I have, maybe a hundred times, maybe more. Growing up I’d visit my grandparents, sneak behind their couch in a tiny space between it and the bookshelves, move dust bunnies, and bring a lovely blue volume off the shelf. I’d sit and I’d read, and I always finish it in one sitting. I think I read it on the old swing, on the porch swing, in various beds, and maybe on a couch or two. I don’t remember being very obvious about it. I remember it almost as a secret something, sneaking the book off the shelf, maybe even hiding it under my arm to sneak away to a reading spot. But someone knew I read it. Maybe the secretness of it was entirely imagined? Maybe it was left in my room every time I went back home? I’m not sure how, but my Grandpa knew I read it. And he gave it to me, as a goodbye present.
(Original Cover, picture from Wikipedia)
My Grandpa must have known for a long time he wasn’t at his best. Maybe he was planning his event for a long time. Maybe he knew he was getting old, and just wanted to say goodbyes before the inevitable came. Everyone dies, he knew he wasn’t any different. His event was that he killed himself. Or at least that’s what other people consider his big event, I consider his big event to be the memories he made, to say goodbye to everyone.
My Grandpa was a yard fanatic. You rarely saw him sitting on anything but his lawnmower. He planted nearly 20 acres full to almost bursting with plants. He was, so I hear, a meticulous farmer. To be honest I don’t know what my Grandpa actually did for money, to me he was always retired. I know all my cousins seem to barely remember more of him then rides in the wagon his lawnmower pulled. I know the final picture I ever took of him, the one I would give anything to have turned out better, he was riding his lawnmower and waving his arm like he was a cowboy. He didn’t like a single blade of grass out of place. He worked from the time he woke up, at noon in my lifetime, to well into the night, working, planting, mowing, chopping. But my last visit with him, he did something that to this day nobody believes. He gave me a shovel, and a metal detector, and sent me to town. To town on his meticulous yard. When I found a BIG spot of beeps, he helped me. We dug up buckets of stuff, “pirate treasure maybe?” We left a huge hole in the ground. We got a vintage license plate, some glass shards, pottery shards, several old car parts, essentially a small junkyard. He let me do something that was so outside the norm, and something I will never forget.
Then before leaving he told me, “You love this book, you should have it,” and as I walked to the car, my last visit with him, he handed me The Animal Family. I read it several times a year. Late a night, tucked in bed, or on a chair, alone with my thoughts, my memories, my memories of Grandpa.
And I’m not the only one he said goodbye to. He took my Aunt and her family out to dinner. My Aunt, who is as unsentimental as one can be, later went back and asked the restaurant for a single cup, to remember it all by. I’m not sure what, if anything, he did for some of my cousins. But I know what he did for me. I know that when he “did what he did,” as I so often hear when family can’t bring themselves to say “committed suicide,” he wasn’t in his right mind. He wasn’t the Grandpa, or Dad that we had always had, he was different. And maybe that’s why he said goodbye, he knew he was different. Maybe he knew it was on his mind, and his mind wasn’t strong enough. But I prefer to think about the other stuff.
The fact that I seem to be the person to know why he smoked a pipe. The only person who knows how to drink “chocolate milk black.” The fact that I am one of the few who has the strength to say “He wasn’t in his right mind, and he killed himself.” And especially to ponder, how did he know I love that book!??!?! 20 something grandkids, most of who he saw more often then me, but he knew me, I was the one that loved that book.