Grandfather’s Silent Salute

Terrible news; it came to me

I tried to dodge– not successfully

I fell into a pit of darkened blues

of pricks and sticks and sob-laden cooes.

I know they say it comes in threes

but I can not take much more of these.

I fall on my knees

I’ll beg for mercy

but to whom I cry I fear’s a conspiracy.

Your body is worn

your spirit long torn

for many years I’ll continue to mourn.

Your hazel eyes have gone full gray

there’s nothing inside you that wants to play.

This game of life is a bore for you

yet day-to-day you continue to choose

Your fight is not done

Death has not won

you won’t break free of your misery.

— I love your strength, how you’re enduring the times

With quiet eyes, a gentle touch

not a word from you is ever rough.

How could it be–

why couldn’t I see

that I lived my life so selfishly?

I’ll miss you dearly

I saw it all clearly

— and it didn’t change a thing.

Then I saw you salute me

and all that polluted me

went with time in the wind.

My heart it breaks

my spirit shakes

I don’t want it to be true.

You’re a pillar of granite

a heart taken for granted

and I’m sorry if I took advantage.

Don’t think you’ll be gone when your spirit can fly

— I’ll be here to remember

A kid I’ll be

and you I’ll see

as the strongest man there could ever be.

Wilf_salutes

     I’ve been incredibly fortunate in very few areas of my life.  One of those areas is that I am 32 years-old and both of my maternal grandparents are still alive.  They are the only grandparents I’ve known though I’ve had two step families.  My mother was not the best daughter to my grandparents and because of that my relationship with them has always been thin.

My grandpa is from a generation that worked hard and pushed through any and every challenge.  He never backed down or away from a responsibility, even when he knew it would break him. When I think of my grandpa I think of honor and respect; fresh-cut green grass, blooming vegetable gardens and white undershirts with a pocket on the front. I think of his favorite recliner next to the radiator underneath the big window in his living room.  I think of football on the holidays and Wiffle ball in the backyard in the spring.  He had this bar which had this awesome orange and brown shag carpeting.  I used lay on the floor of his bar and press my palms flat into the carpet and watch the long strands of carpeting rise like fire between my fingers.  I liked to sit near the window of the bar in a chaise lounge and watch my breath fog out of my mouth because no matter what time of year it was, that room was always ice-cold.  His bar always reminded me that he would never let me know who he really was.

    He had an ashtray shaped like a naked pin-up woman with red (maybe blonde?) hair.  I remember being a kid and sneaking to touch it when no one was looking.  There was something about her exposed pink nipples that fascinated me. [I just tried to Google it; can’t find it.] I think it was porcelain because it was smooth yet hard; soft yet glossy.  A real piece of Americana; really.  That’s what his whole bar is: a celebration of his honorable duties served as a first generation immigrant (second? Third? I’m not sure when his parents moved here; before or after his birth). I didn’t realize this until the last time I saw him.  Ten years ago.

   Eight years had passed before that when I saw him last.  I remember as a kid, while I ran around with my sister and cousins during the holidays, he would stand in the entryway between the kitchen and hall where it split between the dining room, the bar and stairway.  He was always so quiet and patient as he stood there, his arm raised with his elbow resting coolly atop the refrigerator and the red top of his Marlboro’s peeking out of the breast pocket of his white undershirt.  He never commanded the room’s attention but you could trust him to be there. Ten years ago he couldn’t stand long enough to start a conversation, nevermind withstanding one with his arm raised all the while.

    He asked me if I wanted to join him to church while we were there.  He was just being polite.  I jumped at the opportunity.  I had never in my entire twenty-two years spent time with him alone.  Actually that’s a lie.  He picked me up once from school.  Ah, the way he drove! Steady and slow and soft.  Always so quiet.  But I was throwing up that day so…

    I went to church with him even though I’m not at all Catholic.  He was really surprised I wanted to go with him.  I even sat in the backseat. I’m not sure if that was for some misogynistic reason or if maybe he still saw me as a kid[?]. He told me in the most dejected way with his little Polish hat on his balding head that no one had joined him to church in a very long time.  When I asked about grandma, all he would say was “the church left its mark on her.  Don’t ask me to explain, just know what I mean.” And that was always my Grandpa:

Save us all and get it right the first time.

   Later that day he showed me pictures hanging on the walls of his bar.  I read all of his plaques, awards and photos as a kid but I never understood any of it.  They were just framed black and white photos.  Hearing him tell me what each one meant was my first glimpse into the silent man I knew would always be there…in the background, silent and tall and sturdy as fuck.  Then we finished nearly an entire puzzle in silence.  In his bar.  Just the two of us.  I felt like a child again and I never knew that I had these feelings in me towards him as a kid.  I never realized how comfortable I have always felt within his silent presence.

  I picked both of my sons’ names starting with their middle names first.  Skas is named after my father-in-law who committed suicide when Kasper was 17 or so (small town scandal).  JJ, has my grandpa’s name to complete his.  My grandpa shed two, two tears to learn that of his eight great grandbabies, the ninth would be named after him.  My grandpa is a stubborn old Pollock with silent emotions (in case I haven’t sent that message clear enough); for him to cry…it filled my heart with pride and joy to know I could give him this seemingly small and insignificant gift. A year later my mom sent me a picture of her and him smiling in a photo.  It just-so-happened that same week I took a photo of JJ with his head positioned in almost the same position.  I did some cropping, created a side-by-side and sent the image to my mom.  My grandpa has his own little twin.  JJ has the big floppy ears, the round bulb on the end of his nose and the arc of jolly cheeks beneath his eyes. My son was appropriately named and my grandpa couldn’t be happier.

   I send my grandparents cards for their birthdays, anniversary and Christmas.  I’m now the only card they get (they are very old).  My mom sent me a picture of my grandpa holding the card I just sent.  He’s in a nursing home.  He’s too old for them to treat his cancer properly.  They build up his strength to treat him; the treatment makes him sick so he goes to recovery to rebuild for more treatment. They have to cover his arms because his skin is thin and frail.  He’s in a wheelchair and he’s not happy.  That’s how he is.  He just wants to be home and let time do it’s thing.  He’s miserable but he refuses to back down from the fight.

  To see him salute me in the photo while he held my card, wearing his old man toothless grin that most thought could never be seen again…it was like seeing an entire life I never knew I lived with him pass before my eyes.  I rarely saw him once my mom blended us with Krank Ficken but when Krank Ficken was finally revealed to be who I always knew he was, my grandpa was right there.  He never spoke to me about it, he didn’t ask questions but the first look he gave me after the news was out…it told me he understood, he wouldn’t make me explain.  He saw my mark…he’s a man of so few words yet every one of them has meaning.  I wish I had understood that earlier in life.

I’m not very good at this.  Kasper says I feel too much too deeply.  I’m terribly sad about impending sadness.  I think he’s experienced too much loss to understand how I feel to have experienced so little of it.  I’m no longer sure it’s a blessing to hail from a family of such longevity.

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