I wrote this this evening after my grandfather visited for lunch. I'm not entirely sure if this is what the community is looking for as far as stories goes - this one is true. You can comment if you like. No title yet, but if anyone has a good idea, let me know. Here it is:
My grandfather came over for lunch today. He shuffled into my kitchen, smiling, but quiet. His arms went out to hug me, and I hugged him back. But his hug was softer than I remember it used to be. And he thanked me for having him over, in a way that sounded desperate; as though nobody wants him anymore, and he was grateful that I had wanted him here.
I showed him around our house. He was excited for me, that Deke and I have a home of our own now. He congratulated us and said, “Ah, it’s so good to have your own place. You get to make it up exactly the way you want it, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.” I can’t remember if he said it or not, but I know he was thinking of the joy he had owning his house many years ago, and how good it was to have something that was his, and my grandmother’s, and being able to decorate it just the way they wanted. He is happy for us, that we get to do this now.
After an awkward moment in the living room, when I was catching my mother up on the new end tables and realized that my grandfather probably couldn’t see them and know what I was talking about, we made our way to the kitchen table for lunch. My mom had brought the pizza and sodas, and I set the table with paper plates and plastic cups. My grandfather found his chair with a little prompting from my dad, and we began to slice the pizzas up.
My father reminded me to get a fork and knife to cut up my grandfather’s food. As I went to the back room to gather up the utensils, I thought how sad it was that he couldn’t chop his own food up; couldn’t eat a pizza slice the way we all would anymore. I brought the silverware back and we all pretended that I hadn’t needed to. My father cut Grandpa’s pizza into small bite-sized chunks after asking which kind he would like, the chicken and bacon or the cheese and green pepper. We’ve become studious to ignore these small differences. I am not sure who is more uncomfortable about them – my grandfather, or us.
We sat and chewed and made small talk. Grandpa sat quietly, his eyes seeming even more distant with the fog of cataracts over them. He seemed small in his chair, like a child made to sit in uncomfortable silence. He mostly listened and didn’t speak. He held his left hand, now numb from many strokes, on the table beside his plate.
I wondered at how frail his hands have become, and how his skin was like paper these days. These same strong hands had once lifted me up to grasp onto the rings he had suspended in his garage. Even when I couldn’t hold on any longer, Grandpa’s loving arms would buoy me up and he’d pretend that I had lifted myself there all on my own.
As my mother and I chatted about the weather and my brother’s school schedules, Grandpa’s hand suddenly lurched, and knocked his soda cup over. Fizzy Sprite streamed over the table, under the pizza box, and towards my mother’s plate. He was embarrassed. “Oh, this clumsy hand, I’m so clumsy,” he muttered. “All this pizza grease, my hand slipped.”
It broke my heart to hear him say these things, because I knew that underneath his joking, smiling voice that made light of the event, he felt that he was clumsy, stupid and a burden. He continued to apologize as we mopped up the soda. We tried to do it quickly, so he wouldn’t feel so badly. I got my mother another plate, we moved the pizza box, and rescued some of his soda before it had dumped out completely.
The conversation started back up again, and we finished our pizza. I saw my grandfather look down to the table at his hand. I imagined what it would be like to lose my own hand, and yet still have it uselessly attached at my side, getting in the way at odd moments. I felt such sadness in my heart for him. And I also though that he is still the noble and gentle man he was in my youth. Perhaps we all wear a disguise in our elder years, to contrast with the memories we have of ourselves in our past, to keep us humble. But I couldn’t imagine my grandfather needing a dose of humility. Sometimes life just is.
Once the pizza was finished, I offered up some cookies. Everyone but Grandpa had one. I am not sure if he was full, or just didn’t want to wrestle with the task of holding a cookie and eating it. Cookies are just large crumbs waiting to happen, and I think he had perhaps had enough of messes. I thought that if the soda hadn’t spilled, he might have been up to having a cookie, and the embarrassment of my father wiping the crumbs off of him afterwards.
Since lunch was finished, we all stood up and began clearing the table. Grandpa said that he was ready for a nap, the food had been so filling. Truthfully, I could have used a nap, too, and said so. “Our couch is comfortable, if you like, Grandpa,” I said. But he shook his head and laughed.
My father offered to help me fix the leak in our washer downstairs. As I began to hunt for the tools we’d need, Grandpa mentioned in a meek voice that he was rather full, and wanted to go back now, if my father didn’t mind. He seems to prefer to return home after eating these days. Without a structured activity, I think he feels lost. My dad nodded, and said of course he’d take him home.
Again, there were hugs, and thanks for the invitation. I must have gotten thanked about ten times as he walked out the door, led by my father down the stairs. I felt at a loss. I wanted for him to truly understand how much I want him here. That I need no thanks at all for having him visit. That I am the one who feels bad that I haven’t called very often, and that I can’t think of things to say when he is here, either. Just having him here is enough. I tried to express it. All that came out of my mouth was, “I love you, Grandpa.”
He smiled, shook his head and said, “I love you, too.”