I found out that my grandpa died this morning at about 5:30. I didn’t know what to do, so I got up and wrote this. I’m kind of proud of it and it almost made me feel better, so I’m sharing it here.
The last few years or so, Paul Guidera, the man my cousins and I always knew as Papa, would often make a cryptic exclamation as he sat in his familiar spot at the kitchen table. “Last of the frontier,” he’d say, “moving west.” Perhaps it was from the Zane Grey westerns he loved in his youth, but I can’t know for sure.
What I know for sure was that he loved us very much, and this was something I always felt as a sort of glow that came from the warmth of his playful nature. When we were very small, my cousins and I would clamor into his lap to smoosh his nose (a nose I was later, for better or worse, to inherit). He’d sing us what he called his “ditties from the city,” little rhyming songs, and we’d delight again and again in the tragic fate of the peanut who sat on the railroad track, and the little monkey who got taken to the country. When I got a little older, Papa would pick me up from school in in the midnight blue chevy silverado with the chrome sidesteps that attracted so much local attention, and as we rumbled home, he’d tell me stories about what the neighborhood was like when he was a little boy. He told me there was a slough somewhere between his house on 40th and D and Theodore Judah, so he’d get in an old trunk lid with a pole, and pole across the slough to get to school, much to the chagrin of his teacher. As we’d pull up to the house on Tivoli Way, he’d joke, “I like you Rachel, I don’t care what those other people say.” If the weather was nice, we might sit together on the swinging bench in the backyard, underneath the loquat tree. He’d have a beer and I’d have one of those icecream cups with the chocolate syrup already frozen inside. He’d say “Well, what do you think about all this?”
Well, here’s what I think: Papa, I miss you so much already, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to a man who felt more like a second father to me than an old grandpa. Now that you’ve moved as far west as anyone can go in this earthly life, and seen the last of the frontier, I take some comfort knowing that each of us is like you in some way. I see you in my mom’s impatience, in my Uncle Larry’s muscles, in my tendency to experience the full gamut of human emotions on a daily or even hourly basis. And fortunately for us, we all seem to have inherited, in addition to that nose, that sense of humor and playfulness, that desire to be easy and friendly with other people that always stood out to me as your finest quality. I sure do love you Papa, I don’t care what those other people say.
NEW DECORATING BOOK | Better Homes and Gardens ©1981
Such a warm lil’ workspace
My grandpa was a fireman, and he has 3 fireman friends who come visit him, all of whom are named Bob. Bob Tosher, Bob Rugg, and one who is referred to alternately as Young Bob or Skinny Bob. I remember Bob Tosher from when I was young. He and my grandpa would get old fashioned hot dogs at this place called The Weinery, and they’d sing me a song that went “Rachel, Rachel, I been thinkin’.” Bob Rugg is charming but I think he’d talk to brick wall if no one was there. Skinny Bob is more serious and he drives his 90 year old mother to her hair appointments on his motorcycle. On Wednesday mornings, when he was in better health, my grandpa would brew his terrible weak coffee, and the Bobs would coordinate whose turn it was to buy doughnuts, and they’d all sit around and give each other a hard time and laugh for a few hours. Now my grandpa is in a hospital bed in the family room, waiting to die. The Bobs come more regularly. The doughnuts and coffee have been abandoned, but they still sit around and give each other a hard time and laugh for a few hours.
For several years I went to a strange, charismatic hairdresser named Robert. I once had a powerful metaphysical experience with him while he cut my hair, wherein I felt like the universe was speaking directly to me through him. It was an experience I hoped to repeat with each successive appointment. What happened instead was one of two possibilities. One, he would flit throughout the studio, scattering his attentions to 3 clients at once, turning my 30 minute haircut into a 2 hour affair. Two, he would focus on me raptly, stopping the movement of his scissors only to tell me about all the filthy things he wanted to do to me sexually. I guess neither possibility was ideal, especially considering that only one out of every 8 haircuts was ever very good. And yet, I felt some misplaced loyalty to him, both because of that metaphysical experience and because he never charged me for the haircuts.
I was getting something for free, but at what cost really?
THE BED AND BATH BOOK | Terence Conran ©1978
Tonight, my parents insisted upon me completely disrobing in the backyard before they would allow me to come into the house, whereupon I was instructed to immediately shower, because my father believed me to be “harboring” fly larvae in or on my person. ”They can burrow into your skin,” he’d said, “this is for your own good.” This is not the kind of thing that would just make sense if only I wasn’t leaving out certain foundational circumstances— if I’d provided the context, it would only seem more ludicrous.
For three years or so I was asked to perform many such confusing contamination rituals; it was an ordinary part of my life dating someone with OCD. It wasn’t until tonight, as I begrudgingly peeled off my underwear by the back porch light, that I realized I had been treading familiar ground.