“I have all these memories, I don’t know what for
I have them and I can’t help it”
~ Sun Kil Moon, “Like the River”
“George: That’s not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I’ve seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that’s my other grandfather, but he’s my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone’s entitled to two, aren’t they?”
~ The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night”
My friends will sometimes talk about their grandfathers as if they are gods. They’ll share stories of love and fun and good times. And I am always jealous.
I can barely remember either of my grandfathers. They both died when I was young and they both were sick for most of my life. I had Grandpa Ball (my mother’s father), simply called Grandpa, and Grandpa Edwards (my father’s father), always known as Gramps in our household. Whenever I hear stories told of these two men, I always feel a pride in the fact that I am related to them by blood. But I can barely remember them. And this breaks my heart.
As I’ve said, both men were sick for most of my life. I don’t think I ever saw Grandpa walk. The only time I ever saw Gramps walk was when he would walk from his chair to the kitchen every night to pour himself a bowl of cereal.
I remember my Gramps chair. I remember thinking it was a sin for anyone other than him to be sitting in it. I sat in it after he died, and immediately got up. I vaguely remember sitting on his lap when I was young, the smell of medicine and the touch of calloused hands.
I remember when I first heard Gramps life story. It was the life sung by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. It was the life of a working class hero. I remember hearing stories of a strong faith in God. I remember a quiet old man with a raspy voice. I remember a man who loved his family. The nativity story on Christmas morning. Grocery shopping on a hot summer’s day.
I remember the day Gramps died. And that’s the most vivid memory of all. Leaving school early. Arriving too late. Leaning on my father’s chest. Lifeless body on the bed. The bed I used to sleep in. Children crying in the backyard. Emotionless. Confused.
I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stories and vague memories.
Memories of Grandpa are even fewer. I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t sick. I remember a stupid knock knock joke I would tell him, and he would laugh every time. “Knock knock. Who’s there? Tommy. Tommy who? Tommy ache.” And he would laugh and laugh. I know that he loved me. I know I loved him. I remember my grandparents’ home up north in Roscommon. It was like a second home to me. He was sick every time we went.
I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stupid jokes and sickness.
I never said goodbye to either of them. I can barely even remember their voices.
It’s 4:30 in the morning right now and I am crying. I couldn’t sleep because the memory of these two men wouldn’t leave my mind. I barely knew them, yet I love them more than anybody that ever lived.
Sometimes I wonder why God would choose to taunt me with friends who tell me stories of their loving grandfathers. Sometimes I think God is the cruelest person in existence.
But then memories of these men come and haunt me. And I know that, though they are gone, they have made me a better person just by being there. And I know God wants me to celebrate what I had… what I have.
Maybe someday I’ll have children. I will tell them the memories I have of my grandfathers. I will tell my children they come from the two greatest men who ever lived.
Maybe someday I’ll have grandchildren and I will be a grandfather myself. And maybe my grandchildren will look up to me as a great man. Maybe someday they will want to be like me. That would be the greatest honor. And that is all I want.