Grandpa

My Grandpa liked to salt his fruit—apples, plums, sometimes berries but never oranges. And he'd salt each piece as if it were a tiny treasure of its own. But when we did eat oranges, Grandpa would divide its crescent shapes between the two of us. Or he would slice an apple, piece by piece, from its core. He also liked to teach me Italian words, and before he turned the magic trick of his wrist, he'd say sale. Salt.

Sometimes he’d let me sit on his lap while driving. Never far, around the neighborhood. But I loved it. I’d place my little hands over his on the steering wheel, and he’d give me instructions on what to do. “Turn left, easy goes it, okay now, straighten the wheel.” were some of the things he’d say. But of course, he was the one driving.

After our driving lessons, we’d drive up to the Farm Shop on Wolcott Road. It’s not there anymore.

Our lunch would always be the same. Two hot dogs, in a toasted bun, always cut in thirds, with spicy mustard and relish. The green kind, extra on mine. The hot dog came on a piece of white paper, scalloped at the edge. That first bite was a dream. The bun was crisp, buttery, soft in the center.

After lunch, we’d go to the cemetery and plant new flowers for Grandma. Always red geraniums. Today, when I pass by geraniums of any color, I press my nose into the leaves. The cemetery flowers, I call them.

My Grandpa also liked to sing. He’d be cutting up carrots, or washing up, and he'd teach me what he was doing in song. But my favorite was when he’d bounce me on his lap and sing Old Mother Larry. There was always a twinkle in his eye.

He also had this funny thing he’d say. The wind blew, the shit flew, and you were missing for a day or two. I can’t say those words to myself without laughing. Without seeing him laughing at my laughter like a little girl.

When I got older, he didn’t like that I pulled my sleeves down over my hands. He said it looked messy. Unladylike.

He didn’t know why my parents sent me to college. Or why I liked to move around so much.

At my mother’s funeral, I overheard him whisper to someone that I looked like trash. Later, I found out why.

The price tag for the shoes I bought last minute was still on the soles. I hadn’t thought to scratch the stickers off. There were other things on my mind that day.

The $39.99 I spent on funeral shoes was now known to everyone. The tag was visible to the crowd when I knelt in front the casket. My Grandpa didn’t see me that day. He only saw a girl who wasn’t put together.

It’s been too long since I’ve last seen my Grandpa. Three years, in fact. I don’t have a good excuse. I’ve been living abroad, being a young person. I don’t have to remind you that the world is built for young people. It makes it easy. But I think we hide aging folks not because we are embarrassed for them, but for ourselves.

I called the nursing home and asked for my Grandpa. They pulled him out of bed, it felt like a selfish thing to disrupt him. But the little girl in me wanted to hear his voice.

"Hi, Grandpa. It's me.” But he only moaned. There was no way I could know if he was happy to hear from me or if it was a sad moan or a moan of confusion.

I said it was me over and over again and that I loved him over and over again and he responded with more moans. I didn’t get the chance to say the same things to my mother or father before either of them died.

The nurse took the phone and asked me if I was okay. I wasn’t. But she assured me that he was and that he was stable. I knew she was lying.  

After I hung up, I thought I should do something, something physical. I felt like I could run for miles, scale tall peaks, dance for 72 hours straight. I wanted to scream.

So I cleaned up after supper. I loaded the dishwasher and pressed start. I took out the garbage but not before I double bagged it. Something sharp cut through making a hole and coffee spilled out onto the floor. I know better than to pour leftover coffee from the cafetiere into the garbage. But I do it anyway.

I wiped the counters down and then decided that I needed dish soap and new sponges. I threw the old ones out.

I walked up to the market. I walked fast, with long strides. Nothing made sense. Not people passing by, young, old, talking, smoking. Boys and girls, teens with their coats half-off, exposing their shoulders. I was young like that once. Still, I can't recall why it wasn’t cool to wear to a jacket.

The double-decker buses unnerved me, imagining the damage caused should one flip over. Or hug a corner too tight. I imagined a man walk in front of a bus, then the horror on the passengers faces at the point of impact, of realization. Once the knowledge rushes in, there’s no recovering.

Once in the store, I walked up and down the isles. I didn’t like the sponge selection. So I walked two more blocks to another store, but they were out of sponges. For a moment, I imagined all the city to be home, washing up. Trying to repair a lifetime of mistakes.

I’ve kept an incredible distance from my family, wanting to explore freedom. Unattachment. But the profound work that loving can do only breaks beneath the weight of a compromise. The distance hurts. The distance hurts.

I went back to the other store and picked out some sponges. A package of two, one blue, one yellow. I also bought some lime-scented, cruelty-free, dish soap.

In the same aisle, besides the chemicals, is the candy. I stared at the selection for a while, wanting comfort. I bought a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut. My grandpa’s favorite.

I bought a bottle of wine, I’m drinking too much these days, and a bottle of water and an Empire Biscuit to go. The cookie was beautiful. Marvelous. Poetry. Two butter biscuits sandwiched with raspberry jam. Iced with pastel colored frosting, topped with a lemon yellow gumdrop. The gumdrop tasted like lemon too. My Grandpa liked lemon-flavored cakes.

I tried only to eat half, you know, calories. But then I said to myself, “Fuck it. What’s the point?”

My Grandpa is 102 years old, and he’s dying in a nursing home. Alone. The nurse tells me that he likes to sleep all day, covered up with a blanket, all the way up to his ears. I wanted to say to her, “Me too.”

I hate that I am so far away.

He was, is, my favorite person.

 

Edinburgh, Scotland