Picture this, a young blonde haired girl with green eyes and a bright, quick smile is learning to ride her bike. She and her family live on a pretty busy road, so her mom has parked her car across the end of the driveway so she can practice safely there. It’s the perfect Indian summer day, a slight breeze to run its fingers through her hair and the sun shining golden in a perfect, cloudless, cobalt sky. Up and down the driveway she goes, gaining more confidence as her bike wobbles less and less with each lap. Up to the top of the driveway she goes again and on the way back she really notices the man sitting in his woven nylon lawn chair. He is watching her intently and has been watching every circle of each lap. He is tan, from sitting out here to watch her each and everyday, his white hair now only in strips over his ears and his long fingers hold his ever present cigarette which has turned his fingernails yellow over the years. “Poppy”, she yells for the 1000th time, “watch me!” Of course, he always does. She now knows 30 years later, he always will.
“A grandfather is someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart”. An unknown writer said this and, my, what a genius she was. It is true that a grandfather’s heart is made of gold. How do I state this as a fact? I can say it because I have experienced first hand the precious gem grandfathers are, the priceless love they give and some unexpected lessons that are sometimes hard to swallow.
When I was three, my grandparents moved in with us. They had their own apartment on the second floor of our house. We ate dinner together often, and after my Nana died, Poppy ate with us each and every night. My dad usually worked late so dinner consisted of my mom, me and Poppy. I can remember his laugh and how his dentures dropped whenever he let out a good chuckle. He loved macaroni and cheese with hotdogs, stewed tomatoes with filet of flounder and was particularly fond of cordial cherries, the chocolate candies with the gooey cherries in the middle. I was lucky because he did really become a buddy, someone to hang around with and we kept each other company, he a lonely widower and me an only child. We were together all the time and I loved every minute of it. He was strict about grades and coloring in the lines. Trust me, he was hardcore about coloring in the lines. If he thought you were “fibbing” you would have to stick out your tongue and he’d tell you it turned black from the lie you told. Hey, I was little.
As you grow up things you found endearing and natural start to become annoying. My mother got the brunt of it, but Poppy didn’t escape unscathed. He would come downstairs often to visit or have coffee with my mom. One afternoon I was lying in bed, watching television. I heard the thud, thud, creak, thud of his footsteps on the stairs. My mother wasn’t home and, in my selfish preteen stage, I didn’t want to be bothered. I could hear him coming closer, walking with his slight limp through the house. I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, I felt ashamed, but my newfound selfishness took over. I could feel his presence in the doorway. He watched me for a few minutes and then quietly turned around and left, traveling back through the house and back up, thud, creak, thud, thud, the stairs. I am ashamed and saddened, not because it hurt his feelings because he never knew I wasn’t really sleeping. I am ashamed and saddened because if he had ever found out it would have broken his heart. This was a moment of clarity for me, one that revealed that the world didn’t revolve around how people should make me feel, but how I should be aware of how they feel. Compassion was a lesson learned that day, along with an awareness of how my actions affect others.
Less than a year later my grandfather was too ill to make the trip downstairs or anywhere else for that matter. I spent time with him everyday during his long illness, mostly just sitting and watching him as he had done for me so many years before. I wish I could go back to that day and jump up with all my happiness and love for him showing on my face. Now, as a parent, I think about the day when my kids won’t want to spend time with me or will find me a bother. Just the thought of it weighs me down and leaves me breathless.
I wish some people who are in my life now, like my children and my husband, had a chance to meet him. I wouldn’t pretend to sleep now. I would stay awake as long as I could and just color in the lines.