My grandfather was a great man. An artist, veteran and Freemason. He was quiet but kind, stern but loving. He died when I was only 10 years old but I remember everything about him. When I close my eyes, I can see his round, happy face, full cheeks and large glasses. I can hear his laugh.
My grandparents lived just up the road from my childhood home. We visited often, having our 4th of July BBQs in their carport. My grandfather parked his station wagon in the driveway to make room for the tables and chairs. I can still smell the navy leather of those seats and feel the soft material under my hands. The dark wood panels of the wagon reminded me of the wooden dresser in my bedroom. It was a big, old car. He used to affectionately refer to it as his “boat.”
My grandfather’s garden was magical. Lined with perfectly flat, slate stones, I used to pretend I was a princess frolicking on the grounds of my castle. I played for hours in that garden while he kept a watchful eye from the walkway. He always sat in the same plastic, white chair beside a small table. That’s where he smoked his cigarettes and kept an eye on the neighborhood. His fingernails were always dirty and his hands were rough. I remember looking at this fingers and thinking how big they were—like the breakfast sausage my grandmother made us every Saturday. My mother told me they were “working man’s hands.”
My grandfather was extremely talented in the arts. He drew gorgeous black and white photos of beautiful women. I remember their large, black hair and how seamlessly each line blended into the next. Their lips were shaped perfectly, as was the bridge of their nose. They had impeccable cheekbones. I didn’t know if these were portraits of real women my grandfather knew or just ones he imagined, but I never asked. My favorite of his pictures were the ones he made with dots. Thousands of tiny dots of different colors, all placed so close to one another you didn’t know where one ended and another began. The glorious pictures he created were mesmerizing. He made dozens for himself and one especially for me: Alice and Wonderland.
But drawing wasn’t his only talent. My grandfather was as much an expert with a scroll saw as he was with a pen and paper. I probably didn’t fully appreciate the extent of his woodwork at the time, but now several of his pieces decorate my home. I run my hand across the top of the small end table he made and close my eyes. The smooth finish feels just like the smooth leather of his station wagon seats. The dark wood of the table reminds me of the wagon’s wooden panels. Tiny bow-tie accents can be found on each leg, but only if you know where to look. It’s like a tiny secret he left just for me.
I wish my grandfather had the chance to meet my son. They would have been instant friends. My grandfather loved a good joke and chuckled at everything. My son has that same goofy personality. He’s an entertainer and loves making people smile.
But unfortunately, the two will never meet. My grandfather left this earth long before my son entered it. But that doesn’t mean my son won’t know him. He knows him through the stories I tell, the pictures I show him and the art that hangs in our home. He sits intently, asking countless questions as I share stories and memories of my time with my grandfather.
Recently, during one of these encounters, my son said something that both shocked and amazed me. I had just finished a story about a fishing trip my grandfather took me on—the story was both silly and sweet. I noticed a perplexed look on my son’s face and asked, “What are you thinking?” My son said, “I know him, mommy. I know grandpa Hal.” I smiled. “I know you feel like you do and I think that’s wonderful.” I stroked my son’s cheek and smiled at his innocence. He feverishly shook his head ‘no.’ “No, mommy. I really do know him. He lives right here,” and with these last words, my son placed his hand on his heart.
And I cried.