“Do you want to go to the park with the pond? Since it’s hot?” I waited to hear his seat belt click.
“No no no! We have to go this way! Go that way!” He was pointing out his window towards our usual park.
“Okay okay okay! Calm yourself!” I turned out of his driveway, preparing for the obligatory U-turn.
“Turn here! Turn all the way around here! Now!”
“I GOT it Grandpa!” I rolled my eyes.
“Slow down! Slow down!” He said after a bit.
I looked at my speedometer. I was under the speed limit, every one was passing me, probably shaking their fist too until they saw my grandpa’s white hair peeking up over the seat.
“TURN HERE!” He pointed at small store in an otherwise empty strip mall. “WINE, CIGARS, BEER, MILK” plaster in white across the green awning.
“What are we doing here, Grandpa?” I asked, pulling into an empty space.
“I need a rocket.” He was already opening his door and struggling to unfold his long legs from my mini hatchback.
“A what?” I trotted after him.
“One of these!” He drew his fingers to his lips and sucked in and then blew out, tilting his chin up. Cigars.
Back in the car my Grandpa patted me on the shoulder. “Thanks for taking me! You’re a good…a good…” He blinked a bit, “Well what are you?”
“I’m a good granddaughter?” I asked.
“That’ll work.” He replied, unsure if that’s what I really was. “Boy that woman at the desk sure is friendly!” She clearly knew him from his recent months of cigar smoking.
After we arrived we took a short walk to my grandpa’s favorite spot. It’s a wooden porch swing, donated by the Boy Scouts, deep on the trails of a nearby metro park.
“There’s someone in our spot!” He looked surprised at the idea that anyone else might ever sit there, as though it were actually located on his own back porch. His eyes narrowed at the two year old and his mother who swung violently on the swing, laughing and drooling (the child not the mother).
“Well let’s wander a bit further down the path and then we will come back and sit there for awhile when they are gone.” I guided him gently away from the swing, worried that if we didn’t get moving there might be a throw down despite the 83 year age difference. Grandpa followed me, glancing back over his shoulder at the mother and son. After we descended a bit down the hill we stopped. “Can I take a picture of you?” I held up my SLR, hoping to use up the semi-expired black and white film inside.
He eyed the camera. “Okay.” He put his arms at his side and gave me a big goofy grin.
After a few minutes of idly waiting just out of sight from the wicked mother and son on our swing, I was kneeling down, trying to focus on a flower. I somehow lost the ability to take pictures manually and was verbally cursing the digital age.
“Hey! Over here!” Grandpa called, standing in front of a few trees. “Take my picture with this behind me!” He threw his thumb over his shoulder, gesturing at a giant tree, eyes wide with pleasure at his new find. Next we took a picture of him on a bench, then in front of a field, then grinning, then looking pensive, one solemn, one happy.
“Your turn!” He grabbed the camera from me, but before he could snap a picture the cursed mother and son came over the crest of the hill, the boy falling over some roots. “IT’S FREE!” he hollered. “Hurry let’s get it!” He jumped a bit as he hurried toward the swing, stumbling as he fell back on the seat.
We swung for a bit, talked about the weather, the economy, his brother, dogs. “You know that guy that tried to sell me stuff yesterday?” He asked, referencing the gentleman from the home care facility we met with the day before to talk about hiring extra help.
“Yea, I can’t remember his name though…” I replied, wondering if Alzheimer’s is contagious.
“I think he was a fruit.” Grandpa replied, decidedly.
I laughed. “You do?!”
“Well don’t you?!” He looked at me. Expectantly. “I suppose that’s ok though. He wasn’t trying to sell me work. Just people.”
I let it lie, allowing the steady rocking of the swing relax me a bit.
“You know, I love these walks.” He said after a bit. He folded his fingers, rubbing his index finger back and forth in an uneven rhythm.
I patted his leg. “I do too.”
“I haven’t done much since my grandma died.” He thought for a bit scratching his melanoma scar on his forehead. “My wife.” He said, editing his last thought. He had pointed out the hospital she was taken to after breaking her arm on our drive to the park. “That’s where we lost my friend.” He had said, pointing out the passenger side window. “She went there and never came home again.”
I looked at him swinging, lost in thought, possibly trying to organize his words, possibly trying to remember them. “You have done a few things that were fun.” I reminded him of his trip to Michigan, playing bridge every afternoon, and riding his bike, anything to smudge out the gloom on his face.
“Yes but I don’t have her to play with anymore. I have to play alone.”
I stayed silent, uncertain how to respond.
“You know, I like to combine things.”
“What kind of things, Grandpa? Like when you’re shopping?” I turned toward him, trying to gauge if we had changed the subject or not.
“No. Not shopping. Like…you know…this.” He squeezed his fingers together and moved them up and down against the air.
“You like to write?” I asked him, following his hand with my eyes.
He nodded, lips pressed tightly. “I’m a good writer!” He smiled at me, “I’m like Allen Edgar Post!”
“Just like him?” I was laughing now. “Do you write about ravens too?”
“No! No no no! I don’t write about birds. I like people. And the sky.” He was very concerned with this. “We could exercise together!” He seemed excited.
“Like we are doing on this walk?” I asked, trying to connect this to birds, or writing, or anything really.
“No. You know for money. I’ll do this,” he scribbled at the air, “and you’ll do that.” He finished, pointing at my camera. “Together.”
When we got home he rummaged through the end table drawer next to his faded leather couch. “Here. See?” he said, handing me a birthday card. “I designed this..this rocket.” I took it from him, already knowing it’s contents from my hours of snooping and organizing as I cleaned his house.
A Poem by Bob
When the cool Spring air has warmed into Summer’s heat,
When all the leaves have fallen and Winter’s silence descends,
I will love you still.
And when the city lights have dimmed,
And the city’s hum has hushed,
When all the music has been played,
And life’s beat has left,
I will love you still.