(My Diary) How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard

November 26, 2014


When I was a little girl, I used to sit on the arm of my grandad's recliner; we would eat Wagon Wheels, washing them down with pink cream soda, while watching Curious George on TV. Grandad's name was George, although he went by Bud, and I think he got a little kick out of that; a year never went by when there wasn't a mention of Curious George or, at the very least, "that little monkey," in my birthday and Christmas cards. Truth be told, I don't remember a single episode of Curious George. But I remember climbing up onto the old recliner. I remember the way the bubbles in the cream soda tickled my nose; how Grandad held his arm around my waist; his hands, tearing open the white wrapping to reveal our favourite chocolate-covered cookie.

Grandad left us on Sunday. He was ninety-one.

It was to be expected, of course. Everything that begins must also come to an end. But when a person reaches a certain age, the fact that they go on living, despite the increasing odds against them, almost becomes more surprising than the alternative. And with every passing day, even as the pill bottles stack up and the hours of homecare per day increase, it makes it harder to believe that they will ever be gone.

Grandad taught me all the important words in Welsh: cheese, cake and good night. Once, when mom scolded me in the middle of a giggly retelling of a poo-related story - I was about seven at the time - he came to my defense, asserting something along the lines of, "That's all right; old people are just as interested in poo stories are young people." He told off-colour and often (intentionally) offensive stories, just to see people react; his repertoire included one about going for a steak in England during the war, which, it transpired, was in fact a horse steak. Invariably, someone would ask what it was like to eat horse, and he would answer, "Well, it's a bit like eating your brother at first..."  When mom and dad enrolled me in French kindergarten, he signed up for French classes. For about three years, he spent every Saturday afternoon fixing my parents' dryer - I'm not sure if his handiwork ever solved anything or if they discreetly called a repairperson in the end. During the war, he sometimes went by the alter ego Ben Plotsky... but he always chuckled too much when he told the story of how he got the name, so I never quite figured it out. I was about fifteen when he taught me how to mix a Cub Scout Special. [That's coke mixed with water - its the cheekiest way to avoid drinking in a group.] He was a social worker; a tireless champion of misfits who was often known to proclaim, "He would be a brilliant x, if only he could stop y!" He was an inveterate, unapologetic slob. In his early eighties, he once took a woman out on something like a date: they went to Wal-Mart, and had lunch at McDonald's. I will never forget when he called me to ask what the word hubris meant; in my family, that was a true coming of age moment. He could play almost any instrument you handed to him. When he had the misfortune of eating with someone he didn't like, he would remove his hearing aids and hide them under his the edge of his dinner plate to avoid listening to them. He couldn't understand why on earth I became a vegetarian - I think, if he had his way, he would have gone through life without eating a single vegetable. He believed that in heaven, he would get to have his favourite foods every day; mashed potatos would always be on the menu.

He was eccentric and funny and flawed, just like we all are, and at times that made him totally irritating but it was also what made him so endearing, so eminently loveable. This is, I know, not the tribute he would have wanted; he liked a nicely written obituary. But we are not the sum of our accomplishments; we don't live on in the places we've been or the hobbies we practise - in the end, it's the memories we leave with people that are our legacy. And man, what a legacy. I'll never be able to look at a steak without pausing to smile and shake my head, remembering the story about the horse.

Noson dda, grandad.
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