They always joke about looking at your audience and seeing them naked, or at least in some start of undress. This would not be one of those times. My family would be front and center, that’s just a picture you don’t ever want to have. And when you do find yourself seeing the real thing, hopefully by accident, you try your best to scrub it from your mental Rolodex of images. It wasn’t nerves about getting up in front of people are talking about him, it was mostly that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.
Calling it a contentious relationship would have put a more positive spin on things then they deserved. There were times when I couldn’t be in the same room with him and not think about wanting to strangle someone. If not him, my parents for having the nerve to ask me to show up in the first place. Holidays were the one thing I knew to expect, but random dinners were another subject all together. And eventually as I got older, I stop going to Thanksgiving opting to remain safely in another state away from the craziness.
But now was my opportunity to get up in front of a large group of people and either lambaste the guy or choose to tell some heart-wrenching tale of my childhood. Those being the only memories worth sharing with anyone. What was I going to do? The drive was going to take me about 3 hours, it’s not like I hadn’t known for some time that there was a risk of others wanting me to regale them with some recollection. But all I felt was confusion about whether this should be done for me or for him?
See I could talk about the time he tried to teach me the important lesson of ensuring the electricity is turned off at the breaker and not just the wall switch. “Hey Snowy, did you turn the power off?” My grandfather looking back at me and replying “Of course the power is turned off!” This right as I’m getting ready to rewire the new combination fan/light fixture over the kitchen table. Grab a wire, next thing I remember is being on the floor, my teeth rattling as I try to check if my bowels were still intact. After getting up, looking him squarely in the eyes, instantly remembering that he no longer was taller than me I just growled and walked out of the room. “Next time check the breaker boy!” Another of those lessons taught, don’t trust my grandfather.
But then I think the crowd would be more regaled with the time we went to visit my cousin’s farm in Maine and they taught me to milk a cow. Hundreds of these things wandering around a field, and all I knew about milk was I could find it in the refrigerator. 12 years old and sitting on a stool, grabbing an utter while my cousins sat there laughing about the “City Kid”. I didn’t live in the city, I lived in the middle of an apple orchard you backwards hillbillies! So while also telling me the virtues of not peeing near an electric fence [another of my grandfather’s life lesson, only this time he was the one shocked!], everyone gave me differing instructions. By the end I didn’t have enough product to use for my own breakfast, let alone figured out how you do this to several hundred cows a day, everyday. Pull back the stall door, there it is, modern equipment. A room filled with stalls that could have saved my pride, or at least my version of it.
Now I think that story is hilarious and look forward to some day trying the same routine with my nephew. So that would be one for the positive side of the ledger. But it didn’t get me any closer to my solution. And the drive was almost over. I asked Whitney want she thought, “I don’t know what to tell you. I only see the guy at Christmas and your aunt’s birthday so I might not be the best judge for these stories. Just keep in mind, people will remember you for what you say now. Maybe you should think about that?”
Getting out of the car and sliding my suit jacket on I could see all of the cars in the parking lot. My cousins had made it down, my parent’s didn’t want to drive too long so they had come up the day before. As I walked in the doors, people i hadn’t seen in years came over and wanted to talk about life, mine in particular. “How was work?” “Gosh you’ve gotten to be so much bigger than I remember.” Me thinking that people were trying to gear me up for what was about to happen. My dad walking over and just grabbing my shoulder, leading me off.
Passing my grandfather’s casket I just stopped for a minute. The man I knew was there, but he wasn’t at the same time. All of those ugly stories that crossed my mind felt bitter in my mouth. I couldn’t say anything like that, I knew I never would have. But seeing him, eyes closed with his arms folded. Someone pointing out that we forgot to give the funeral home shoes so his big, floppy sock covered feet were just dangling there for us to smirk at. One last giggle at his expense. As it was time to walk in to the sanctuary, my dad drops one final gift into the casket. A belt buckle made of brass, emblazoned with a Mack Bulldog. The sound of heavy metal hitting the unprotected bottom of the casket sent a horrible thud through the silence, everyone turning to see if the old guy had gotten up or we had tipped him over.
“Is there anyone who wold like to say something else?”
I sat there is silent thought, I couldn’t move. For a minute I allowed myself to grieve for the man who I had spent the last 15 years avoiding. I shook out of it as quickly as I had the revelation. But this was about him, not me. It would be better to sit there in silence than say something stupid. Grabbing Whitney’s hand, we both knew I was going to remain silent.
Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon
Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.