Did I ever write you a letter while you were alive? I posted epistles to strangers with pretty houses, authors who penned fine tales, and friends from summer camp, but I don't think I ever wrote to you. In fact, I don't remember having a proper conversation with you until the months just before you died. When family gathered at your house, I always stayed near Grandma, who gave me "orange drink" (what was that, anyway?) and let me play with that battered Madame Alexander doll, whom I named Lyca, after the William Blake poem. You would sit by the television, only a foot or two away, because you were legally blind, and watch football or westerns. You and your television were equally inscrutable to me; I could imagine no entry, no opening words.
Had anyone asked directly, "Do you love each other?" I would have said "Of course," hoping they did not ask for proof. I had no proof, except that I was often sad when I thought how sad you seemed. And proof of love from you? For a long time I had only one story, this story:
I was seven or eight years old, and my parents left me at your house after Christmas. They were taking their students to an inner-city mission, and they thought it was too dangerous for me to come along. I did not want to stay with you and Grandma. Normally your house was full to bursting with aunts, uncles, and cousins, but on my own I felt lost in your house. There were rules I did not like, such as, "You may not eat outside of the kitchen," and the water from the faucet smelled of iron and I wanted to go home.
I remember sitting on the carpeted floor of the living room, leaning against the couch, wanting something--I don't remember what--but being too timid to ask. Suddenly you walked into the room and stood before me. Because I usually saw you sitting, you seemed so large standing -- tall and broad, a blacksmith's son. You had a plate of cheese, crackers, and sausage, one of your own favorite snacks. You set the plate down on the floor in front of me -- on the carpet, which Grandma did not allow. I asked, "Is it okay?" and you nodded. I would like to think you smiled or tousled my hair--it would fit the story well--but I don't think you did. I hope I said, "Thank you," but perhaps I really am your kin, and I had already learned silence from you. You left the snack and returned to your chair by your television.
Most snacks fade from memory with the eating, but I remember those crackers and sausage after twenty years. I remember because in that gesture you answered the questions I had been afraid to ask: that you noticed me, so quiet among the bustle of other grandchildren; and that, in that moment, at least, you understood that I was sad and you found a way to make it better. That you loved me.
Thank you for teaching me that doing a small thing in love can shatter darkness. Thank you for teaching me that the way we treat children matters, even when their sadness might seem slight or trivial. Thank you, always, for the cheese and sausage and crackers. I love you, too.
|My grandfather as a young man.|