I wish Alzheimer’s had a face to assault. A squinty, rolled-up, grimacing, smug mug that I could just knock into the dirt. Since it does not, I’m going to brag about what a complete and utterly undeniable giant of a man my grandpa is.
I think the worst part about it is the uneasiness Alzheimer’s instills. Presenting with such little indication and then swallowing a person almost entirely. I wish I could find solace in the fact that it can’t take my memories from me but I selfishly wish I wasn’t enduring losing someone while still having them, physically.
My paternal grandfather is one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. In my whole life of knowing him, this marks year number one where I’m certain he didn’t recognize his only granddaughter when I walked into the room. Which, I guess went both ways since I didn’t recognize him either. I tried to form an expression of marked understanding; “I-knew-this-was-coming” kind of thing.
Except I didn’t. A lot of hurt has come around in my life but this was a different breed. I’d love to be mad…hell, I AM mad. Here he is, mumbling incoherently. It doesn’t change the man my grandpa is. I just wish something would have held on a little longer…wishing for just one more lucid moment to tell him everything he ever was and is to me and to see a graciousness or even humbleness in his eyes. It’s a lot to ask and I know I can’t have it.
It never occurred to me until I was older that my grandparents on my dad’s side didn’t share blood with myself or my brother; if you asked me, I could have sworn we were woven from the same cloth. I came to understand that my dad was adopted and I shared no bloodlines with these magnificent people; there was nothing in their makeup that was mirrored in mine. Now, as I’m in my late twenties, I know I was still wrong; the best parts of them are in me. It’s not because it was passed the way things genetically are, it’s because when I was young, I saw things in them that I wanted to be. The good, the laborious, the kind-heartedness and the honesty.
My grandpa, Homer (sweet name, right?), is some kind of Indian. He says Mohawk…who really knows? High cheek-bones, smooth nut-colored skin, dark brown eyes, short in stature…kind of hard to not see. Couldn’t grow a beard if you paid him money.
He has what would qualify today as a Doctorate in Small Engines. He worked on railroads all over the country most of his life. I remember a story he told where he was electrocuted and his clothes had little holes burned in them. He was in the Navy and has some of the coolest photos of walls of ice shearing off glaciers. I learned about “Buzzbomb Alley” from his stories about WWII.
Every morning he’d wake up around 0600 and play several games of solitaire against “Old Saw.” Any card move was made with such deliberation and time spent one game would take him an hour or two. Always ate his oatmeal with “blackstrap” which, I’m fairly certain, was molasses that had nearly gone solid. You basically had to persuade it out with a knife and chisel. Grandpa said that’s how you knew it was good.
And his garden. What a place. Beans, peas, berries, cabbage, tomatoes…anything. So many days my brother and I came into the house bleeding from scratches while walking and picking through the raspberry patch; we just couldn’t wait til they were brought inside (we kind of had to sneak because Grandpa said we ate too many of them). Inside the grassy patches of the garden were huge crab-apple trees (which, we inevitably tried to eat a few times, resulting in sour faces and also climbed, resulting in what we were sure was a broken back) and paths to walk through. We learned to walk carefully, to not disturb what looked like maybe just a dirt mound to us. “No, there’s a little sprout in there. You can’t see him now but we will soon,” grandpa said.
Sometimes grandpa would make drunken tomatoes, split-pea soup or strawberry and rhubarb pie. And after dinner, we’d sit around and watch Walker Texas Ranger and eat ice cream. Grandpa always ate his so slowly. I wonder if he enjoyed everything the way that us kids did because he did them so slowly and with such purpose.
A scotch-drinker. Not hardly ever in excess but I can remember the smell on breath when I hugged him goodnight.
He called me “doll.”
I know it’s not going to get better, I can’t be that naive. My grandmother is unfathomably strong about the situation; she’s not resigned, exactly but content to see him happy. They’ve been married 67 years.
And I sit here writing this, I remember his hats, the smell of the Wildroot he put in his hair, his laugh, his perfectionism and I’m smiling. I’m happy to have enjoyed him for so many of his good years but a little regretful I didn’t spend more time at his knee listening to what he had to say.
I know that it has to be ok because there’s no other way for it to be. I can tell his stories, immortalize him in writing and just be happy to still have him while I do. Sometimes I think he’s a bit more spry still than he lets us believe, though. Like there’s still a sparkle of knowing, small moments wherein he understands a little what’s happening…at least, I hope that. I’m allowed to hold onto that hope.
The last time I saw him, a little less than a month ago, I had to remind myself to be satisfied with just holding his hand and giving him a kiss on his forehead.
“I love you grandpa.”
“Well, you’d better.”
That’s about right.