Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Now, about a dozen years later, eleven or twelve years and then some after that Thanksgiving, 2001 or 2002, it is the photograph that always comes to mind when I think of my grandfather. The only one I knew.
He was one of those people who made you realize that you were loved unconditionally, and that people would go to silly lengths to convince you to avoid something if they loved you.
Because you were so precious to them, they resorted to dirty tricks.
That next Christmas, in 2002, I was going to India. Maybe it was this Thanksgiving -- or was it the one after? -- when he chased me around the house with a National Geographic magazine, showing me photos of India in drought. There was no water there! You cannot go!
It was too far. Too risky.
I went. But that is another story. Now, a decade later, looking back on that day, being irritated and charmed by the man with the National Geographic magazine, showing the dark side of the dirty place I was about to visit... I saw how very much he loved me. How scary it was for others, me traveling to the other side of the Earth with a strange family for a strange party. A several-day wedding for my Indian friend from college.
I think I was the only one of my grandfather's grandchildren he saw graduate from college. The only other option was Julie's. But I honestly can't remember if he came to Boston for that. I can't. But I remember him coming to Dartmouth. I remember him coming and seeing me sing at the Lone Pine Tavern the night before graduation. I remember him and my grandmother, BeeBop (yeah, yeah...) after the ceremony. It was an unusually hot June day in New Hampshire. We were all uncomfortable, but Grandpop, by then, was a little bit delicate. The heat and standing for so long.
I remember lunch afterward at Murphy's. I remember packing their cars with my things. I remember driving home to New Jersey with Vanessa and Sarah, being told at a New Jersey rest stop that I had almost no oil in my car... I remember my grandparents, seeing me graduate from my Ivy League school. I was so proud of myself. I hoped they were proud of me.
I spent the summer doing that delightful, entitled thing -- backpacking around Europe. They helped me pay for my Eurail pass. He told me after that he thought I'd be a musician. But if I was taking photographs -- the pie -- he thought I'd be a wonderful photographer. Or a writer! They weren't sure but he was sure I'd be wonderful at whatever I did.
You know, that pie. That pie was the best kind of pie. Flaky crust, creamy strawberries, perfectly sweet and then a fluffy, buttery whipped cream top. Every holiday, one came out, and he teased me. Pretended he was about to give me the tiniest of tiny pieces. And I would howl in protest. Like some kind of crazed animal-child. Pie discrimination against the young! I am owed my fair share of this pie! I was very invested in pie justice. I expected the fight. It became ritual.
He was just teasing, but of course I never knew that.
Now, as more of a grown up than I was that hot day in Hanover, I can see my own father taunting my nieces just a little bit. To see their adorable, earnest, horrified reactions to NOT HAVING PIE! The most terrible of things to a person who lives in just-this-moment. I remember my father pretending Santa had not come.
That moment of confused fear of denial made our happiness all that more exuberant. Who wouldn't have teased us first? Pretended there was a chance you weren't going to share that pie.
Because one day, you, that man who started off with nothing is sitting in front of his granddaughter, the Ivy League graduate, with her camera for her graduate school journalism class, taking a photograph of you with that pie. That pie that you pretended to fight over with her for all those years. And you smile.
And in the window, she catches the reflection of your family.
And a decade after you are gone, she can still remember those silly pie fights, more than any other thing that ever happened, and how she'd always win. Because you let her.
I remember birthdays, and weddings and reunions. I remember Easter egg hunts. I remember watching John Wayne movies. I remember visiting all the time. I remember, like a photograph, the white of my grandfather's hair standing on the Dartmouth campus.
I remember the months of false alarms, when in my youth and confusion I got scared and angry, not knowing when I was finally allowed to freak out. To let go. I remember the last time I saw him alive. He would not open his eyes. I cried. He was done. I remember a time when we watched a show at the house in the mountains about a promising new cancer treatment idea, and having a tiny bit of hope.
I don't know if those last memories I have were all my own, or if I conflated them with stories from other people. The medical bed in his bedroom. Refusing to open his eyes. His mouth. Choosing the time of the end.
I forget that a lot. I wouldn't have cried writing this, most likely, if I hadn't let myself remember that.
Because the thing that I remember first. Every time. Is the man waving the National Geographic magazine at the girl who he feared would be thirsty, in a world where he couldn't even pretend to deny her a slice of pie.