Part of the reason I wanted to write last week’s piece about my grandmother’s death was so that it would properly frame this piece.
My grandfather recently found his voice. The death of my grandmother has for better or for worse caused my grandfather to speak to me. This is a fairly new occurrence in my life. In fact, I am certain that the word count of this post is higher than number of words he has said to me to date. It’s not that he was a hard man, or a particularly mean man, at least not to me. He was just a quiet man, and I suspect he wasn’t that comfortable around kids. Trouble is if you don’t take the time to talk to kids, to get to know them, you still wont know them when they are adults. The discomfort you feel in a house full of children will not be dissolved when those children grow up, rather that discomfort will only change to the discomfort you feel in a house full of strangers. Maybe that’s not how it used to be. Maybe in his day kids were seen and not heard, and because of this they were, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable. Whatever the reason, Grandpa never really spoke to me. Least ways not until I had grown up a bit.
In his defense he was not absentee. Quite the contrary actually. He was always present, silently looming in the background as grandma gave me cookies or played with me at the park, he was just not always vocal. I loved him, because that is what you do in my family. you love the other people in your family. And I knew he loved me because once he stood on the rickety old railing on my porch to retrieve the glider that I had accidentally thrown on the roof. He silently risked life and limb for me, and that was good enough for me, goddammit!
When I was 12 I guess he decided that I was self-actualized enough to speak to, so one morning, just like that, he did. I remember staying the night at their house and I waking up earlier than usual. Not having anything to keep my in bed I wandered into the living room to see if anything was going on, and found that grandma was still asleep but grandpa was up, about and making coffee. When he saw that I was awake he said good morning and I think he offered me coffee (although I might just be making that part up). And then in an unprecedented moment of familial bonding he asked if I wanted to play a game of cards. IT BLEW MY MIND! He told me he would teach me a new game called 21, or black jack. This was a great honor for me. I was gonna learn a real adult game. I think before this my the only card games I had learned were ‘war’ and ‘go fish.’ He taught me the rules and gave me some quarters to bet with, and he told me that anything he didn’t win back at the end of the game I could keep for myself! It was too cool for my little brain to handle. Me and Grandpa playing cards. Me and Grandpa gambling. Me and Grandpa being men. Me and Grandpa with our quarters against the world! To this day that was the most pleasant and singular interaction I have had with him by himself.
All these years later he is still the same stoic patriarch he was then. He is slipping a little in his old age, but he is still the same man I knew. Only, after the death of his wife he has found his voice. My family backed him into a corner by refusing to let him be so now he has to talk to us. Each time we go over he speaks a little more. He bitches about bills more, though my father pays them. He tells jokes more, even when he has trouble remembering the punch line. He asks me about work, and Chicago, and my superhero of a girlfriend, and then he has follow-up questions! Hell he even chats up the ladies more… which I guess is a good thing considering before he was married to my grandmother but still. The man has a personality I have never met before, a voice I have never heard. And I got to say after all these years it is really nice to meet him.