Today always makes me stop and do math. My age minus the 14 years old that I was equals the number of years since you died (36 – over two-thirds of my life now). The green and black sweater I ended up wearing for 20-some odd hours the day you died is folded and tucked into the cedar chest. It’s one of my anchors that takes me back to days that changed my life. Death, the important ones, anyway, always seems to do that.
I only knew you in my lifetime as a dying man. You began passing most of your days from a sofa five years before I was born, only coming out of the house on the random good days that you had. I don’t know if you just didn’t have the energy to live every day or if being told that you didn’t have many years left made you sit down and wait to die. I never asked. I only knew you for the grandpa that you were – nearly always home, nearly always smoking and drinking coffee, and nearly always sort of melancholy and at times a little mean.
Your eyes were always the deep velvet blue the sky takes on in Autumn, and I see your cast-iron gray hair in what is growing on my own head amid the white strands that have lost their pigment. I see your momma’s face in my own and my mother’s, and that makes me still feel close to you, like you’re never further than a mirror. I wonder what you’d be like if we were celebrating your 99th birthday tomorrow. Your 63rd birthday having been spent in the sadness and sorrow of dying a day short of seeing it, I don’t remember much of any other birthday of yours but that one.
I’d like to think your 99th birthday would be one where we’d make another pumpkin-themed cake in honor of you and Halloween. We would get to hear the spin of your Southern drawl tell yet another story as only you could. Maybe you’d talk about how proud you are of your children and grandchildren for being good people, and tell stories on their lives and the past 36 years – most likely centering on the cars they owned and never should have sold. Maybe you would have quit smoking and found your way past the melancholy. Maybe you would have learned to love life and settled into the softness you had from time to time. I like to think you might have.