I had the privilege of spending a few hours in the car with my grandfather over the weekend – something I don’t know if I’ve ever done before. Spending time alone with him, without the chaos of extended family gathering for a celebration. Just my grandfather and me, with nothing to do but talk to one another. He is 86. A strong, healthy man with bright eyes, a contagious laugh, and a warm, warm heart.
He’s had a major health scare in the last year, and his mortality is written in the thin skin on his hands, in the questions he asks again and again as his short-term memory dips. But listening to him talk in the seat next to me, he seemed like he could live another 85 years, and I knew how lucky I was to be with him in that moment, hearing his stories and his still-quick wit. We talked about Colorado as we drove through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where he was born and lived until he was drafted at 18. About the snowy peaks that brought my grandmother out to live with him. We talked about how they met – a story I had never heard, about a classic wartime romance between a soldier about to be deployed to the front lines and a young girl he met on a day pass.
It’s such a cliche how often we take for granted the people who have always been in our lives. My grandfather has a place in many of my thirty one years of memories, and I adore him. But I’ve taken him for granted, and it became too obvious on our drive. The details I didn’t know and had never asked for. The candid openness as he joked about job interviews, and squeezing in a little church for good measure two days before deployment seven decades ago. I know a lot about my grandfather’s history, and I do feel I know him well, but motherhood and adult life have distracted me. I’ve lost track of my grandfather, but what began as a favor to save my sister a long drive on a busy day ended up being the best thing I’ve done in a very long time.
My grandfather talked nearly steadily for two and a half hours, and as I pulled into our destination – my parents’ house – I wanted to keep driving. Around the block. Away from the people that would engulf us as soon as we opened the car door. Back out of town toward the mountains and the stories that built my grandfather. My mother. Me.