I wore his ring today and played the guitar he gave me (sweet yard sale find on his part!), and thought it was finally time to honor him properly. This post is available on Medium here: link
My Grandfather Through Fire
My grandfather was a good person when I knew him. He wasn’t a great father, had a problem with alcohol, was a workaholic, and failed miserably at protecting my mother from the abuse of her own mother, my grandmother. He divorced my grandmother, but was unable to help heal my mother’s trauma from her cruel homelife.
Welp, you can’t win them all.
He was still the patriarch of the family, and although I didn’t see him much when I was a child, he always treated me kindly. He was on his third wife when I knew him, and she helped him get his finances together and his drinking under control. It was too late for his liver, sadly, but she was a positive force within his life.
He never could quit working and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. After every retirement, he found a new job. When he could no longer be the fire chief at a station, he became an instructor at a fire college. When he wasn’t working there, he was selling real estate. On the weekends, he attended yard sales like it was a sport, and in the process, amassed a large collection of musical instruments, camera equipment, electronics, and old vacation slides from families he never knew.
The slides were my favorite. One of the best afternoons I spent with him was watching family photos project in succession onto a white screen. With every click of the carousel, we watched people visit The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Cypress Gardens, and a few less-specific locations.
The difference between my grandfather and the rest of my family, was that I never felt like I had to earn his love. Somehow, he just understood how to talk to me, but then again, he could and would talk to anyone he came across.
My mother didn’t share this bond. She could talk to anyone, sure, but she always had this way about her, a tinge of anxiety that infected everyone around her. The abuse she rendered onto me was horrific, and for that, she owns considerable real estate inside my head. Even when around the calming force that was my grandfather, she was at the mercy of her own abuse-pattern programing.
With her, the tiniest instances were uncomfortable to say the least. One time, my grandfather suggested that we go get “smoothies.” Instead of smoothies though, he meant “milkshakes,” and because he said the wrong word, my mother got weird about it, which is the kindest way to describe her behavior. All of a sudden, it was my fault we couldn’t get any frozen treat, because she went on and on telling him how I didn’t like milkshakes. Note, this wasn’t a true fact about me, but I went along with it. She gaslighted me constantly, and by the time I was 8 or 9 years old, I learned to stop fighting back. I let her define everything: my emotions, likes and dislikes, beliefs, and most of all, my reality. It was just easier to let her have control. But come on, what kid doesn’t like milkshakes?
I think of him more now, than I did when I was younger. He was an amazing person, despite his faults and flaws. He was always in a community, whether it was for work or his various hobbies. Like me, he always had his hands in something different, had a unique ability to connect with those around him, and had a penchant for overwork. Also, we both always liked little dogs.
In “How is Your Heart?” Charles Bukowski wrote:
“what matters most is
how well you
walk through the
My grandfather had some very bad times. His struggle with alcoholism, the psychological effects of active military service, and his first wife’s chaotic personality and irrational actions, were a bad combination that caused him to suffer, until he eventually pulled himself together and walked through. He understood how to use those times as fuel for his future. Instead of wallowing in the mess he made, he became a better person.
When I met him, he was already on the other side of the fire. In my own life, my mother started the kindling early, and he only got to know me in flames, coal, and ash. Now that I’m out of the worst of it, no longer living with the constant consequences of my poor, immature decisions, and no longer cowardly blaming others, the smoke has begun to clear.
I feel we have more in common than I once would have thought.