To put it mildly, my relatives are a wild bunch. They quite literally put the “nuclear” in Nuclear Family. You never quite know when something will explode.
My grandfather was the alpha male, the chest-beating gorilla with a wolverine temper. At least that’s how he saw it. He was the King, and we were his loyal minions. He ruled with an iron fist. It was his way or the highway. Looking back, the highway wasn’t such a bad choice. But you get the picture. I’m sure this all sounds very bitter and even a little bit whiny, but that’s the way I remember him. Some people say that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. But you can’t make lemonade with lemons alone, you need sugar. Sometimes I’m so busy thinking about the lemons, I forget all about the sugar. And it doesn’t take much. In any good lemonade, there is only a hint of sweetness. To cover up all of the sour would completely defeat the purpose.
When I was about ten years old, I spent the night at my grandparents’ house for the first and only time. I don’t exactly know why it was the first time, and there is no dramatic reason for it being the last, it just was. My mother dropped me off somewhere around dinnertime. After an awkwardly quiet meal, my grandmother began to clean up and my grandfather retired to the back room to watch television. I milled around the house for a while, looking at old photographs and wishing I could leave. But then I heard a noise coming from the back room. I could see lights flickering underneath the door. I decided to make a bold move.
I’m not sure what kind of courage came over me, but I didn’t even knock. I simply walked in and closed the door behind me. I asked what he was watching, and he graced me with a one-word response. “Bullitt” he said. I had no idea what “Bullitt” was, but I stood there acting like I’d known since birth. After 20 minutes or so of standing, he said “You can sit down if you want.” And I did. We watched the whole film together. By the time the credits were rolling, it was already past my bedtime. I said goodnight, left the room, and closed the door behind me. That night I went to sleep as happy as any night before or since.
A little over two years later, fearing the pain of a long-term illness, he decided to take his own life.
To be honest, I had forgotten the memory entirely. But the other night, while channel surfing, I stumbled upon the last few minutes of a familiar Steve McQueen movie. It was “Bullitt”. In less than a second, it all came flooding back. I hate to say it, but it’s the only good memory I have of him. Sitting on the wooden floor, drinking orange juice, and watching a movie that I didn’t understand. It’s not exactly poetic, but it’ll do.
I’m not sure why this memory means so much to me. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was a bullet that ended his life. Maybe it’s just the one ray of light in a darkened tunnel. Who knows?
But I believe there comes a time in life when we stop wishing for memories we never had, and begin to cherish the ones we have. For me that time is now.
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