My eyes opened. I was awake and not sure why. I turned to my side and looked at the clock and it was 5:24am – the flashing lights of the alarm lit up the entire room- it blinked to a dull rhythm. Then muted in the distance I heard the phone ring and my heart sunk, but I was not sure why. The phone was answered upstairs in my mom’s room, I heard some talking but it was only muffled noise to me. The conversation was brief- maybe 20 seconds at best. I continued to lay on my back, starring at the ceiling, my awareness became heightened to the point that I was cognizant of every time I blinked. I heard the footsteps of people scuffling around from room to room. I got out of bed, reluctantly, and walked up stairs-slowly. As I rounded the first bend of the stairs the sounds of upstairs became clearer. The sounds of my mother and sister crying echoed down the hall. I went down the hall, dragging my hand across the wall as I went, as if the resistance would warp time and delay this encounter. I entered my mom’s room, which was the corner room in the back of the house and my younger sister and mom were huddled at the head of the bed, atop the pillows, crying. I instantly jumped into bed and joined the embrace and shortly thereafter my older sister came out of the bathroom and joined us. Unaware of why we were hugging and crying, I asked, “What’s wrong?” and my mom responded, “Grandma died”.
My grandparents lived about 4.5 hours away in a small town called Sterling City, which was in the mountains north of Chico. We were on the road to Sterling city within 45 minutes of awaking that morning. I do not remember a single thing from that car ride. My grandparents lived in the last home on the main street, although the city only has 2 streets. Their house was a small one story, one bedroom cottage-like house with a tin roof and blue paint. They had a large fenced in yard for their two dogs to run and play. My grandfather, who was a former machinist and very mechanically inclined, had random projects sprawled across the lawn- like a chair carved from a tree stump. When I was younger I thought they were the chairs of royalty- perhaps because of their high-backs and because I needed help getting in them. My grandfather, who always seemed to be bigger than life in stature, ironically never sat in the chair he built- but he was still royalty to me. I then walked past the garage that was lined with dirty dusty windows that you couldn’t see through, except one clean window. That’s the window my cousin and I accidently through a baseball through the summer before and it had been recently replaced. Next to the front door was a claw-foot bathtub that my grandmother grew herbs and flowers in- everything was tall and flourishing. The flowers were about a day away from blossoming. We walked through the front door that was unlocked, as always.
We entered the living room, which looked the same as it usually does: Victorian era furniture, coffee table with popular science, a wall of cookoo clocks my grandfather built or repaired, a grandfather clock and the dogs sleeping on the couch. However, it looked smaller. Maybe because I am a year older and taller or maybe because the room was filled with relatives or maybe the world is just a little smaller without my grandmother. I looked around for my grandpa, because he had always been the kind of person who could turn the mood of a room. I asked my aunt where grandpa was and she replied, “out back”. I bolted into the kitchen and headed toward the back door as I heard my aunt say, “don’t go out there”. I disregarded her and proceeded to go in the backyard anyway.
Exiting through the back door there was a small deck that connected the house to the garage and there are two steps that led off the deck to a pathway that goes to the backyard. The pathway was surrounded on both sides with garden rocks- from marbles to golf balls, in size. My grandfather was sitting cross-legged in the rocks on the right side, the side that the house was on. He was kind of leaning on the house as he sat. His back was to me and he was unaware of my presents. I slowly walked toward him.
My mother has always told stories of my grandpa, not to me, but with my aunts and uncles when they were over for dinner or a holiday, about the crazy things he did when they were kids. His volatile temper is very well known- a man you do not want to cross, regardless of the situation. A tall man with strong, broad shoulders and a charged personality- and he never admits fault.
I walked slowly toward a man I have always looked up to, respected and even feared, from time to time. I got close enough to see in front of him and I realized what he was doing. He was taking rocks and pouring them from hand to hand like a waterfall and then back to the other hand- over and over. The rocks, as I looked closely, were blood stained and my grandfather was sobbing. He turned and looked at me and had the realization that this might be too much for a young child and he pulled me in for a hug and then stood up and brought me inside. We walked into the kitchen and he was holding my hand, or perhaps I was holding his. He completely transformed from the sobbing widower to a host for all his family. He began to make breakfast and brew coffee. My uncle went over and stopped him and told him to sit and rest, we will take care of that. My aunt and uncle made breakfast for the family, which was not as good as what grandpa would have made, perhaps that is fittingly so. We all sat and ate. Quietly.
My grandparents had their own seats at the dinning room table and for as long as I can remember my grandma always sat at the end chair, next to the wall and told us ghost stories. But today, my grandpa sat there. My younger sister took the seat next to him, which was normally his. She asked, with childhood innocence, what are you going to do now grandpa. In any other context asking a 6-hour-new widower what their next move is would be rude and insensitive- but a child, can get away with it. My grandpa responded, “well I have given that a lot of thought and I have decided that I am going to take the dogs into the woods and shoot them and then shoot myself”. Everybody in the family had the same expression on their face- shock, fear and incapable of responding. My sister, again with only a response that a child could give, said, “grandpa, that is not a good idea, I don’t think you should do that. Promise me you won’t do that.” He looked back at her face, which was fighting the urge to cry and said, “ok, I’ll promise.” He never broke her promise. My grandfather, weak and broken, is still royalty to me.
The next day the flowers blossomed.