I am sitting at my Granddad’s drafting table. The rusted step stool beneath me and the sturdy table before me, is all that is left in this barren house. I’m in search of a story, blocked as only a writer can be. The wood panel walls of his old office trap the smell of musk in the claustrophobic room. This dingy little room is my favorite place in the world to write. No distractions, only visions of the past and of worlds not yet created. The bones of the home are as strong as ever. The shadow of memories flicker like an old silent film in an empty theater, haunting the empty house. Each room has a story to tell. Each room remembers uncontrolled laughter, and forced laughter in the name of southern hospitality.
I cannot remember a bad memory in this place and I wouldn’t want too. I can still taste the caramel cake my grandmother made, as the inevitable vying of the end pieces rang in the 1980’s kitchen. Later in the night, I would stick to a blow-up mattress, tossing and turning until I eventually sank into slumber. In the morning I would hear my grandfather turning the TV on while darkness still blanketed Florida. Funny how I too would enjoy the peace of a dark early morning, and the same news channel filling my living room, all while my family slept.
There was so much I did not know about that home, or my grandparents, but I did know something. I still know that something, and that is… this place… my grandparent’s home… is romantic. I cannot explain it. Maybe all places where happy memories happen leave a trail of romance behind for those who are looking closely.
The slow murky river meandered down the wide channel, just past the old concrete bulkhead out back. You could watch the boats bob up and down as they slowly drifted out towards the open sea. There was a perfect spot for daydreaming, just under the tall oak tree that was draped in moss. The daydreaming tree slowly crumbles with rot now, waiting for one last dreamer. That moss still drapes the dying branches, and is the most glaring example of haunting beauty that I know.
My brother and I used to get their old dust covered beach cruisers out from behind a pile of junk in the garage. My grandfather would fill the tires with air– because it hadn’t been done in the two years since we last visited. We would pedal down the nearby streets under the canopy of mossy trees as the chorus of insects sang their tune. The heat was suffocating and the army of mutant mosquitoes were always in attack mode, battling to the death! They were blood thirsty and I was slap happy.
Dammit if we weren’t free!
We were always bored, but that is part of being a kid at your grandparents house. Adventure awaits only those willing to seek it.
Getting to know my grandfather
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know my granddad. I had always known him as a grandfather, but I recently got to know him as a friend. As a person and not just a title.
I was absolutely blown away with every little detail I learned about his life. I learned about his marriage, his career, his parenting regrets, his military stories, his family life growing up, and so much more.
It is very humbling when you open your eyes to the fact that your family members are human. We learn that fact with our parents, usually after we move out and are on our own.
What I found out about my granddad, is that I liked him. Sure, I liked him when I was a kid too, but the reasons were superficial and silly. For example, I liked his nub finger that he cut off with a saw. I watched that nub in action more than I would like to admit. I liked mowing with his riding lawn mower on the rare occasions I could pry Jeremy’s hands from the steering wheel. I liked how helpful my granddad always was, without complaint. A true gentlemen from a different and dying era. I liked his dilapidated sailboat dry-docked in the front yard. I liked how that sail boat scared me, because it had to be infested with every deadly living creature known to man… at least it was in my head. I liked his habits, and routines. I liked things that didn’t matter.
As an adult, I respected him for taking a risk when he started his own business. I respected him when I learned he nearly went bankrupt, and was scared to death of losing everything but still somehow survived. I understood why he kept that information from his kids, one in college and the other in high school. My heart hurt when he described some of the pains of a screwed up childhood, though he spoke of it with a non-nonchalant air. “No big deal. I played the hand I was dealt”, kind of attitude. No hero. No one special. I laughed when he called his evil stepmother a witch, because he doesn’t curse. I listened with great focus when he spoke of his wife’s greatest worry, which is her two sons salvation. I listened harder when he said, they blamed themselves for pushing religion down their throats with the private school they attended. I heard him speak of his love of music, and him boast about being an encyclopedia of music knowledge from the big band era in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. I listened to his rants on politics, which sounded awfully similar to my own. I listened to his passion for the re-build of his El Camino.
Now, I get to love HIM, and not a silly childhood figure that looked like him.