Christmas Eve I finally asked my grampa some of the questions I have had on my mind for the last two years. Since my nana’s death he has retreated to a quiet place. His world is getting smaller. It’s about two miles wide. Just big enough to visit his brother and sister a few streets away and to make a daily stop at the cemetery.
Stories about my grampa’s younger years aren’t quite legendary. But close. There was the time he got drunk with his sailing buddies, decided Seattle sounded nice, and wound up with a hangover on the West Coast. Then there was the prank he pulled in Provincetown, prying open manhole covers along the strip and yelling encouraging words to the man swimming the length underneath. The crowds of Cape Cod tourists had no idea there was no one down there.
He now spends most of his days looking out the front window, monitoring the street. Waiting for something to happen.
My grampa has had hearing aids for the past three decades, but he recently stopped using them. They’re broken. But he makes no effort to get them fixed. He doesn’t really remember that they don’t work.
My mom frequently mentions how he is changing.
“I wonder if you will notice a difference in him,” she said before I got home.
I didn’t really want to admit that I did.
He has almost no short-term memory now. I knew from our Sunday conversations that he repeated himself. That it took him two or three times to commit to memory when I am coming home. That I am not there yet. But eventually he stops asking. And then I don’t have to feel so bad.
“I am going to lock you in the house so that you can’t leave,” he said the day before my flight to Boston.
I blinked and swallowed. Blinked and swallowed.
I know he’s sad. Several times I have tried asking how he is doing. But the words don’t come out right over the phone. He can’t really hear what it is I am asking.
My parents tell me that he has a routine. Go to the grocery store. Buy bananas, bread, and hotdogs. Every day. If only he could just remember to eat.
If only he had someone left to remember the good old days with. The last of his friends died last month.
“It’s like a different life,” he said.
My grampa often forgets what day it is. He picks up magazines he looked at twenty minutes before. I don’t know if he is reading the articles of just flipping the pages. He cannot remember to take his pills. Or what he had for lunch. But he still knows what is important. He knows that my nana’s birthday is the day after Christmas. That she isn’t here. And that she isn’t coming back.
“If it weren’t for my kids I’d go bananas,” he said. “They know what it’s about. They want to help me.”
We are sitting at the kitchen table. Everyone is in the family room. I recognize this is one of those times where his mind is sharp and he feels like talking.
Do you think about nana?
“Often,” he said. “Often.”
He paused and folded his hands. His fingers are three times as big as mine. Worker man hands.
“I got to the cemetery almost every day,” he said. “It isn’t far. It doesn’t make a difference, but it makes me feel better. What can you do?”
I look at the table. I don’t know.
He wishes my nana didn’t go first. He regrets that she got sick. But he knows there is nothing he can do to change how life unfolded.
“It was just the two of us in that house,” he said shaking his head. “What are you going to do?”
People start filtering back into the kitchen. Our moment is over.
I got my grampa a bird feeder for Christmas. A big red one shaped like a barn that he could hang outside his back window. He smiled when he opened it.
“It will give me something to do,” he said.
I hope so.