Hard Candy: Grandfathers

Albert lives on a boat. No, this is not another column about boats and mooring fields and city council. It’s about Albert. Well, it’s about Albert and my own grandfather.
Albert’s grandson is coming to visit next week and spend a few weeks with Albert, just the two of them on Albert’s little sailboat. And at the end of their time together, Albert’s grandson will be forever changed, although he may not realize it for another 30 years. Going cruising with his grandpa, watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, seeing the Green Flash, and, most importantly, getting to know his grandpa as a person—these will all leave Albert’s fingerprint on the path of his grandson’s existence.
Albert’s taken some time off work to get his boat ready, and while he’s certainly too close to my age to remind me of my grandfather there’s something familiar and touching about the way he’s talking about his grandson coming to visit, how clearly excited he is to have this vignette of time carved out for him and his grandson.
Grandpa Henry taught me how to play poker and gin (because every preschooler should know that a full house beats two of a kind) and would play just about any game I asked, even Monopoly (which every adult knows is the world’s most boring, never-ending, punishment-for-a-thousand-sins game). He took me to the pool and helped me perfect an underwater handstand (thirty-odd years later and I’m actually still quite good). He picked me up from school when I was sick and gave me ginger ale and McDonald’s. When I slept over he made me Howard Johnson Corn Toastees and slept on the couch so my grandmother and I could watch The Love Boat in their king-sized bed.
In another life Albert did some pretty amazing stuff out west. One day he realized that, as amazing as his life was, it wasn’t the one he wanted anymore, and drawing on some wellspring within that so few of us possess, he chucked it all, bought a boat, and changed his life.
As I got older I had less time for royal flushes, pool sessions and sleepovers but I still saw my grandparents regularly. I would sometimes bring them a pizza on Friday nights. I never thought to ask my grandpa anything beyond how he was feeling and what he was watching on TV.
By my twenties I’d realized that he wasn’t going to be around much longer. A few years before my grandfather died I gave him a tape recorder, some blank tapes, and a list of questions about his life. I knew he was a crew chief in the Flying Tigers but not much else. I wanted to know more but couldn’t be bothered to sit down in person.
While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do—lord knows I’ve mucked up enough of my own life without playing around in anyone else’s- I hope like hell Albert tells his grandson everything about his life, even the stuff Albert might find boring. Even if the kid rolls his eyes; even if his grandson shoves an MP3 player under his nose and tells him to record it for him.
Grandpa Henry used to give me things—costume jewelry he found at garage sales, a button he made, coins he picked up during the war. He used to call me “Kit Cat” and sit on a bench at the mall for hours while my grandma took me shopping. As an adult I see these actions for what they are: indisputable proof that, even though he only said it to me once, he loved me more than any man other than my father ever will.
I know almost nothing about him.
After Grandpa Henry died we found two bronze stars that no one—not even my grandmother—knew anything about.
I never found the time to listen to those tapes while he was alive and after he died it took me a while to work up the courage to hear his voice again. I should have asked him those questions face to face, because my grandfather recorded shockingly little, talking about basic training and the places he was stationed in the war. He was particularly proud that, as crew chief, his crew only lost one man in the Pacific. I have no idea how he felt about going to war or if he was scared or angry or too ignorant to be either.
He did not mention the bronze stars.
I’m so proud to be his granddaughter and someone he deemed worthy of his love and affection (even if only by virtue of my DNA), so sad that he never told me more about his life, and so disappointed that I never thought to ask. I cannot do an underwater handstand without seeing his face and I cannot eat a Corn Toastee without crying. On the rare occasions I go to the mall and see an old man sitting on a bench, I am lost.
Over the next few weeks Albert will share his life with his grandson, who will remember that slice of his life forever. I envy them so much and I hope like hell that Albert’s grandson holds fast to every moment of his time with Albert, because whether he knows it or not Albert’s grandson will remember this trip when he’s an adult trying to navigate his own life and make the best decisions he can.
I hope that while they’re watching the sunset one night Albert’s grandson looks over at Albert and sees a man rather than a grandfather. I hope they annoy each other. I hope they argue. Most of all I hope that when it comes time to say goodbye Albert’s grandson sees Albert as a man with a vast store of experiences that shaped him into the grandfather who loves him enough to give him part of his life instead of the annual Christmas card and birthday check.
Because those are the good bits that only a grandpa can give, and you don’t get a second chance.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.