When I found out that my grandmother had brain cancer, I drove to Calvert, TX to see her. I took a tape recorder because I wanted her to tell me something about her life and about her kids, my mother being one of them. I had no idea how open she would be, but I wanted to try. It is not that I felt really close to my grandmother. At the time, she had eleven children, forty grandchildren, forty-two great-grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. And most of the time when we would visit her, it would be a holiday or a huge family occasion, so I hardly ever got her all to myself. What spurred me on was not that she was sick, but how much I had loved my grandfather and how I felt I never really knew him. He died when I was 17 years old, so I had been around him plenty, but he was a mystery to me.
Whenever the family gathered in Calvert, my grandfather kind of stayed back in the corner, allowing my grandmother to get all of the attention. He would sit in his chair, head resting in his hand, and would seem to be lost in thought as we would laugh and play around him. Occasionally, he would tell stories. Most of the stories were full of details about people we knew behaving in humorous ways. After funerals, you could count on him to lighten up the mood by regaling us with stories about the deceased. Before the day was over, he would retreat to the shadows again--with us but somewhere else.
He always told the same story about me. My brother and I were visiting my grandparents. Actually, we lived with them for a while after my father died, a fact I learned when I interviewed my grandmother. Apparently, there was a trail of cowboys, black cowboys, who would pass by the house everyday and I would want to see them. I would run from the back of the house to the front at top speed. When I got to the steps, I sailed right over them, my short legs never touching a step as I landed safely on the ground and continued to run to the gate to greet the cowboys. My grandpa said he held his breath every time I got to the steps, sure that I would stumble one day. But I never did, he was proud to say.
After his funeral, we told stories about him too, but it got kind of bizarre.
We were all talking about how our grandfather had never really been to Dallas before. Most of the relatives, my aunts and uncles, lived in the Dallas Metroplex, but my grandparents did not visit there much. I don't really think my grandfather visited until right before his death. He had come up to to have an operation, and though it supposedly went well, he died a few days after it. I remember being angry because no one told me why he needed the operation, and my mom did not let me go to the hospital in the days after they found him on the hospital floor. The last time I had seen him was the day before his operation. Two of my cousins, my grandmother and I were visiting him in the hospital. We were about to leave and he started to cry. My grandmother held him and kissed him. I stared because I had never seen him cry and I had never really seen them together like that. That ended up being the last image I had of him alive.
Anyway, my cousin was talking about how, a few days before his operation, he had insisted on being taken back to Calvert. I don't know who drove him home, but they said that he went to his house, walked around a bit, and visited with his daughter who still lived there. Then he came back to Dallas. We figure he probably knew he would never be back again and he wanted to see his home one last time. After a few minutes of silence my cousin added that she saw my grandfather after he died. She said that he appeared at the foot of her bed, surrounded by a bright light, and told her that he was alright. One of my immediately exclaimed that the same thing had happened to her too. As they discussed the similarities of these events the rest of us listened in awe. I was a little bit jealous. Why didn't he come to me too?
After a while, we went to bed. My mom and I were going to share a bed in a room that held three beds. My brother occupied one of the beds and I can't remember who else was in the room. I climbed into bed and started thinking. I really wanted to see if my grandfather would come to me. My mother was in the bathroom getting ready for bed, and everyone else in the room was already sleeping. I said to myself, "Daddy, (most of us grandchildren called him daddy), if you are going to come, please come by the time I count to 10. Don't come after I pass 10 or I'm going to be scared. Okay?" Then I started counting in my head: one...two...three...four (come on)...five...six...ssevveeen...eiiiight....niiiiiinnnnnnne..TEN! He did not come!
I jumped out of the bed and ran to the bathroom where my mother was brushing her teeth. She asked me if I needed to use the toilet and I told her no, I just wanted to wait for her to come to bed. I was 17 and I had no shame about this. So, there I stayed until she finished her bath, brushed her teeth, and dressed for bed. All the while I talked to her about any and everything else but what I had just done.
The next day, I told my brother about calling out our grandfather. He laughed and said sheepishly, "I did the same thing too."
So, I guess I missed my opportunity to talk to him when he was alive and then again after he died. I did not want to do the same with my grandmother. I wanted to talk to her and get to know her better. Turns out, she told me things she had never told any before.
To be continued...