My grandpa and I were born just seven days and 69 years apart, so maybe that’s what gave us our special connection. For one reason or another grandpa and I were inseparable; I thought he was the most amazing person who ever lived.
As a child I spent most school day afternoons in my grandparent’s large, dusty house filled with old papers, funny smells and potential treasures everywhere. I loved staring at the photos of them when they were younger and wondering what their lives were like back then. How did they ever manage to get so old?
My grandpa and I would work in his garden picking vegetables, planting seed, staking the green bean stalks, and collecting grub worms in an old coffee can – one of my favorite jobs. Grandma and I would bake chocolate chip cookies (I still use her recipe) and play dress up with her flamboyant jewelry and hats. Sometimes grandpa and I would teach ourselves to play a song – me on the organ and him on the violin. We must have made an awful racket, but grandma never said a thing.
As I grew older he and I were still very close. When I went away to college we exchanged letters, which are now safe in a shoe box under my bed. But a rift in the family, too complex and sordid to explain, kept us apart for several years.
By the time I was in graduate school I visited him again, this time at his apartment in an ‘independent living’ center. I remembered the previous time I’d seen him and how I’d hugged him goodbye saying, “You are my favorite grandfather.” He hugged me back, “You are my favorite granddaughter.” And then, “You are my only granddaughter. Right?” I didn’t want to correct him, though he actually had three more who each had children of their own.
My parents had warned me that he’d aged significantly since that last visit, so it was with some trepidation that I opened the door to his apartment. I found him sitting in his bedroom in his old, worn, brown recliner peering out the window. There wasn’t much to look at, just a parking lot and a few trees in the distance.
It was wonderful to see him again, to hold his hand and see his smile. We chatted for some time, and then he asked me, “Do you see that dog in the tree?”
I was stunned, afraid of what this might mean. But I leaned over and looked out the window. “No, I don’t see a dog up in a tree.”
“It’s right there,” he said pointing, surprised and disappointed that I couldn’t see it too.
“You see, it’s a momma dog with her babies. Look, now the father has come home and the mom’s asking him where’s he been, why’s he so late. Don’t you see ‘em?”
I looked again. My heart was sinking. In the years since our last visit my grandfather must have started to lose his mind.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I still don’t see it.”
“That’s too bad. It’s a terrible thing not to have a good imagination.”
I was so mad at him and happy at the same time, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Grandpa was older, but he was still my grandpa, just like I remembered him.