Another year has come to an end; and I would be greatly surprised if I am still writing in this space next December.
I’ve always known this blog had a limited lifespan. There are only so many interesting, curious or inspirational entries on my grandfather’s 15 years of calendars.
I’ve used up most of the ones with interesting backstories … so what’s left will involve my own flights of fancy and improvisations, more often than not.
I’m not vain enough to think that anyone comes here for my verbal two-stepping, or that I’m creative or inspired enough to hold people’s interest for long. This isn’t about my fancy words, or shouldn’t be.
There’s also the nagging feeling that I’ve fleshed out my family’s characters about as much as possible.
From a dramatist’s perspective, my grandparents and great-grandma just weren’t that interesting — not a lot of color and conflict. They lived frugally and quietly; they didn’t travel west of Lake Ontario or south of Pennsylvania; they exercised prudence and quiet good humor; they paid the freight and kept rolling.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with living that way, but after a while it feels like a twice-told tale. Or, at least, it does if you’re the one who tells it every week.
So, we’ll see how much longer this lasts. I am not devoid of ideas, but they are fewer and leaner on the bone than they used to be.
We will send off the old year with a fantasy, then. Which is actually not a bad way to send off an old year. We’ve done it before. (See what I mean about twice-told tales?)
Exhaustion gripped the middle-aged man like a dozen hands. Brushing his teeth had been a test of endurance; so had bending over to pull off his socks.
It had been a long, demanding day — a real pressure cooker.
It had started just about at dawn, with a suspicious yowling noise.
My grandfather was never great with cats, and he didn’t fancy a shinny up a tree on a cold November morning to bring one down. But it was either that or not sleep. So, he bundled up and did a good deed for one of his neighbors.
After that, he was too awake to go back to bed, so he made himself some oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Donning his work clothes, he went up to the attic, fixing to put a coat of paint on some long-neglected walls.
There’s no better time to change your oil than when you’re already wearing dirty clothes. So, paint-spattered, my grandpa carefully backed his car out of the garage, popped the hood and slid underneath. In only a few minutes, with gravity doing most of the work, the ritual was complete.
Rubbing his oily hands on an old rag, he stepped out onto the front sidewalk to clear his head and take some fresh air — only to see an oncoming man, just a house or two away, clutching a purse and running at full speed.
One good old-fashioned Dick “Night Train” Lane clothesline tackle later, the purse was safely in the arms of its owner; the culprit was gasping for breath in the back of a police car; and my grandfather was wondering whether there was any sliced ham left in the fridge.
One slap-up sandwich to the better, my grandpa then turned his attention to the pile of branches sitting in his yard.
He’d taken down a tree the previous week, but hadn’t had time to cut it up into manageable parts. So he grabbed his handsaw and went to work. Repetitive, draining work. At last, growing tired, he slid his blade through the final branch and stacked it neatly with its brethren.
Stepping back out onto the sidewalk to take another breath, he looked around, half expecting another purse thief. It had been that kind of day.
But instead, there was only a pair of neighborhood girls, short one person to help them with their long jump rope.
So he helped them twirl for a solid half-hour (would they never get tired?) And when they invited him to join in, he’d taken a turn of his own. He was nimbler than he thought he’d be, though he still took a couple stings to the shins.
Walking back into the yard, he noticed a new layer of leaves starting to spread. So he took out a rake and cleaned it up. It was getting dark, and cold. But the work wasn’t going to do itself.
The yard clean, he slapped the dirt from his hands and went inside to wash up for dinner. At last, a moment of calm and repose loomed, and with it the promise of a peaceful evening at home.
Then the upstairs line rang, with news of a visitor. Two visitors, actually.
The East German premier, on a rare state visit, had decided he didn’t much care for the hustle and bustle and brashness of New York City. An international incident loomed, unless a quiet spot could be found — and 1107 Hope Street was nothing if not quiet.
So my grandpa dashed out for an extra package of hot dogs and a few cans of baked beans. And 40 minutes later, when a big black car eased into his driveway, a humble American meal was waiting on the table.
After dinner, the heads of their respective nations – and their handlers – settled into the family room for some serious talk. Like any good American, my grandpa did not eavesdrop. Instead, he went up to the attic and put on the second coat of paint he hadn’t been able to complete earlier in the day.
Finally, the head of the household saw the bulking Texan and his graying, smiling European counterpart out to their limousine, leaving each with a firm handshake and a couple of homemade pfefferkuchen encased in Saran Wrap.
The Cold War would greet the morning ever so slightly warmer, as a presidential manservant vacuumed crumbs out of the back of the big Lincoln.
At 1107 Hope Street, it was finally time to go to bed.
As my grandpa collapsed into bed, nudging his head just a little to the right to catch the sweet spot in the pillow, a thought jarred him:
My calendar. I didn’t write any of this down on my calendar. I ran around all day. Never got an opportunity. And what if, tomorrow, I can’t remem…
He closed his eyes and decided to take the chance.