I didn't know my Mom's father very well. Every memory I have of him I can count on one hand - and yet he left a powerful impression on me.
My earliest memory of him was a time he babysat his grandchildren, including my brother, my cousin Michael, his sister Shawna, and myself. Gremlins was playing on the TV and we were at my crazy Uncle Mike's house. The adults had all gone out together and we were told to stay inside... that's about all I remember, other than his bony fingers jabbing me as he patted me on my back. He clearly loved his grandchildren and we loved him in return.
Fast forward a few years... Dad had a year remote tour in Alaska and we couldn't go with him, so Mom moved us kids to Arkansas so she could be near her family. Looking back on that time now, I realize what a basket case she was then. I imagine I would be too if I had two children around me all the time and no spouse to help me take care of them at my age now. She was right about 30 years old then. I'm sure we drove her crazy.
We often spent afternoons and evenings at her parents house. By then my grandfather had already begun to forget many things. His mind was beginning to slip and occasionally he didn't know who he was anymore.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," he said one day while we were visiting my ill grandmother. Mom sat on the side of the bed taking care of her, feeding her soup. Grandpa had been sitting in the living room quietly watching TV for a while when suddenly he got a lost look in his face and stood up. He wandered into my grandmothers room. "I don't know where I am or how I got here," he paused and swallowed, "but if you let me stay the night, I promise I'll be gone by mornin'."
It was a very sad moment for my mother. I remember her crying over that day. He didn't know who he was or who the woman was he married and spent more than 35 years with. It was a devastating day for us all, and we knew then that his mind had really gone.
Over the years he had occasional moments of clarity, but they were so far and few between that I never really got the chance to know him. We only lived in Arkansas for that one year in my youth, and even though we went over there often, that's the only clear memory I have of him. That, I feel, is an absolute pitty.
The last memory I have of him while he was still alive was during my mothers 20 year High School reunion. My cousin Michael and I had stayed home with Grandpa because someone needed to be there with him. Otherwise he was prone to strip naked and wander down the street, wondering where he was. I wish it were something I could giggle about, but it got quite serious.
Michael and I were sitting on the couch. Grandpa was beside me and had been quiet for hours. It was fine with me, he didn't know who I was anyway. He hadn't known my name since I was around 5 years old. I was a complete stranger to him at 15 years. Suddenly, he spoke up.
"Who are those two little boys over there?" Since he often mumbled to himself, I took that moment to be that exact thing, his ramblings to himself. I didn't respond.
"Who are those two boys," he asked again after a long moment.
"Grandpa," I said, looking over towards the kitchen table where he pointed, "there aren't any little boys over there."
A few more minutes of silence followed before he spoke again. He mainly mumbled, but after a few minutes he grew loud enough to understand.
"Who are those two little boys over there," he asked me again, this time jabbing me in the ribs with his elbow.
"Grandpa, there's nobody over there," I said again, slightly annoyed.
"Yes there are," he said. "There's two little boys."
"Grandpa, there isn't anyone over there."
"Yes there are!" He was starting to get upset and I contemplated going along with it just to make him feel better. Just about the time I was going to say something, he continued. "Manda," he said, shocking me beyond belief, "there are two little boys over there, and they BOTH have wings!"
My jaw fell open and chills ran down my spine. I fell silent, put an arm around his tiny shoulders and held him tight for a long time. He patted me on the back.
"You're a good kid," he said. "I'm proud of you." The clarity in his eyes faded, and I knew once more that he was gone.
When Mom came back that night after her reunion, I had waited up to tell her what had happened. She fussed at first because I was still awake, but when I told her what happened, her eyes teared up and she stared at me in silence.
"It won't be long then," she said to me. She hugged me tightly and walked away. She couldn't look at me for a little while.
That year on my 16th birthday, he finally passed away of natural causes. Though I didn't know him, for some reason I feel like there was some kind of a connection between us. My 16th birthday should have been an amazing day. Some of my friends brought me cards and gifts that I loved, but I couldn't shake the melancholy feeling I was getting. It got stronger as the day went on. By the time my parents brought lunch to my school from Wendy's I knew deep inside that something was wrong. I couldn't explain it - I just knew.
When I got home, they came clean. They didn't want to ruin my birthday so they wouldn't tell me, but when I saw Mom watching old home movies looking for clips of Grandpa and talking on the phone to an airline rep, I knew what was going on. Dad told me and I cried, but suddenly the whole day made sense. I understood then. I didn't cry for too long - I settled. I've never before or since excepted a death that easily.
The story doesn't end there though... I never expected it to happen, but I saw him once more.
In the year 2000, on September 1st, my life took a dramatic halt - and I do mean halt. I died three times. Three times I was brought back by the doctors in an emergency surgery. Yet only once did my brain register any of this. It was one simple dream through all of it for me, as they fought for hours to save my life.
Far off in the distance, I saw him walking towards me. He looked exactly how he did when I was so little, when he was elderly but healthy. He walked with purpose and a slight swagger. He smiled that broad smile he had, and the right eye squinted a bit. There was no mistaking it, that was my grandfather under that brown fedora.
"Well Kiddo," he said to me when he got close, "ya ready to go?" I was puzzled.
"Go where, Grandpa?"
He looked me up and down a long moment. He smirked, smiled, and patted me on the back with his bony hand once more. I felt the knotted knuckles thump my flesh on my shoulder. It was painfully wonderful.
"Naw," he said in that familiar southern accent he had, "you aren't ready." He smiled at me once more and nodded his head towards whatever lay behind me. "Go home, Kid."
I woke up in the hospital at that moment and looked up into the red and crying eyes of my Mother and Father.
"Hi, Mom," I said. "Hi Dad." That was about all I remember. I passed out then and woke up two days later with both of them close to the bed. They never left my side.
I never had the heart to tell my Mom about that dream. I've never forgotten about it, and I know I'll remember it for as long as humanly possible, but I'll always believe that he chose me for a reason. He loved me for who I was.
And he sent me back for a reason.