I fanned through the stack of papers, a miniature hoarder and psychologist all in one, counseling myself on what to keep and what to toss. To me, the things worth keeping are words and pictures that show the inner workings and quirks, the seeds of imagination, the sense of self, the bond of loved ones, the zest for life.
Edged between my schoolboy’s pages of beginning math, counting of coins and grid of numbers up to 100, there was this little piece of soul on paper, it too speaking of this number, 100.
“If I were one hundred years old,” the prompt ended and his Kindergarten spelling began, “If I were 100 years old I wrd need a weel cher or a wocing stic.”
The words blurred with mother tears. A wheel chair or walking stick. I thought of him losing speed instead of gaining it, how he’d no longer run so fast that you couldn’t see his legs, him feeling the aches in his bones not from growing pains but from degenerating ones…and without me there to rub them out. I pictured him bent low, body curling back into fetal position, nearing cradle grave.
I waved tears away and handed the page to my husband.
“It breaks my heart…” I tensed my chin adding cry creases near the laugh lines. Craig studied the crayon marks, the stick figure and his walking stick. I looked over his shoulder at the words, “It’s too much thinking of him so old…feeble.”
He mumbled the words. “You know what I see?” he smiled, “One hundred years and doubled-over, he’s going to find a way to keep on moving.”
My mind went back to the October day when my boy was made, life bursting forth on a day of death. I clasped the phone warm in my hands, anniversary plans with my husband canceled on account of my grandfather’s body laying cold in a hospital room. I wailed on the curb outside the restaurant, such grief that I didn’t even have the self-consciousness to cover my face.
I’d always thought he was invincible, that he’d last at least a hundred years.
Two days earlier, Grandpa had rolled up on a surprise visit to my office. I watched him unlatch the driver’s side door of his cargo van and use the door handle to firm up his stance. He pulled some things from his hoarder’s pile in the back then slid his feet over the tiny granules of the parking lot and padded up the concrete steps millimeter by millimeter. No slumped shoulders, no grumbling.
Condensation ran down the sides of the frozen-solid fast food shake he’d pulled from his freezer to pass off to me. Child of the Depression couldn’t throw a thing away. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what I’d be doing with it after our visit. But after the trash, there was treasure unburied from his warehouse, a photo of my mother in cap and gown.
“You have a few minutes?” I rolled a chair over for him and held out my hand for support. He didn’t need it. He sat himself down in stages, arm muscles quivering from the weight.
I showed him the planning chart I’d made for my mother’s 50th birthday party. I ran my fingers over the names of old churches and schools and street addresses, the backdrop for her childhood. Each name took us somewhere, Grandpa giving me a verbal tour of the months and years, the house on Birchwood, the family Pekingese, the church where he first shared the Word without saying a word, fingers and hands alone spelling out the message.
That day in my office, his words garbled behind a slackened throat, leftovers of the stroke three years back. It could’ve killed him, drowned him in mucus, the glottal muscle too weak to shield the lungs. He’d lived, more than lived, but now I could see strength pulling back from his body.
The next week, motionless, speechless, body resting in a box, my grandfather’s words echoed all the same. At the podium, my cousin picked up a piece of poetry, a curled page hammered in typewritten letters, evidence of the man’s inner workings. He read our grandfather’s lines out strong: “I won’t be finished with life until life is finished with me.”
Maybe my grandfather was invincible after all, if not in body, at least in will.
Even as my breath left me for a moment, squeaking out of tightened chest at the sight of all that gusto in the grave, unbeknown to me I was carrying a whole new generation of it. Inside bounced a ball of cells, the rapidly forming substance of my son, a person who’ll keep moving until life is finished with him…even if that means using a walking stick.