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A Date Burned Into My Memory

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I can remember every detail.  Every experience.  Every word.

March 5, 1990.

The day my beloved grandfather died.

He was the only grandfather I had known.  Both of my mother’s parents had died before I was born.  But, my father’s parents made up for it in abundance.  I was the first out of twelve grandchildren.  The oldest child born to their oldest child.  I was extremely close to them.  They meant everything to me.  I worshiped them.  Through all the madness of my parents’ divorce, they were a force that kept me from swirlling away.  Just being near them made me happy.  And I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

Pop-Pop’s health had been failing for awhile.  He had been having small strokes for about a year.  Those aweful TMIs.  You could be just standing there, talking to him, and he would suddenly start talking nonsense.  A few moments later, he would be fine.  Well, as fine as he could be.  When his memory started failing, it was heart-breaking.  He was so insanely smart.  He read all the time.  He loved those big coffee table books on every imaginable topic.  You could ask him for information on just about anything, and he would reach over to a stack of books, pull out just the right one and then tell you exactly what page you would need.  It was incredible.  But, he had gotten to the point when even faces escaped him.  But not mine.  He always knew me.

I had moved about four hours away from home.  I hated being that far away, but as it goes, I followed a man – but that is another story.  As Pop-Pop spiraled even further, I would come home as much as I could.  I worked as a manager in a department store.  I would arrange my schedule so that I would open the day before a day off and then close the day after.  That enabled me to come home at least once a week.  I would spend the day at my grandparents’ home.  For a couple of months, it became my new routine.

My parents and I had planned for a few months to meet in Orlando the first weekend of March for a little visit to Disney World.  As the time drew closer, neither my father nor I wanted to be away from West Palm Beach.  We felt a little guilty about going off to have some fun, leaving my grandmother.  Yes, we knew there was plenty of other family around, but we both felt like we HAD to be there.  My grandmother encouraged us to go.  Said everything would be ok for a few days.  So, we went.  And we had a great time.  We managed to let the problems back home slip from our minds.

We got back to our rented condo late.  It had been a wonderful day.  We didn’t check in with Grandma.  We didn’t want to wake her.  And the three of us collapsed into bed, exhausted – but happy.

The call came early the next morning.  Pop-Pop was gone.  He had gotten up that morning, gotten dressed and was insisting that Grandma drive him to his tackle store.  The one he had owned and single handedly run for almost 50 years.   Grandma was fixing his breakfast.  Pop-Pop was sitting in “his chair” (the very Archie Bunker-ish recliner that no one else was allowed to sit in without prior permission).  And then he was gone.

I can still here the tone of my father’s voice as he choked out the words.

I started crying and did not stop for the next five days.

I still miss him.  Twenty-three years later.

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The Storyteller

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Listerine, Ben-Gay, Rolaids, sweat, and musty clothes, jumbled up into a delicious fragrance of love.  I breathe deeply as I sit curled up in my grandfather’s lap.  I believe I am his favorite, and I feel his love permeating my pores.  His love for me flows out of him and into me with every breath I take of that wonderful aroma.

His lap is lumpy, and his chest is uncomfortable to rest my head on.  The papers stuffed into his two breast pockets are like concrete pillows.  He keeps all the receipts and papers and bits and pieces from his shop crammed into those two pockets – so full I am amazed they don’t burst.  Awaiting the one more thing that becomes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – more like the receipt that popped the pocket.

He is telling me a story.  Pop Pop never finished high school, yet to me he is the smartest man I know.  He weaves fantastical tales.  They are never the same – always different.  I am always the main character, usually a princess (my father’s pet name for me).  My companion is the animal of my choice, this time a turtle, the next possibly an owl.  We have grand adventures.  When the journey is complete, before I scamper from his lap, Pop Pop pulls a piece of candy, or if I am lucky a quarter, out of my ear.  I am delighted and I believe him to be magical.

Years later, as he is sick and dying, I keep these images in my heart.  He knows me – but few others.  He smiles at me and I am six-years-old again and want nothing more than to climb into his lap and have him tell me a story again.  Instead, I sit by him and hold his hand and breathe in that delicious fragrance and know that I am loved.