The last time I saw my grandfather, a few years before he died, he sat down with me and a little black, three-ring binder that had newspaper clips from my family history. My grandfather wasn’t, prior to this, that interested in me. My mother told me stories about him, when my brothers were little, arriving with armloads of shellfish (to which my mom and one of my brothers was allergic), unannounced, and telling her to put my brothers to bed because they were there. He’s the only person in my baby-crazy family who really said things like “Children should be seen, not heard.” And that was my experience of him, until that point, when I was about 12. We would go there, and he and my grandmother would talk to my parents and I would play alone in the backyard or the living room. I’d sit quietly in the backseat. I’d watch TV and play solitaire and wait for my parents to pay attention to me.
But this time, he sent my parents and grandmother away, and patiently told me the stories of my family. He answered all my questions. I felt so special. He told me that I needed to know because I was the one who would carry it forward. I especially connected with the story of my great grandfather, known as Pop, who apparently played professional baseball and basketball, among his accomplishments.
We talked on the phone when he called, after that, and he consoled me when I found out I needed glasses. It meant so much to me. And then he got really sick. My dad went out to see him. And then my grandfather died. And I was genuinely sorry to lose him. And I felt blessed to feel that way, because I would not have felt that way five years earlier. I might have been sad about it in the abstract, but feeling his particular loss represented a lot of progress, for me. I could truly say I loved him when he died.
When I went to his funeral, I poked around my grandmother’s house for the little three-ring binder. I felt like it was a sacred trust he’d given me, and I took it seriously (as I do.)
I couldn’t find it. I asked around about it, and found out my aunt had taken it. I explained that grandpa had talked to me about the family history and entrusted it, in some sense, to me. I was told that getting it back from my aunt (his daughter) was a pretty lost cause. This was a few days before my 16th birthday. That was kind of awhile ago. We lost my dad a dozen years ago, and he survived my grandfather for several years.
Last night, my mom talked about having a novena said for my grandfather. This is pretty impressive, because she did not love her father-in-law, who teased her in ways she didn’t take well. She said that she’s been dreaming of him, and this was her response. I was impressed, but I didn’t think much of it.
Today, I was getting ready to do my lunchtime writing, and it came to me that I needed to write Pop’s story. I don’t know if it’s a thing that would go— my mom says she thinks that the professional baseball player and the professional basketball player were two different people, and so forth, but my aunt and uncle and mom all knew Pop and would have first-person stories, and my aunt might have the notebook where I could get some third party source material that could help me do some research, and I could find out if it’s a thing.
In some ways, there’s a lot more energy to that story than to the one I’ve been working on. I diligently did my 20 minutes on what I’ve been writing on, but there’s a structure and a story that fits with my training and skill sets. I’ve been planning a trip that would take me into my uncle’s orbit, and feeling like I wanted to reconnect with my father’s family, and this would give me a real opportunity to do that.
I don’t know if it would be a book I could publish, but I could dig in and find out. What do we think?