I was twelve when my grandfather died. My mother’s father.
It was New Year’s Day, and my mother, father and sister arrived to pick me up at the farmhouse of my best friend.
My mom was from farming people. My father immigrated to Canada to farm. I spent many weekends with my friend around curious things like dugouts and quonsets. But I was a city girl. I remember being around the same age as the first paragraph of this story, and an older cousin – farming cousin – asking me to move the truck. Her request made me feel I knew how to respond, but I quickly demonstrated that I didn’t. Were they poplars, that lined the drive to this cousin’s farmhouse?
I never knew my mother’s father. He was both a joyous music maker and a violent drunk. The latter meant that while my mother was a young woman teaching in Rome, he agreed to leave Nana alone. To me, this grandfather was a pink stuffed cat, a book, and a detour through a mall parking lot with cousins at my side, as my mother ensured we did not run into him. I guess he was also pipe tobacco and records playing in the basement and the principal of an elementary school. Muscular young George, that Nana chose over the dreamy Jack. Jack, who would one day return and burst the bubble of the story he had always been. I feel myself glad I do not have a lost sweetheart that might someday live in my guest room . . .
Funny. I don’t remember the funeral of this grandfather. I can see my sister in a pink and blue dress but even that is questionable. I do remember his sisters, around Nana’s dining room table. Bold, verbal women telling stories of their childhoods and the older sister that should have been sold in Brazil. They laughed so freely. And possibly had a cigarette or two? Told us of how their mother lost bits of her fingers to knives, and helped the doctor take their sister’s tonsils out on the kitchen table. Surely these were tall tales . . . My nana birthed my twelve pound uncle in this same home, and scrubbed the wooden floors with brushes on her feet . . .
My family was so sullen when they came to pick me up. When Grandpa George died. My mother wept regret and we learned of cousins who had visited him in his alone world. There was a beautiful guitar – I think it was a Gibson – that felt like a legend, as we never saw it but it brought back so many memories of the music that came from this old man’s fingers. He played the ukelele on Saturdays at 6:30pm. CKRM radio. The Maui Islanders. There was a mandolin that I used to pull from the front hall closet – he must have left it with Nana – and pretended to play along with albums I hauled up from the basement.
He was what could have been, this Grandpa George, had there not been so much anger. He was larger than life and not at all, and I still don’t remember his funeral service. He was choice and fear and regret, and I know him best from pictures. Flannel pyjamas and a pipe and a magazine on the brocade couch. Nana in the same, but with short sleeves and her hair up in curlers, standing in front of a curious looking, old stove. In the basement she kept the matching fridge, and when I visited there was often a bottled pop or stubby beer she would let me consume.
I am getting lost in the memories of those who have gone before me. Who have been living stories. Death has me thinking about them, about what has shaped me and what I have let go.