In memory of my grandfather.
She grew up in the 60’s where men wore white shirts, but he would find the shirt that might be a royal blue or a deep pastel. They had a cement terrace, and he’d paint each section a different color. Lime green. Yellow. Orange. She remembers them because they were so cheery and bright.
We were acquainted in the later years of his life, the years that encompassed visits to the nursing home on Cropsy Avenue — an environment for those who are no longer able to look after themselves in their old age. A residence that never failed to tie my insides into knots. I’d walk through the front door and see a helpless woman muttering aloud to herself in the lobby. I’d see people who lost the ability to walk, to eat, to function. As life goes on, regression rears its head. Humans tend to need more. Every slight touch is significant. Every ounce of aid is vital. Compassion is crucial.
My primal fear of death was triggered in that nursing home by the simple (and by no means profound) realization that people get older. And the people we love get older. And one day, they’ll no longer be here. I’ll no longer be here.
My grandpa would sit in an arm chair and chat with us about the weather, the day’s activities, the distasteful food served in the dining hall. His speech at times was slow and reticent, as if he wasn’t sure how to continue his thoughts in a place that didn’t suit him. After all, he didn’t really belong there.
When he retired he’d look to fill his time and was drawn to the bohemian feel of the village, mom said. It’s the kind of thing you or I would do when we were teenagers, but he never had those experiences. He grew up in a strict environment. When he started going to the village, it opened his eyes to a world he hadn’t visited before.
Sometimes, when grandpa sat with us, long periods of silence — the trying kind — would ensue. But then again, what do you really say in a setting that serves as an unnerving reminder that one day you’ll no longer be here?
He came alive when the conversation broached topics that included politics, music, writing, art.
He had an eye for art that culminated in the opening of his art gallery, mom said. I remember going there opening day — I was around 12 years-old — he was so excited and happy. His sales job was how he made a living, but he found no joy in that.
The gallery on Madison Avenue closed within the year; profit was not achieved. My grandfather’s dream was still out there, though, floating in a sea of what could have been. I remember feeling so sad, my mom told me. I knew how much it meant to him.
He had an intense longing for his written work to be published as well, but it never was. He’d extract wisdom from the words of Anais Nin — an author he greatly admired. He’d describe his writing style as ‘stream of consciousness’ and would experiment with memoirs and personal narratives.
He had an artist’s temperament, she said. A creative mind. And although we didn’t define him as one back then, it became obvious much later on, that there was, indeed, an artist inside longing to break out.