A character sketch of a real person I wish I had known better.
Roy was my grandfather. I am trying to think if it’s anyone’s fault that I did not know him better. How well does communication ever cross that much generational gap? I remember behaviors, but I was always left guessing as to what they meant. My grandfather is a series of snapshots in time.
In my childhood he was the smallish, white haired man who sat reading in his chair in the corner of the living room. We visited for Sunday dinner every week. While the adults visited or napped, I would read exciting stories in Grandpa’s Sports Illustrated and do sketches of deer.
His other place was a certain chair at the table – always the same one. The refrigerator was behind him, with the radio on top of it. Before meals, he would come in from working outside and wash up at a small sink just inside the kitchen door. His razor strap hung on the wall beside the sink. He would look at himself in the mirror on the wall. These snapshots do not have words to go with them. I don’t remember hearing him speak – ever, although I’m sure he did.
Although I don’t remember him laughing or talking with me, I don’t remember him as being fearsome or unkind either. I have no idea what he thought of me. He evidently did not mind having me around because I remember being allowed to go with him and Grandma to visit relatives overnight.
As a teen, I was often at my grandparent’s house but grandpa was usually outside working in the barn, fixing things. I would be sent to fetch him for a meal. Did I ever wonder what he was fixing and ask him questions? Should I have?
He let me use his car on the day I took the test for my driver’s license. His car was newer than ours and had an automatic shift and power windows. I had not driven it before that day and had no idea how to release the parking brake. I didn’t pass. I wonder if he was worried about his car. He must have cared about me to let me borrow it.
When Grandpa started having trouble with macular degeneration he got even more silent. He didn’t talk about it in my presence but he began to seem frustrated and angry from that time on. He couldn’t read anymore and couldn’t drive (legally). When Grandma died, he still insisted on staying on at the farm. Sensory deprivation may have been taking its toll on him, hastening signs of dementia. Someone would stop in and set out some lunch for him, which he would eat. Someone else would come a little later and set out lunch for him again. He would eat that too, and not recall having two meals.
My father was very close to his dad and was worried sick about him being alone. I tried to have Grandpa spend time with me and my family, but that ended up with him being frustrated and embarrassed. One day he went into the bathroom and couldn’t remember that the light switch was on the wall. It was dark, his eyesight was poor. He flailed around with his hands where he knew the fixture was and hit the hanging lamp and broke it, sending glass all over the floor and counter. He was so upset he stomped out of the house, across the field and up to the woods. Dad had to hunt for him and bring him back.
Grandpa finally, unwillingly, submitted to moving into a care center. Eventually he broke a hip and died from complications. I don’t know if my grandfather was satisfied with his life, whether he had hope for a life after death or any relationship with God at all.
They say that everyone you ever meet in life has a part in making you who you are, even apart from genetics. I think my time with grandfather has made me want to notice the young people around me and make sure they can know me if they want to. I’m going to write and talk about how I feel about life, my relationships, my faith. I don’t want my descendants wondering who I was.