I’m in Boston for my grandfather’s service today. Per his request, it will be a low-key affair. Being the exceptionally organized person that he was, my grandfather had planned 95% of the service himself before he left, leaving envelopes to pay his taxes, money to take the family out to dinner after the burial, and strict instructions that we are to finish off the cognac before we leave.
It’s a bittersweet time. He was the last of my grandparents, and with him passes an era. Or, as my dad so eloquently put it, “Guess this means I’m next.” (Thanks Dad.) I stood in my grandfather’s front yard yesterday, shivering in the chill air as I looked around at the yard that had figured so prominently in my youth. I stared at the driveway, trying to reconcile the empty expanse of grass with the lush gardens I had run through on a daily basis as a kid. As my grandparents got older and it became harder to do yardwork, their gardens and shrubs and trees were slowly removed; but since I had by that point moved to the other side of the country, the changes hit me abruptly as I only saw them in two or three year increments.
What was once acres of grass occasionally dotted with housing had been replaced over the years with rows of houses, as the neighbors sold off the land to be parceled off to developers. This, too, was strange to my eyes. My aunt opened his front door and led us in to a house of shadows, my nose assaulted by that smell that was so singularly THEM, the smell that had always defined their home, a combination of apple cider, wood beams and pipe tobacco.
“Let me know which of their things you might like,” she said, as I walked into the kitchen, running my fingers over the vinyl chairs I spent untold hours in, most of it eating. Unlike the yard and the rest of the world, my grandparents’ house was exactly as it has always been since I was born, from the assorted crosses and various depictions of Jesus dotting the wall to the crocheted dolls from the old world on the stairs. All the exact same except, of course, for its defining characteristic, the warmth of its occupants. I took in every detail and every item and knick-knack, not as an inventory but in a last attempt to take it all in, to make a mental image of the home in its entirety, which is the only thing I wanted to take from the home. Memories, intact. It will be the last time I walk there.
From that perfectly preserved home I stepped back outside to the yard both familiar and foreign, straining to remember the time my grandfather brought a deer home from a hunting trip, dressed it in the garage, and watched in bewilderment as I ran screaming down the street. (My uncle had told me they had Bambi in the garage.) As much and as admirably as they had managed to keep their home so phenomenally consistent and reliable over the decades, time comes along and forces us to change, like it or not.
And that is one of the sad truths it’s easier not to spend too much time dwelling on, so of course the first thing I did after that was call back home and get an update on the goings-on of the kids and the dogs, which are, at least for now, consistent, predictable, and comforting. My son was eating. My daughter was eager to talk. And Brody….well, god bless him, Brody was Brody.