“my grandfather’s tears” by nathan

5 Sep

We walk into the house.  My cousin Earl says, “You know we just lost mom, right?”  I nod in the affirmative.  I pass him by, and into the living room, listening to the weeping choir, accompany each thudding footstep.  There she lies, on her hospice bed.  Her head is peaking out from the white covers.  The pillow almost camouflages her hair.  Her aged wrinkled pallid face is still, and lifeless.  My aunt Jarie just died 20 minutes before, on 26 April.

I walk up to her, almost in shock, even though this has been expected for some time.  She’s been ill for a couple of months with kidney failure.  But that doesn’t matter.  She was always so there, so solid, and sometimes it seemed as if she would be forever, the matriarch, ruling her family with fists of iron, except she isn’t.  She’s gone.  I walk to her side, and brush the limp hair from her cold flesh, my quaking voice saying goodbye.  Then, I lean forward, feeling the nauseating stench of loosened bowels fill my nostrils, as my lips kiss her frigid inanimate forehead.   I stand up, brushing the tear from my cheek; no need to get her wet.
Then, I sit down, and look at my grandfather’s eyes.  They are dry, but saturated with sorrow, the pain of seeing his sister, his final sibling, pass away.  I look away, as if to hide, to shield myself from his torment, and yet I find myself drawn back to them.  My gramma walks up to him, and gives him a hug, her eyes red and rubbed raw from the tears.  I embrace her and kiss the top of her head, and feel her strength wrap around my rib cage; she whispers her love for me, and I eagerly return the platitude.
The hospice minister comes in, and asks us all to hold hands, and pray.  I hold hands with my cousins, and watch as everyone else bows down, and honour their god.  The prayer is completed, and we embrace each other in a vain attempt of soulful comfort.  Yet again, I look into my grandfather’s blue eyes, and see the tearless sorrow.  I think of him being the youngest of thirteen children, and so being forced to watch his siblings lie down to death’s embrace, one by one.  I remember ascertaining how horrible it must be to grow old, watching everyone you knew, you grew up with, pass away…and then I am reminded of the one time I ever saw his eyes grow teary.
My mother’s been up all night with Aunt Jarie, and is emotionally and physically exhausted.  She wants to stay around until they carry her away, and I say ok.  However, as the evening wears on, all she desires is to go home.  So we go home, and we talk about our remembrances of our aunt.  Such as this one family reunion when I was a young lad, in North Idaho.  She had a box full of toys, hot wheels, water guns, and all sorts of fun stuff.  She promised them to us kids if we did our chores and were good…everyday we were all looking forward and excited to dig our grimy child paws through this box of magic.
Or the time we drove from yet another reunion in North Idaho and back to Portland, and the awning of her motorhome got loose on a bridge between Oregon and Washington.  It was a high wind adventure as her adoptive son and I climbed up on the roof, and struggled to secure the flapping thing.
Other cinematic remembrances flash through our minds, and out of our mouths on the seemingly long drive home; all the while the fight to keep the human raindrops at bay becomes more desperate.  Finally, I drop off my mother, and rush to the store.  I’m in a slight daze as I amble straight to the beer section, looking for something that will slake my thirst, and send me into an alcoholic haze, but nothing strikes my fancy.  So I leave the store and go home.
I go home, and pour myself a glass of John Jameson from the half bottle I keep beneath my desk, and I toast her with whiskey stained breath, and drink to her memory, feeling the mythological water of life burn through my body, as if burning the sins of the day.  I stare at a blank page, as I drunkenly struggle to work through the embroiling feelings, and write my agony down.  Then I write the following poem:

A Farewell Kiss
It was all completely stated with a brief kiss,
warm moist lips upon cold, pale flesh.
The tangy stench of death’s corruption
infiltrated the atmosphere, embraced the husk
you departed but a short time before.
It was a kiss, infused with the memories.
Cursory flashes of moments, miniature one act plays
That continually presentedyou by my side,
As we traded anecdotes, mirth, and lamentations.
It was a kiss, that said all I could bring myself to say,
and all that genuinely demanded to be divulged,
as it spoke of love, and the selfish reasons
that entreated you to remain,
just to grace us with more fleeting seconds
of your comforting physical presence.
But it was a brief kiss that stated it best,
as moist warm lips greeted cold cadaver,
vacant of the specter it once sheltered,
and whispered words of parting endearment:
Slán abhaille, safe journey home.
While it may not be the most ingenious poem I or anyone else ever wrote, but  it works.  Just like any other drug, the pen helps me escape, for a short time, and then reality comes back.  I look at my words, and then finish the bottle.  The burning sensation has lost its edge by this time, as the intoxication takes effect, rendering me barely coherent in thought, word and deed.  I rise, and plop myself in my bed, and lie there recalling my grandfather, and his leakless eyes.  I  remind myself of the one time I ever saw his eyes grow teary.

We are going on a drive around my old stomping grounds in North Idaho; Naples, Highland Flats, Paradise Valley.  We’re just leaving Naples, and he pulls off to the side of the road.  The damp midmorning dew foretells the coming winter.  He points to the railroad crossing and tells me of a friend of his, who recently got killed there.  Apparently, he had been crossing the tracks in his pickup when it stalls.  Then, he hears the roar of the coming train, and tries to unbuckle his seatbelt.  In his panic the belt is jammed, refusing to yeild to his desperation.  He is killed instantly when the train broadsides him; unfortunately his accident is repeated every year, with increasing tragedy, as more corpses line the railways.

Shortly after this tale, he pulls back out on the road, and we get back on to Highway 95, between Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint.  He points to a road leading off the highway for a good bit into the trees beyond, and says, “You remember Carole Nichols, don’t you?  She lives back there.”

I nod, replying that I remember her, as I recall spending many nights on their farm, using the outhouse, eating homemade cottage cheese and butter, and drinking fresh raw milk…the lovely images of a well spent childhood.  He pulls off the side of the road, and tells me about her husband, Elmer, who died many years before.

He was a local country musician, but he was well known before all that in the community.  He goes to a Saturday night dance at the grange, and they ask him to play a couple of songs or so.  He plays them, and everyone loves his performance.  After a while he grows weary, and goes home, and dies in his sleep.

My grandfather looks up at me, and I am taken aback from the dampness in his red rimmed eyes.  Then, he looks back out the window and surreptitiously wipes his eyes, and I pretend not to notice, for his sake.  We drive home and talk about small things, yet I am still thinking about what he told me, and what I saw.  The same two eyes that remained solely blue when his last sibling died, but yet exhibited so much unspoken pain.
Nathan  Tompkins

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