. he had a beanbag in the living room that was both fun (like a chair made out of play-doh) and bright colored (to attract and distract the young’ins), so that despite our best tries to occupy grandpa’s chair at all times, grandpa always found a way into his spot without conflict or confrontation. like a magician, it’s a talent i’ve not yet discovered. Brett and Rachel and I would always fight over that chair. the day we discovered it could rotate completely around, 360 degrees unimpeded, was the day i discovered the true definition of “awesome.” my aging mind fails me as to what color that chair was, and it makes me sad. was it orange? or green? regardless, it always had a thick white shawl draped onto the back of it, as though to say “respect me. or else.”
i remember early mornings. grandpa’s attempt to slow down the wicked acceleration of the door to the garage, always just a half-second too late, as he retrieved orange juice or milk for his breakfast at what i consider now to be “the devil’s hour” of the morning. as i lay in my Aztec refuge (dad’s old room always seemed like the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to me), that swinging door and the creak of its spring would awake me from my sleep, as though i had been waiting all torturously-long night for someone else to awake and allow me to join them in the early dawn. and i must have my cheerios with honey on them.
i remember grandpa’s paper. that a man could read so many words in black and white with so few pictures was completely beyond me; surely he was out of his mind. or the crossword puzzle. a game that seemed pathetically easy in the eyes of a child who decided to take it upon himself to complete it before grandpa could one day by simply penciling in words that fit in the spaces. nothing to it! “here, try this” grandpa suggested, pointing to a wordsearch instead and surmising that it might be more of a challenge to me. as i was engrossed in my new task, i failed to notice that grandpa was now erasing all of my nonsensical words in an attempt to salvage the day’s contest. a patience i still don’t understand, i doubt i’ll possess that level of cleverness and tact anytime soon, if ever. you mean the numbered statements on the side of the puzzle actually have something to do with the tic-tac-toe grid?
i remember eggs. everywhere. no, i am not talking about Easter, and i’m not talking about grandma and grandpa making us scrambled breakfasts (although whenever they did, it was delicious), i am talking about a glass case in the living room that contained eggs of all shapes and sizes, on display in a nice arrangement. the first time i really paid attention to this adornment, i understood it as a collection. a few years later, the movie “Jurassic Park” would be released, and i realized that my grandparents were actually just incubating dinosaur eggs. every time i went to grandpa and grandma’s house, i looked at those eggs and prayed for one to hatch into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. having a T-Rex as a pet could be the coolest thing ever for a kid in the suburbs.
i remember getting older, and beginning to have real conversations with grandpa. no longer content to waste the day away in my own little world, i began to grow curious about the world i actually lived in. when mom & dad were away and we kids were dropped off at grandpa and grandma’s house, grandpa & grandma became the unfortunate souls who had to endure the incessant questioning and curiosity of a growing boy. how is it that kids, in their developing consciousness and intelligence, ask more difficult questions than adults? where do they come up with this stuff?
i remember learning all sorts of things from grandpa. some of the more notable things included why Reagan was a great president and the newest one doesn’t measure up (Bill Clinton was an idiot), or why exactly it was that there was so much traffic in california (the governor back in the early 70s was an idiot). i also learned how to enjoy and talk sports. periodically the dodgers game would be on tv, and i’d watch it with grandpa. hearing Vin Scully’s voice along to call the ballgame is an indelible part of my childhood, and anytime i hear it these days, it takes me right back to that green beanbag next to the old box television with the rabbit ear- antennae, with Grandpa getting up to adjust it every 3rd inning to make sure we had the clearest signal possible. or watching “Jeopardy.” one day it dawned on me: that’s how grandma & grandpa were so good at crossword puzzles! you just memorize every single question and answer on every single episode of Jeopardy, and bingo! you’re a crossword puzzle master! that’s it!
i remember learning how to read the paper. curiosity eventually got the better of me, and before long i began to take the remnants of the sports page in the Orange County Register after grandpa and grandma had finished it. what started there could be described by some (mainly my ex-girlfriends) as a loathful addiction to sports and sports trivia, and anything having to do primarily with baseball. i began to dislike the dodgers and switch my loyalties to the Angels (sorry gramps). i grew into a die-hard Lakers fan. i learned to hate the Raiders and the Rams for leaving LA and depriving me of a home team in football to root for. but best of all, i learned how to read and formulate an opinion, and then speak to that opinion with grandpa. we never really debated (as most people do), as grandpa was never really interested in arguing (a trait i did not learn from him, unfortunately), but in watching grandpa and stealing this ability from him, i learned a life-long skill that would stay with me and benefit me the rest of my life. the ability to relate to someone with something as simple as “sports,” to speak neutrally, to socialize. it’s surprising how many people aren’t good at that this day and age, but i learned it from my grandpa (well, my loquacious mother probably helped me further my prowess in that area as well).
but perhaps the most endearing thing that i remember about my grandpa is how big his heart is. i’ve never met someone so eager to make someone feel at ease. when you were in his house, he could never offer his help or service too much, always willing to refill your drink, or make your seat more comfortable, when really, it should probably be he who is waited on and served. when he spoke to you, he looked directly into your eyes, and when you spoke, he listened to every word as though it might be your last. and before he responded, he thought pensively about what he would say, and you knew you weren’t talking to a robot or someone simply “waiting for their turn,” but rather, you were talking to someone that was paying attention to you.
when i think back and remember all the family gatherings and christmas dinners and just how packed that house used to get as the years piled up, i think that grandpa must have been a proud, proud man. all of us as a family, with all of our imperfections, our successes and failures, our good times and bad times, we were all never more safe or comfortable in the patriarch’s house, together. and it all started with grandpa.
and though time has passed, and does continue to do so, though memories do fade and reappear, though time waits for no man, not even the best of them, and though history often forgets, i never will. i will always remember grandpa for exactly what he is: grandpa.
make sure your dads and granddads know you care. happy fathers’ day.
my dad, and his dad. grandpa miquelon.