One of the earliest memories I have of my Grandpa is of how he smelled. He would come home after working the fields and smell of rich soil, unfiltered cigarettes and coffee. He was swarthy, having spent endless days out in the sun and he probably was dead tired from working but always spent a bit of time with me before everyone went to bed.
I don’t know if he was a complicated man. I think he was a smart man and looked towards the future and planned for a good retirement, one he wasn’t able to enjoy because a brain tumor took him just as he was winding down his time on the fields. I was ten-ish when this happened and had already experienced more than one death in the family. I knew what it meant to lose someone I loved dearly and while I didn’t know the man he was…not as an adult and not in the way you would know a person… I did know him as my grandfather.
And to me, he was not only a good grandfather but also a good man.
He wasn’t perfect. None of us are. He infuriated my grandmother and spoiled the hell out of me and my youngest aunt (according to my slightly older uncles. that youngest aunt is only a few years older than I am). He was grumpy and anti-social to people at times, earning himself the nickname of Mr. Adams after Adam’s Sour Apple Gum. Mostly they called him Primo because that’s the beer he drank but people did seem to like him. You could count on him. He was a solid man.
There were parties in the pavilion at the park right outside of their house and they would go late into the night. I learned how to do the chicken dance watching my grandparents. I remember my grandmother waving her arms and my grandfather laughing. I think the music came from the radio. I’m not sure. It wasn’t live. There weren’t musicians. And now I wish I’d had the awareness to soak it all in because sometimes I feel like I’ve got the only memory anchoring them in place which is silly because I know other people remember them. Probably better than I have because when it’s all said and done, I am looking at them through a child’s eyes.
My grandmother survived my grandfather by decades and I got to know her as a person. That’s something I am grateful for. I wasn’t happy with who I was at the time and was still struggling to find my path when she passed but we were always honest with one another and it was no hardship to take her down into town if she needed it or for me to bring her romance novels I bought by the box at garage sales. She lived in a large house meant to be for her and my grandfather… built when he was just getting sick… and sometimes I wondered how she felt living there mostly alone…. with her sister, Mary living across the street and within shouting distance. I know my grandmother wasn’t alone but I worried. And I hoped she was happy.
We only talked about my grandfather in passing. Same with my mom and honestly, I should probably talk to her more about him. To learn who he was as a person. To fill in what I have and flesh out the man who meant so much to me and gave me a solid base on what it meant to be human and while not perfect, at least trying to do the best I can. I have no doubts that I was loved. None whatsoever. That’s a gift I don’t think I appreciate enough. Or at least I do when I still the world around me and look for some peace. Hopefully I can do right by the men who shaped my earliest memories (my other grandfather was a huge part of my life as well). For now, I still smile when I hear the chicken dance and sometimes, when I’m having coffee with sweetened condensed milk, I feel like I’m sharing a cup with him in the damned cold kitchen in that house on Kaiwiki Road. And that’s honestly not a bad thing to do on some mornings.