A few days ago we were driving along the pine and oak dappled streets passing the brick and wooden houses we pass everyday on the way home. We saw ranchers, split levels, and A-frames as well as the odd gentrified monstrosity that was formerly a 50s, 60s, or 70s styled family home but is now some garish example of conspicuous consumption out of place among the two and three bedroom homes in our neighborhood. Those houses. Damn, they reek of pride and anticipation that soon, very soon, they shall overcome their common surroundings occupied by elderly holdouts and first time buyers as if they are a giant extended middle finger to those adjacent and across from their projected omnipotence.
We rounded Teller Lane turning left as we passed the soccer and basketball goals in the yard of the family on the corner.
She was beside me in the passenger’s seat and had not said much since I liberated her from those dastardly day care teachers—she hates daycare because they only give plain chips for snack, and though I appreciate her sentiment since I’m no vanilla chip fan, I’m glad her primary school stressor is chips because the pending divorce keeps her sufficiently distracted, confused, and just plain sad. Typically, she is abuzz with grade school drama or wiped out from hard play—she is a self professed tom boy after all; however, today she was a bit pensive and hesitant. I could tell something was clearly on her mind, and it appeared she was working out how to unwind the thread of thought as if in some Theban labyrinth. I prompted and prodded her about her day without getting overly interrogational. She is adept at avoidance.
She could sense our proximity to home meaning dinner anxiety, homework, and distraction combined with parental tension. Quickly, and in a sense angrily, she unburdened herself, “Why don’t I have gandpas?”, she asked. Her shoulders slumped forward slightly but her eyes engaged mine—as if my eyes regarded themselves—in fixed, intense precision awaiting parental profundity.
I was not surprised by the question. She has asked it before and asks some form of it regularly. Perhaps, after learning to live in two separate houses as opposed to the one she’s known for seven years, she hoped to immerse herself in the past longing for heritage’s familial fealty; or, she could have merely been curious. Who truly knows the motivations of others much less those of the ones we love, and I love her to the moon and back which obviously means I’m an utter failure at discerning her unstated motivations.
I navigated these waters when the man-boy—your grandson is 16, 6’5’’, is a brunette Pa, and I’d describe him as an old soul if I believed in one—was growing up, and I attempted to answer his inquiries with honesty as opposed to supposed soothing southern platitudes ending in “better place,” “God’s ways are…” and/or “you’ll reconcile one day.” Yet, he knew his mom’s dad, had a close relationship with him for seven years, and, therefore, knew life with a cantankerous yet playful grandfather. Michael’s death was the first man-boy experienced and it shook him terribly just as the recent death of our traditional family shakes my daughter who’s now the Inquisitor.
Prior to having my own children, I seriously studied and in some way practiced how I would answer the inevitable questions. Unlike the deaths of other forbearers, details of yours are as loaded as the gun that killed you. I knew I had to tell the grandchildren the truth at some point, and, if nothing less, thought a written record would best address the problem of evil I had to narrate. In the event I croaked prematurely, I wanted them to hear the stories from me—or in my words, but never mustered the courage to write the answers until now.