It’s been a while since I’ve done any writing. I’ve been busy with all sorts of things the last few months–big remodel of the house (inside and out), traveled to the UK for two weeks, back and forth to the mountains a few times–oh, yeah, got married! Here’s a bit of fiction to start knocking the rust off.
My grandfather lived in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. After Grandma died, he spent the next year or so having some pretty drastic remodeling done to the house. It seemed to me at times that it was as if he were creating for himself a place completely different from the home they had shared for decades, yet in the same place. Here and there were mementos of their life together—photographs, knickknacks, some furniture. Whole rooms became more “manly” while the house as a whole retained the practical, ordered domestication that were my grandmother’s strengths as a homemaker.
We saw him fairly often. He had come to our school events and family gatherings, and my parents and then my wife and I invited him to our home just as we went to his, but it wasn’t quite the same. Most of the time he merely watched us going through the motions of our lives without comment.
I went to see him the other day when I had some time during a lull at work. Now and then I’d drop in on him just to see how he was getting along. The front door was open, so instead of ringing the bell as I usually did, I let myself in. I knew I would find him on the screened-in porch in back, his favorite room in the house.
It was rare that I ever caught him off guard, but when I came to the open doorway to the porch, he didn’t seem to know that I was there. Mere feet away, I watched him for a moment before saying “Hello.”
I have seen my grandfather cry on numerous occasions: birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, or simply when memory brings the past to the surface. He’s always been sentimental. Sometimes just singing “The National Anthem” can bring him to tears because he says he pays attention to the words and thinks about the circumstances of its origins and the too many battles that have been fought since then, and the too many lives lost or changed forever. He’s never ashamed to show his emotions. For some it’s a sign of weakness. To me, my grandfather’s tears are evidence of an enormous strength of heart.
That afternoon he sat there on his porch—an addition he said he and Grandma had talked about for years. He held an old coffee cup, but was obviously lost in thought and reminiscence as the tears streamed down his weathered cheeks.
“Hello, boy,” he said, without looking at me.
“Hey, Gramps. What’s up? Everything OK?”
“Sure. Sure. Just remembering.”
“Whatcha drinkin’ this afternoon?”
“Sipping on the Past mixed with Today and Tomorrow. It’s a good drink, but you have to be as old as I am to really appreciate it.”
“Ha. Sounds pretty strong. Sure you can handle it?”
“Son, it’s the best drink you can have. I hope you get to have a cup now and then. But you have to be ready for it.”
“It’s the ultimate ‘bitter-sweet’ drink. Think of the best moments of your life and how you felt. Pure elation. So much joy you didn’t think you could contain yourself. You know, the day you proposed and she said ‘Yes.’ Your wedding day. When you found out you were going to be a daddy and then the days your kids were born. Days like that.”
“Then mix in how you felt on your worst days. You might find those emotions easier to remember than the good ones for some reason. You’re too young to have had very many. Maybe when your old dog died. And I know you took it hard when Grandma passed.”
“That’s the mix in this cup. Now and then, no matter what I’m doing, sometimes I can taste it. The new good times bring back the memories of older good times, and often the good and bad get mixed together because they’re related. I can’t watch your kids playing ball or opening presents without seeing Grandma there and hearing her comment on the play or the excitement.”
“Gramps, I’m sorry you get so down. Wish I could help.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry for me. As long as there is something in this cup, it means I’m still alive to see and do more even if there are the bad times with the good. When I’m tasting only the bad, I stop and remember the good and it makes the drink a bit sweeter. When I’m enjoying the good, sometimes a hint of the bad helps me to appreciate the good even more.”
“You have to pay attention, though, so you don’t spill any of it,” he grinned.
“So. What have those ornery kids of yours been up to this week?”
Daniel J. Cox 10-26-2015