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6/9/06 @ 11:57 am   
In memoriam (nearly)
Current mood: mournful
'm in Seattle right now, stuck in a youth hostel, which is a truly ridiculous place to sit in a room crying. My grandfather had a massive stroke this morning. I just got the phone call. My mom is en route to Florida. According to my sister they're going to try to keep him alive until she gets there.

I need to do something. Might as well write about him.

I idolize my grandfather. I've never told him. How could I tell him something like that? This is a guy who, when you say "I love you, grandpa", answers with, "Swell." A lot of my mom's side of the family are like that, very straightforward people, not very emotionally demonstrative, which is a trait I dislike, but what are you gonna do.

When my grandmother was terminally ill, my mom told me about it on the phone, and before speaking to grandma & grandpa I said to her, "What am I gonna say to them?" I didn't realize it, but my grandfather had already gotten on the phone, and he said, "You're not gonna say anything. She's your grandmother and you love her very much and you're lucky you had her as long as you did." And that's it - he told me how it was, issue closed. My family is like that. My sister said she had once told him when she was first training to run a marathon. She asked him, "Aren't you proud of me?" - which took screwing up her nerve a bit to ask. He shrugged and said, "People do it." She was so pissed.

Strange, though, because although I've never seen him display much sensitivity, he was an artist for a lot of his life. We have a lot of paintings of his. When I was younger I left a one of those little rubber superballs at his house, and he returned it in the mail nailed onto the nose of a whittled seal. You have to understand, this was the sort of whimsy he never, ever displayed in person. He played the violin, also, when he was younger, but then he took it apart and couldn't put it back together again, which makes him like me in more ways than one.

Here's a story for you. It's real easy to tell you what my grandfather is like, because you may have seen him on TV. Did you ever watch an episode of "Seinfeld" with George Costanza's parents in it? I always said they were exactly like my grandparents. Then a few years ago someone mentioned "Seinfeld" at a family dinner, and someone else said, "I wonder how the Seinfelds are." Turns out they're friends of the family. I think my great-uncle grew up next door to Jerry Seinfeld's dad, or something. When Jerry was in high school, he used to come hang out at my family's factory - where my grandma and grandpa worked the front office. So, I'm not saying it's based directly on them personally, but it's the same circle of people. Certainly the same mentality. So any time I mention my grandfather, if you use George Costanza's dad for your mental picture, it's not a bad fit. So picture that character turning out to have been an avid painter, or carving a seal out of a block of wood to nail a superball to the nose of. It was weird.

One time he also made me sit and listen to big band records, because he didn't like the rock & roll I was listening to ("Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh, incidentally.) I hated his music, and my grandmother yelled at him for making me listen to it... but, you know, he cared, which is something he rarely showed. I didn't even know he liked music.

By accident or design, I'm a bit of a "character", I've been told. My grandfather wasn't... isn't. He's straightforward. He's an old-school child of immigrants and worked his whole life. His dad, who lived until I was in college, worked on the floor of our family's factory until he was 90 years old. He lived to 97.

Christ, I don't know whether to write about him in the past or the present tense. If he survives this stroke, he's fucked. His mother, who also lived long enough for me to remember well, survived a stroke, and she was confined to a wheelchair and could barely speak.

You know what? This is sorrowful but good. He's been alive a very long time, he was slowing down, and he didn't like it.

Two years ago I was down there, and my grandfather was getting out of a chair, and he look up at me and said, "I'm old! I never thought I would be old. But look at me, I'm old." I remember thinking, I hope I'm doing as well at 90 as you are, grandpa.

He's getting laid, too, he has a little old septuagenarian girlfriend who his physical relationship with embarrasses everyone in the family except me. I think it's great. A few years ago we all went to a hotel for the holidays, and everybody arrived to check in at about the same time. Every we all went to our rooms to unpack, we all met down by the pool. After a few hours, somebody said, "Where's Morris and Molly? They never came down." "They must have been tired after unpacking. They must be taking a nap." "Oh, that must be it," someone else said, "they're taking a nap." I started to nod and looked at my sister, and she was shaking her head and mouthing the words at me, "DON'T SAY IT. DON'T SAY IT."

He refuses to stop driving, it's been a bone of contention between him and my mom for a couple of years now. He did something scary when I was down there last month, we were in the car waiting to make a left turn at a red light and as soon as there were no cars coming in the opposite direction he said, "OK, you can go." We pointed out that the light was still red and he confessed that he hadsn't been paying attention. But he won't stop. Until not too long ago he had a volunteer job - until recently he's always taken volunteer jobs - driving other old folks around to their doctors appointments. He lived in one of the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. A wall got blown clean out of the building next to his, and he lived without phone or electricity for like 8 days or 12 days or something. My mom found someone who had a relative who lived not too far away but still had phone service, and was willing to go pay a call on grandpa to see how he was doing. "So," I asked when mom told me about it on the phone, "he's alright?" "Oh, sure, he found a restaurant with a generator, he was taking Molly out for the early bird special."

But last time I was there I asked when he does with his days and it was the first time he didn't have an interesting answer for me. He puttered around the house, played with the computer, that was about it. I privately wondered what the next few years of his life were going to be like, how a workaholic like him was going to deal with slowing down like this. If this stroke kills him it may be a mercy. God, I can't believe I just wrote that.

This is sudden. That's the amazing thing. At 90, if he dies today, it will be a sudden and untimely death. He wasn't a frail old man, slipping away. He was grandpa. He was like an oak tree. He was hale and not going to die any time soon.

Not long before my great-grandfather died, he told grandpa, "97 is too long to live. 80 would have been enough." I heard grandpa telling someone this not long afterwards. He seemed spooked.

For two people who were so different, we were a lot alike in a lot of strange ways, and I identified with him because of it. Besides the artistic leanings, we also had the same taste in food. If I liked something, I knew he'd like it, and vice-versa. Except for borscht. Everyone in my family likes borscht, I think it's gross. But other than that we like the same things: we liked our fries burned to a crisp, we liked spicy food. Like everyone else in my family, he had a taste for alcohol as well, although he was mysteriously content with just getting a buzz on. I don't remember ever seeing him noticeably drunk. I always respected that ability. Wish I had it.

I guess that's all, right now.
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Date:June 9th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC)
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You should write a book about your grandfather. It would be a really incredible read (and with your skills as a writer a fitting tribute).
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Date:June 10th, 2006 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the compliment. I actually was thinking just two weeks ago about asking him to write a book, now that he's got all this time on his hands... a friend of mine's grandfather had written his thoughts and recollections at age 93 or something* and she had just shown it to me and I thought it was a great idea. I always kind of wished I could interview him for posterity, I mean, christ, the guy saw 9 decades of the world, but I couldn't see approaching him about something quite so sentimental.

(*The funny thing was, among other things, at 93 my friend's grandfather was writing about worrying about asking this woman he knew for a date.)
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Date:July 10th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC)

I didn't see this until just now

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Oh, Mike. I don't know how you're feeling, this much later. I hope you're all right, and that... what do I hope? I guess I hope that you can take some miniscule bit of comfort, even this much later, from me and my support.

I will be part of the committee keeping your grandfather's memories going, now that what you have written has taken up residence in my brain. (Do you still have the seal sculpture?)


P.S.: So much loss, recently. Maybe we'll get some kind of break. :-\
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