|Narrative Essays Are about Capturing Memory|
He mixed up his verb tenses, an error not easily overlooked by an English professor.
"Your grandmother makes me eat bologna sandwiches every day for lunch," he said. I remembered him telling me that when he told me about working for Chrysler. He retired in the 1970's.
"I have an airplane, and I can fly anytime I want to," he said. He'd used his G.I. Bill benefits to get a pilot's license.
When he made these verb tense errors, my grandmother would make a sour face and sigh. Sometimes she'd change the subject or ask him what he wanted for lunch. Sometimes she'd get mad and start coughing.
"Nothing with garlic. You always use too much garlic. And no beef. It's too tough. You make it too tough," he'd say, which was odd because I'd never heard him once criticize my grandmother's cooking.
I could guess it was Alzheimer's. In addition to the dementia, his knees were hurting constantly, and he was having trouble moving around. He napped on and off all day in his chair. On one of the last mornings I visited, he was sitting at the little dining table, reading the paper and drinking his coffee in his plaid bathrobe. I sat with him to make small talk, but after a few minutes he took my hand and said it "was terrible." "It" was like dreaming all the time, never knowing what was real and what was a dream, he said. I looked at our hands. His thumbnail was very flat, with ridges and a small crack. The nail was a little too long.
When I was quite young and there were no such things as car seats, my grandparents used to take us to yard sales on weekends. We went once to a yard sale at the trailer park where my grandmother's sister lived. On one of the folding tables not being swarmed by grown-ups, I saw a crocheted pig with the saddest face I'd ever seen on anything or anyone. It was love at first sight. Neither of my grandparents realized how much I loved that pig; maybe my grandma thought she could make me one herself, and maybe papa thought the same. We left without the pig. I cried silently most of the way home. My grandma turned around and asked me why I was crying such big crocodile tears. I told her I wanted the pig. Papa turned around, and we went back for the pig. My dad and I dug that pig out of attic storage the last time I went home.
I'm starting a new full time teaching position, and lately, I can't stop thinking about my grandfather's hand, his thumbnail specifically, the way it looked when he held it that last time I visited. I can't remember if I said anything special, or if we just went back to small talk, but I do remember thinking of that moment in the back of the car, with that lump of sadness in my throat, crying big crocodile tears. If life would let us turn around go back for things, like we went back for that crocheted pig, could I have spent more time with him or said something worth remembering? The reality is that we can't go back, not in that sense, no matter how badly we hurt.
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Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.