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Death of a Chieftan

On April 1st of 2004 I recieved a phone call from my Mother. Since we rarely talked, I assumed that she had revived her ambition to pull a great practical joke, as she did about every 5 years or so. I didn't pay much attention to the tone in her voice, thinking she was going to do something to pull my proverbial chain.

"Amanda" she said, sounding rather morose, "Your Grandfather just died." Thinking back to when my Grandmother died just 6 weeks before, I didn't think this was a very funny April Fools Joke, but I laughed anyway.

In the year 2007 my grandfather had been given 2 weeks to live. He had been diagnosed with conjestive heart failure, emphazema, lung cancer, skin cancer, and numerous other ailments. At my Grandmothers funeral in February of 2004, I learned something about those two weeks I may not have ever known.

"Bob," my Grandfather said, speaking to my father, "don't expect me to stick around." I could tell even from the other room that my father didn't know how to respond. He had been standing beside my Grandfathers wheelchair in the living room at the time. I turned and watched from the dining room, worried. My father knelt down beside his father and took his hand.

"I know, Dad. I know."

Had my Grandfather been a little younger or my Dad been a little older, they could havve passed for brothers. My Dad just looked like a younger version of Grandpa. Even the sadness in their eyes mirrored one another at that moment. I'd never seen my father cry in my life, but as I stood there watching from a distance, I watched him wipe his face. My Grandfather put his free hand on my Dad's head and I saw his shoulders heave in a heavy, silent sob. My heart broke watching that powerful man I knew as "Dad" begin to cry.

"Bobby," my Grandfather began, "all those years ago when the doctors said I wouldn't survive, the only reason I did was because of her." He took a breath here. He was easily winded and relied on an oxygen machine, as he had done since 1997. "While I was sitting there in the damned hospital, she came in to visit me." Another breath. "I thought I was going to die at any second." He coughed, out of breath.

"Dad," my father said, "take it easy. We can talk later."

"I know - but I need to tell you." He managed to curl the corners of his mouth up a little. It was the most of a smile I had seen on him in a long time. "I was happy to see her. I always loved Irene, Bobby."

"I know you did, Dad."

"Well, she yelled at me that day and it broke my heart," he said. My father looked appauled. Before he could ask why she would have done something like that to him, my Grandfather continued. "She told me right then and there, 'Sherm, don't you die on me. I can't live without you, so don't you die.' I figured I had something worth living for."

My father choked back a sob. I knew why. That was exactly how he and my mother felt about one another.

"Well, Bobby," my Grandfather continued, "my reason is gone now." He must have seen the look in my fathers' face, or noticed that he had started crying harder, because he continued after a minute. "Son, it doesn't mean I don't love you any less. It's just," he paused, "Well," he took a breath, "you don't need me. Not like she did." He smiled, patted my Dad's arm, and said finally, "I don't want to live without her."

I sat at the table for many hours that night, hoping and praying to someday find a love like that. As they prepared his suit for the funeral on the following day, they pulled out several items from the pockets; old tissues, an embroidered handkerchief, a brass colored pill box. The last of these items somehow found it's way into my hands as I sat there.

I ran my fingers over and over the wooden four-leaf clover hand carved on its surface. I thought about that conversation between my father and my grandfather for hours. Without paying any attention, I absent mindedly felt one of my tears trickle down my cheek and drop from my chin, landing squarely in the center of that four leaf clover. I wiped it off and set the tiny box back on the table. I sat looking at it for a long time that night, remembering childhood Christmases with my Grandmother and Grandfather. I remembered random visits, though there weren't as many as I would have liked. Somehow I remembered this box from my childhood. He once held it in his hand when I was just a kid. It was a distant memory, and try as I might I couldn't recal the details, but I knew he had held it in his hand. I reached to take his hand as we walked and my hand had touched the wooden and metal surfaces of the object. I remember thinking it was pretty, and then he tucked it away in his pocket. Until that night, I never saw it again.

"Manda?" My mother asked from the other end of the phone. "Are you still there?" Tears had begun streaming down my face. I realized that it wasn't a joke. I sat down hard.

"Yeah, Mom, I'm still here."

"Manda, I'm at the house now and people are going to start dividing things up tomorrow to begin cleaning stuff up. Was there anything of your Grandfathers that you wanted?" Disgusted, I couldn't answer. How could they start dividing his things up so soon, wanting to each have their own piece? No, there wasn't anything of his I wanted but the memories he had given to me as a child. I paused. I thought.

"Mom?"

"Yeah, Honey?"

"There was a pill box with a four-leaf clover. If you can find it, that's all I want."

My mother found that pill box, and through a stroke of luck it ended up in my hotel room the night my uhaul was stolen in July of 2009 and I still have it. It's kept with my most precious posessions and the only thing to be found inside is a diamond necklace pendant - the only diamonds I own. Somehow it reminds me of him - a diamond on the inside.





April 1st, 2004


April fools day, only this isn't quite a day for jokes.

I've made several attempts to write everything I remember in my live that have stuck with me, be it exciting, interesting or funny. This attempt, though still to early to tell if it's a success, was prompted by a family tragedy.

Six weeks ago, my grandmother passed away and I flew from Los Angeles to New York for the funeral immediately. As much of a tragedy as that was, the true tragedy was in the passing of my grandfather this morning. Both of them were fascinating people with many wonderful stories of their pasts who never got a chance to tell them to the world, or more importantly, to their two great grandchildren. It struck me that these two would never hear the stories of Grandpa's trips around the world during the Korean War, stories of the cabinet making he did all over the state of New York, or the embarrassing stories of my fathers childhood.

I don't want the stories I have to tell to die with me. I have too much to say not to write this journal. My only son deserves to at least know that I tried. I have a lot to tell him. Honestly, I have a lot to tell anyone who will listen to what I have to say.

I've made a lot of mistakes, told a lot of lies, and done some very stupid things. In writing this, I hope that perhaps my son can learn from my own mistakes. This isn't a told-you-so storybook. There's nothing fictional I will ever write into it's pages. It's not something I'm writing to try and clear my own conscience. This is the truth; the untold stories I once swore to myself that no one else would ever know. I wasn't always a good person, and I'm far from being proud of it, but I'm not so proud as to hide my past from those I love any longer.

I suppose my grandfather was a huge inspiration to me, as well as my son. Still, along with the two of them, my inspiration has come from my mother and father, my grandmother, and everyone in my life I've ever loved and adored.

Or hated.


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