Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Final Visit to My Grandfather's House

I have not stepped foot in my grandfather’s house, at least that I can remember, since his death from colon cancer at 89 in 1995. But my memory is a trickster, as those who know me well often point out. So it is possible that I returned at some point in the 15 years since the Masons helped lower him into the ground a few miles from his home in Greggton, a suburb of Longview. My father’s remains rest in a mausoleum a few hundred yards away, a plaque up on a granite wall.
My mom plans to join him there, name already in place, date left blank. She is definitely in no hurry, which is a good thing, of course.

I have no intention of being the third generation to be interred below or in a third floor compartment above in this cemetery. No way. Those in charge have been instructed to scatter my ashes along Lady Bird Lake in Austin — which used to be called Town Lake, the piece of the Colorado River that winds through the city. It’s home to my favorite hike-and-bike trail with the downtown skyline as a backdrop.

The trail here in Junction City along the Republican River, off the Washington Avenue entrance to Fort Riley, is also quite beautiful — and not a bad place to have one’s remains turned into dust in the wind, to steal a song line that fits, given where I now live. But it would require quite a journey for the few who might want to remember me, so I reckon my ashes will end up back in Texas.

Sorry to be maudlin. Visiting the now-empty home of dead relatives does that to a person.

My grandfather’s widow, his third wife (he outlived the first two — no divorces in his past), died a few weeks ago at 97. She lived in the modest ranch house my grandfather bought in the 1950s until a stroke felled her. Death followed in a few weeks. That’s not a bad way to end a long life, I figure. My aunt — my late dad’s sister — was in town with one of her daughters, Reneé, to settle matters and put the house up for sale. She invited my middle brother Scott, also in town for a visit, and me over to see if there was anything in the house we wanted as a remembrance of our grandfather.

Reneé, my first cousin, and I have never met. Aunt Gail has lived in San Diego all of my life, and that’s where her children were raised. The one time Reneè was in Texas to visit, about 17 years ago, my mother inexplicably forgot to tell me, even though at the time I lived a mere 60 miles away. Our family’s communication lines break down in the oddest ways.

We all got along famously at this ad hoc reunion. Aunt Gail is 75 but neither looks nor acts her age. She generously treated us to a Cajun seafood meal at Johnny Cace’s, a venerable eating establishment in Longview that was a favorite of my grandfather’s, who was buddies with its longtime proprietor. I went to high school with Johnny’s son and daughter-in-law, who now run the place.

Then we returned to 805 Stewart Street, where two worn recliners sit facing the television and the fake fireplace with the gas logs in place. I can picture my grandfather, a gregarious man with a bald head, big belly and a jolly laugh, sitting in his recliner while Lorraine, his new bride, perched in the chair alongside. She was beautiful and vivacious, an excellent cook. My grandfather worked at being an excellent eater, so it proved a successful alliance. I looked forward to being invited to Sunday after-church dinners there, on those special occasions, such as Easter.

The house already has the look of a place looted, which is inevitable. My aunt, cousin and Brent — Lorraine’s only living son — have begun the cleaning-out process. Most of you reading this have been through this before, for a parent, spouse, sibling, someone for whom you cared. It’s a hard task. I know; my brothers and I went through this for my parents a few years ago.

I didn’t really “want” anything. But Brent had saved me a wooden clipboard that was my grandfather’s. It is made of varying strips of hardwood — probably red oak, ash, walnut, maybe poplar. His name is scrawled twice across the back, once in black ink, another in red. The clipboard comes from the Globe Wernicke Company in Cincinnati, a famous supplier of office furniture.

That clipboard will suffice, along with the tiny crescent wrench I used to take down the “805 Stewart St” metal sign my sign-painter dad had created for their front-yard light post years ago, which Scott wanted. I have my memories and a photo of my grandfather in his Boy Scout uniform, when he was in his final years as a professional Scout executive.

That’s plenty.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, June 14, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I have so many memories of playing in Great-Grandpa's beautiful back yard, pretending I was in Mary Lennox's secret garden.