Monday, May 18, 2009

Afternoon Whiskers

Today is my grandfather's birthday, always the day after my littlest sister's birthday. Easy to remember. So is my grandpa.

Today my mother is with my grandmother, who is in the hospital having surgery. While I am not happy Grandma is enduring painful medical procedures, I am glad my mother is there with her today, May 18th.

My grandfather was an amazing man. A unique man, a Renaissance Man. He was an educator, a boater and a sailmaker, a photographer, a literature lover, a carpenter, a tinkerer, a scientist, a philosopher, a kind and funny person, and a most unbelievable grandfather. It's one thing to be the kind of grandpa whose granddaughter--as a child--thinks he is magical, wise, and loving. But for me to recognize as an adult--nearly 23 years after his death--how lucky I was to have known him, and for his lessons to continue to inspire, is another thing. I wish my husband, a sailor, had the chance to meet him. I am fortunate my own daughters have magical, wise, and kind grandfathers.

My grandfather taught me to tell time on my first watch, a light blue Snoopy watch.

He collected model trains and devoted a room in the basement to his train set and the town it inhabited. I remember that room festooned with witty signs I better understood later on, like "I never make mistakes. I thought I did once, but I was wrong."

He taught me that I had eleven fingers by counting down on one hand: "Ten, nine, eight, seven, (other hand) five fingers...equals eleven!"

He came to visit us in Coronado when I was in middle school and set to work fixing our bicycles. I remember hanging out with him in the yard while he worked on one in particular, and explained to me that the circumference of the bike's wheel changed, in effect, with each gear change relative to a rotation of the pedal. I didn't understand what he meant until physics class in 11th grade. And even then, wow.

He taught me about the profundity of brevity. He cited the shortest bible verse: "Jesus wept." He pointed out that the bible writers didn't explain that "Jesus sat on a rock and cried," but communicated so much more in only two words. He connected that verse to one of his favorite works by famously succinct author Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Grandpa made me a red-velvet lined, almond-wood jewelry box as a gift one year. It's one of my most treasured possessions. On my right hand I wear a jade ring with two tiny diamonds that he gave my grandma.

Grandpa died as I was entering my 10th grade year of high school. One of the few but greatest regrets of my life is not being present for his memorial service. At the time, I was selfishly concerned with missing my debut into sophomore year.

In my freshman English class in college, British Lit, we were charged with writing a poem in pentameter. I wrote this poem about my grandfather:

Afternoon Whiskers
for my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother

Pausing by the edge of the pier, and a
shrilling gull aches my ear; the bow line thrown
slaps my skin and leaves a salty white blur.
And I, once driven by reminders in
touch, scent, and sound, have him here with me by
sticky hair, wet wood, the squeak of rubber.
I am back: in his lap, and he teaches
verses and symphonies and boats
while his afternoon whiskers sand my cheek.
The day they went (Now I picture black things…
black suits and cars and dresses, umbrellas)
and I didn’t, they read that sea poem,
without me. So now the San Juans lull me
and my guilt and my family and my
life he does not know but once lived so well.

1 comment:

kris said...

Beautiful, Jenny.