You were always an “old man”, to me, even though you were only maybe 50 yrs old at the time I was born.
It has been so long. I sit here now, eyes welled up, trying to recall my earliest memories of you. They come to me scattered and in little flashes. It’s important to me that I finally write them down, because you are gone now, and I don’t want to lose these memories forever.
One of them being how you taught me to curse in sign language & to say “shithead” in German. “Scheißekopf” which I just now Googled for spelling purposes and have learned it actually does not fully translate as such in German, but is more of a slang term. I wish I could tell you I learned this today. You taught it to me maybe as soon as I could coherently speak. I remember saying it often-always to get a laugh out of you- so much so that eventually it became a nickname, a term of endearment. I’d call you a “Big Baboon” when you’d chase me around the house making monkey sounds, and youd respond with some form of “Come back here, scheißekopf!” If I’d say it back– id get a hearty laugh from you, which was always my goal.
You were always telling me this joke, one I didn’t quite understand fully as a child but you thought it was funny, so I thought it was funny, and Id ask you to tell it quite often. I think I more so enjoyed the way in which you told it. It was about a radio program, “The Shadow” voiced by Orson Wells, with another man saying the signature line at the end of each program, “Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?….. The Shadow knows…” So apparently one day, this gentleman became ill or something and did not have a voice, he could not say the signature line, “Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?….. The Shadow knows…” This was a dilemma, I was told, because Orson didn’t want to cancel the show at the risk of the disappointing listeners, but he also couldn’t say the line himself as his voice did not match. Aware of the dilemma, a young, uneducated african-american boy who helped around the radio station, who listened to all of The Shadow programs and knew all the lines, offered to say the line in this man’s place. He claimed he could mimic the exact voice, and would read the program in such a way that no one would know it was not the original guy. Skeptical, but with not much choice, Orson had the boy read some lines, and was delighted to find that the boy did indeed sound like him, and their plan would not be found out. Time comes for the program’s end and the boy says “Who Knows What Evil Lurks In the Hearts of Men?…. The Shadow Do…” I can’t remember how old I was when I thought of this joke again and the punch line finally dawned on me to be slightly racist, but was harmless and all meant in good fun. I know by that time, we no longer saw each other or spoke. But I wish I could tell you that I’ve heard reference to that very radio program and have had to fight the urge to retell this joke you’d tell me so long ago.
I remember you always sitting up in your room, or on the living room floor, legs crossed. Actually it was always called “the parlor”. Another other-worldly memory to me, referring to the rooms in the home as the parlor, the den, the cellar (not living room, office, or basement). Makes me feel like I lived in a different time period. I wish a movie could be made about it all.
I remember you were very very strong, always exercising and lifting weights.
I remember your glasses.
I remember thinking I could be in the Guinness Book of World Records by trying to make the longest paper clip chain to ever exist. You were supportive and collected them for me whenever you saw them. Youd keep a pile waiting for me to clip together when I’d come over. Soon your room was strung up everywhere with a never-ending chain of paperclips that no one was allowed to move or touch. You guarded them as if they were just as important to you as they were to me. Maybe they were.
I remember you having to take pills and vitamins and seeing them all over the place thinking it was so much. chalky textured ones and gel capsules. I even remember the sound they make rattling together between your tongue and teeth as they sat in your mouth waiting to be washed down with a gulp of water.
So many vivid miniscule details I remember so clearly. It scares me to remember less and less of them. This life I describe seems sometimes like one I saw in a movie, not one I actually lived and experienced. So foreign when I think about it, like it happened in another dimension. Yet, still so familiar and warm and fresh, when I remember these little details, or a color or a smell. I wish they were collectible fragments of the mind that I could keep in a box and take out to replay on a reel. I am desperate not to lose them all. They are the only things now that keep me connected to that life so long ago, the only things I have left of the two most important people to me at that time.
I remember one year I colored Easter eggs and made one special for you. I must have made you promise to keep it and you said ‘Forever’. Little did I know you were serious about that and kept it well past its expiration date in this antique stone or marble box with engravings on it. I still remember what the box looked like, and eventually smelled like- a rotten Easter Egg. I remember every day going to check the box to see if it was still there, only to lift the lid and get smacked in the face with the horrible smell. “You can throw this out now, Papa” Id urge at this point. “I will keep it forever!” you’d say, and I’d think you were crazy, but it showed me you loved me so much to be willing to deal with this gross egg. It proved to me what everyone always said– I was the favorite. I wish I had taken the time to make sure to tell you how special a time this was in my life, with you and Boppy. I never got the chance to tell her, and I should have learned from that and made sure I told you all of this. I failed to do that too. I hope wherever you are, you knew it already. But with the way you lived at the very end, I am realizing you must have felt so rejected and lonely, and it completely breaks my heart.
I remember riding front seat of the Jaguar & the Cadillac in the middle between you & Boppy, seldom with a seatbelt.
Another story you’d tell me over and over is how one time I had a semi-loose tooth, and we were in your room inspecting it. I faintly remember the incident. You made a fist & jokingly said you could knock it out if I wanted. I remember you wore big rings, some square-shaped, some oval. dark charcoal and amber colors. you brought the fist up to my tooth, and with a ring literally quick jabbed at my tooth and knocked it clear out–blood pouring from the gaping hole. “Its gushing blood, Papa!” i yelled over and over, as you belly laughed deeply, getting a kick out of this.
You’d also always do a “magic” trick with numbers that had me convinced you were a genius. It was to think of a number, any number… then you’d call out a series of instructions (add 10, multiply by 2, subtract 7 etc etc..) The very last instruction would be to subtract the very first number i thought of, and EVERY SINGLE TIME you would get the same answer as me. Being so young I didn’t realize it was simply always whatever number all the instructions equaled to and didnt matter at all which number i had initially picked because it was being subtracted at the end anyways. I thought you were the smartest man in the world, and so cool that you were MY grandfather.
I remember knowing from a young age that you were extremely intelligent. But I also knew from a young age that you were someone to be feared. I had witnessed things that made me fearful of you sometimes. I had heard things I probably shouldnt have heard being so young. I don’t want to write them here, not yet anyways. I feel it is in some way disrespectful at the moment. But these things existed and were very much real. One thing in particular became the catalyst for us not seeing or speaking to each other in about a decade.
The incident happened in maybe 1997 or 1998 and tore the family as I had known it up until that point, completely apart. You had messed up big time, hurt Boppy. This was the final straw for everyone, and an ultimatum was given to Boppy: you or the kids & grandkids, she had to choose. After that, you were no longer welcome to live in the house with everyone. The only place you could afford to be at the time was a horrible motel off the highway. Boppy still took us three to see you despite my parents demands for us to be kept away. She would sneak us three over there, and then sometimes just me, whenever my sisters would spill the beans. I was still fearful of you, after what had happened, but I still wanted to see you. By now though, I was also being told by my parents “You better not be going to see Papa!” as if I had any actual control over that. Or “Dont get into a car with him!” “If he shows up at your school, you tell the teacher!” This caused serious conflict constantly–not wanting to go against my parents, but also not wanting to refuse, or cause a scene to refuse to see you. At this point, you had also began to say things like one day we would run away together and live on a farm with horses. Part of me loved the thought, but more of me feared my parents reaction. I dont hold any ill feelings to my parents for this now, but giving me unrealistic responsibilities I had absolutely no control over was a very common thing for me growing up, and has caused me to be depressed, or to feel like a complete burden & have severe anxiety pretty much my whole life. I wish this is something we could have discussed now that I am an adult. We could have, I realize now, had I not continued to distance myself from you over the next decade.
I can’t remember the last time Boppy took us to see you before she died. By then, I was a teenager concerned with friends and boys, not with keeping track of how often I saw my grandparents. This would prove to be one of the biggest regrets of my life. Again faced with another unrealistic responsibility, and being told I’d be losing my cellphone if I were to once again allow Boppy to bring us to her house after school instead of to the library as instructed by my parents earlier that morning. Every other morning I was given the same instruction to which I happily ignored for a chance to go to Boppy’s house, but this time was different with the leverage of the cell phone being held over me. What was a 16 yr old girl without her cell phone? (“Fine, and one with a living grandmother”, I now punish myself with as an adult).
But nevertheless, this day, March 14th 2005, my precious cell phone was at stake, and no amount of convincing or begging from my grandmother would get me to budge. I was not going to lose my cell phone, and I was not going to be in trouble for disobeying orders and going to my grandma’s house. And oh boy did she ask me to. Over and over said “C’mon we can go to my house and I’ll make yous something to eat.” After a few attempts of this, I snapped at her. I really felt she didn’t take me getting punished seriously. I was actually mad at her for that. “She knows how my parents get on my case” I thought, “why would she want me to do something knowing I’ll get in trouble?” I told her we MUST be dropped off at the library like my mom said to be. She pulled the car up to the front to let us out. She got out to give my sisters their bookbags and to give us hugs goodbye. I was mad so I ignored her. I walked away from her and didnt say goodbye or even look back at her. It was my last time ever seeing her, ever hearing her voice, ever having my sweet sweet grandmother, my Boppy. She died suddenly the next morning and my soul was crushed. The pain of knowing how i treated her was agonizing. IS agonizing. I’m still not over that day. I can only pray she saw past my stupid hormones and teenage asshole behavior and knew with all her heart that I loved her so dearly, SO fucking much. But I was convinced God had punished me for being such an immature piece of shit.
After that, things were such a blur. I remember being nervous to see you at the Funeral and the wake, so I must not have seen or spoken to you in quite some time. I don’t even recall speaking to or acknowledging you during the services. I had just lost the most important person in my life, and you were no concern of mine. Now looking back, I wonder if that was painful for you. There must have been so much rejection towards you as you tried to grieve. It hurts me now thinking about it. I wish I had been older and more mature to realize it back then. I wish I had realized it even 11 days ago. Even 11 days ago I had the opportunity, and I didn’t seek it. These are the regrets that now fill my mind. Should Have’s, Would Have’s, Could Have’s… I hope now that you are gone, God has forgiven you for all you sins and you are once again with this beautiful, graceful woman. The thought of it brings me temporary comfort, before the regrets seep back in to darken my soul.
The next time I saw you after Boppy died, was not a pleasant memory either. Word got around that you had stolen the memorial plaque Uncle Paul had made for Boppy’s cemetery plot. It said “Beloved mother…” with her face etched into the stone. You also had her maiden named scratched and carved off of her headstone. Mary Adele Vivian Walton was her maiden name and she wanted it on her headstone. Both of these things you did hurt a lot of us, and the adults complained about it non-stop…yet when I asked if someone had yet confronted you about it—no one had, and further than that, had no intention to do so–they said you wouldn’t care and it wouldnt make a difference. I think I was 19 now, and this made me livid. Were you trying to hurt us deliberately? I, for one, took comfort seeing that plaque with her face on it at the grave site. You did not purchase or create that plaque, and I wanted it back. I argued with my mother and Aunt Jen, calling everyone cowards for complaining but not standing up to you. In a heat of the moment decision, I decided it was me who had to confront you. Someone had to tell you that what you were doing was causing more pain on top of already losing someone so special that no one has even remotely gotten over yet. I remembered your new address at an adult community from when you had sent me a letter for my birthday years before. I got in my car, alone, and headed for your complex, and i was heated and determined to give you a piece of my mind. I wanted you to know that I remembered all the terrible things you did, and I wanted to tell you how it made everyone feel. I believed it was time for you to hear it.
When I reached you apartment I had to be buzzed in. The minute I gave my name, I could tell you were shocked yet seemed happy for the unexpected visit. Looking back now, it hurts to think that you were excited or hopeful to see me–maybe you thought I was there to reach out and connect—-that maybe your favorite granddaughter finally wanted a relationship again. This hurts my heart now, knowing I was there with a vengeance, and was not looking to reconnect. I was there specifically to avenge my grandmother and her plaque. I remember you actually looked happy and just so surprised to see me when you opened the door. It gave me a lump in my throat that I quickly dismissed. I couldn’t chicken out now– I came here for a reason. I dont remember how I started talking or what I said, but I know I had an attitude. This quickly displeased you and the look on your face changed from happy and hopeful, to disrespected and pissed off. I think we even raised our voices because I remember you calling me a ‘little bitch’ and said I had no clue what I was talking about. When I realized I wasnt getting through to you on how much the things you had done have hurt the family, I decided to stick to getting the plaque back. I told you how taking that plaque hurt me and my sisters and my cousins, though I’m not sure any of them actually cared except me. You seemed to soften then, and eventually gave me the plaque to take back home with me. You said for having the guts to come get it, I should keep it. You also asked me to come back sometime, to which I said I would. I never did though, not once.
The next time I’d step foot in your apartment complex would be just this past Saturday, about 11-13 years later, to clean and go through your things now that you’re gone. Why didn’t I go? You lived TEN minutes away. Why didnt I go? Why didnt I make the effort? All the times, all the years passing your street, and I never stopped by like I had said. How was I so oblivious to all the failures I was making all these years, only to realize them now that it’s too late? I am sorry. I am so deeply sorry.
I did get to see you a few times in the last 2-3 years though, at no effort of my own. Had it not been for Jen maintaining her relationship with you, I probably never would have seen you. You got to meet my son, your great-grandson. I watched you with him and wondered if it reminded you of your days with a young Me. Jenna was now your favorite little granddaughter, and that made me happy too, knowing it must have brought you so much happiness to be close to a loving, little person again. You also brought up to me all of our infamous inside jokes I mentioned all throughout this post. Maybe you had thought I forgot all about the jokes and the stories, but I never did. I wish I could have told you how I truly thought about them all the time. I never once forgot my memories with you, not once. I wish I took the opportunity to tell you all of this. I know now that it would have made you so happy to hear me say I still cared and cherished all of those memories, even all the years where we didn’t speak, I still wondered about you, still remembered all these things vividly. I’d give anything just to rewind back 11 days, show up at your front door, and blurt out everything I’ve held in my heart for you all these years, despite all your wrongdoings. I didnt realize but I forgave you long ago. I wish I had let you know. But once again in my life I’ve dropped the ball and the opportunity is long gone, never to be had again. All im left with now are the memories and also these regrets, as well as a newfound constant fear of who I will lose next.
When always asked what my “biggest fear” was–i’d say something ridiculous like “spiders”… its only now in my 30’s do I fully fear death and dying. My relatives are all getting older. I have one living grandparent who is not in good shape and who I struggle to see. My parents are getting older. My sisters are getting older. I have a child now who needs me, alive. I walk around with constant worry for all of them. Even now a constant worry for myself which was never there before. Everytime the phone rings at an unusual time of day, I am frightened and my stomach ties up in knots. I know eventually all life must end, but I don’t know why it is so hard for me to accept. Is it the permanence of it? The fact that when a life ends, usually everything else dies with it? The memories, the accomplishments… no one is erecting statues of these people who no one else knows even if they are or were at one point the most important people in someone’s life… I think if I were a billionaire I would have a shrine room in my home with life-size wax figures made of all my loved ones who die. Everyone else would be creeped the hell out but I would literally have a room of them all, positioned and seated in ways how I remember them the most, with some of their personal belongings or things of theirs I now own as keepsakes, next to them. Everyone would think im a weirdo and would disown me and I’d surely die alone with my billions and my wax figures, haha. But the amount of physical loss i feel, the actual ache and yearning in my body for just one more moment with everyone ive lost, has done something to me that I dont think will ever be undone. I worry for my sanity as life unfolds and I lose even more….