Monday, October 28, 2013

For Papa

Three of my four grandparents died in the fall. This year, my first without any of them present, it seems an appropriate time to remember each of them and their gifts to my life. Today’s post is one I wrote about three years ago, for Howard Biggs.

I’m twenty-four now and I’ve never learned to play Clair de Lune properly. I’ve mostly dropped piano, but I played through Debussy’s lullaby today thinking of you. There in your living room, “resting your eyes” as I played Bach and Mozart, were you listening? I was so young, I never knew what was beneath those eyes. At the end you’d always ask “Have you learned Clair de Lune?”
At eighty you were still strong enough to mow the church lawn; at eighty-five you kept the smile on your warm face, jovial and generous as Santa Claus. After all, it was your handwriting every year: Dear Katie and Michael, Thank you for the milk and cookies. Ho ho ho. You sat in your chair holding your “King of the Remote” pillow and patted us our heads when we performed our original plays for you. Michael was your little buddy; I, your soccer star.

I didn’t miss you so much, being too young to know you. I read from Matthew at your memorial service and watched them place your ashes in a box in the sanctuary wall, to remain in God’s house. Eleven years old, I joined in extolling with the multitudes your faithfulness to God and community. Then Michael and I fashioned Halloween costumes from your closet (“old man” and “old woman”) and went trick-or-treating in your neighborhood.

The next summer at camp, my friend Kim’s grandma died, and everyone started crying about their own losses. I lay in my bed for an hour at rest period, working myself into tears over you because I wanted to be part of the crowd, to be comforted. After rest period one girl came and asked me what was wrong. I’m sorry I used you.

Grandma tells me stories over sandwiches at Panera now, stories of college during World War II or the racial sentiments in 1920s small-town Nebraska. I’d like to eat a sandwich with you, to learn what was beneath your accepting smile. I’d like to know more about the faith at the source of the prayer you always spoke before Grandma’s roast beef dinner--“Bless these gifts to us and us to Thy service, and may we ever be mindful of the blessings Thou has bestowed upon us.” Most of all, I’d like to play for you a little Debussy.

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