Growing up, I had the full complement of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and God only knows what else. I loved them all, but not necessarily equally.
Parents aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I guess it’s OK for kids, and when I was a kid Grandpa P – my mom’s dad – was my favorite. He always seemed bemused by my affection.
When we got to Grandpa P’s house, I’d run through to the living room and wrap my arms around his big shoulders and give a gentle squeeze. He smelled of Ben Gay, coffee, and bacon…no matter what time of the day it was. If he could stand straight he was taller than any man I knew, and most of it was in his long, skinny legs.
I knew rheumatoid arthritis was why they’d moved into town from their ranch when my mom and all but a couple of her sisters and brothers were grown. I knew it was why he moved slowly and had a special chair in the living room.
But, as a kid, I didn’t really see the pain. When we played cards, I saw that his gnarled hands seemed custom-made to hold the slippery rectangles. I saw that they cupped perfectly around the bottom of the cup we used when we played dice.
We moved away when I was thirteen. Thirteen’s a bad age to be uprooted. I was leaving behind the few friends I’d managed to make as an awkward, painfully shy tomboy.
My sister and I joined a youth group at our local YMCA and two months later we went to a camp in Michigan with them. For the first time since we’d moved, I relaxed. I had fun.
I expected to see my mom waiting in the parking lot when we got back, but she wasn’t. Dread started sending cold tentacles into my stomach as time passed and neither of my parents came.
Finally, a vaguely familiar car pulled into the parking lot and one of our neighbors got out. I didn’t really know her, but she explained to our chaperone that our parents had asked her to pick us up, and she’d forgotten.
A million questions swirled, but I couldn’t make myself ask them and she kept silent.
She drove us to her home, next door to ours, and helped us carry our bags into the living room. We sat on the couch, and she sat on the chair across from us.
“Your mom and dad had to go back to Wyoming. Your grandpa died. We’re having macaroni and cheese for dinner.”
She looked at us as expectantly, so I said the only thing that came to mind.
In that tiny pause before she answered, I was aware that part of me was thinking, “Please don’t let it be Grandpa P.” I was hoping it was my other grandpa…I was horrified, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“Umm, I think it was your mom’s father.” She told us to take our bags up to her daughter’s room, and she left to start dinner.
I put the bags away. I ate. I went to school. I hugged my parents when they got home.
I didn’t cry. Ever. I couldn’t. The tears were sharp pieces of ice in my heart. I was being punished for that terrible hope.
Almost a year later, I walked back into Grandpa P’s room for the first time and smelled Ben Gay, coffee, and bacon…and finally the ice I’d been frozen in ripped a hole in my heart big enough to let the tears out.
This post is my response to a prompt from Write On Edge (which used to be The Red Dress Club) – our assignment was to write about our worst memory. I didn’t pick my absolute worst, but on a pain scale of 1 through 10…this was about a twenty-five. It was years before I could forgive myself for that moment that I wished my other grandpa – who I also loved very much – was dead instead of my Grandpa P. I didn’t feel like I deserved to mourn the way I saw my mother mourning, so every feeling I had simply froze until his familiar smells broke the ice.