Androgynous Canines, My Grandfather
and Lots of Butter
Written by: Alex Sandell
I wound up babysitting my grandfather today. I don't really know how it happened. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and I didn't think I'd ever see him again. Five hours ago, I still didn't know we were about to become reacquainted. Three hours ago, he was at my door. He's staying here until Tuesday. "Grandpa's coming over for a couple of days when Aunt Kit's out of town," I was told. "Uh, okay," I said. I was apprehensive about the whole thing, being that I had heard his Alzheimer's was really getting bad, and I haven't ever dealt with anyone with that disease before.
Then he was here.
Half the man that I had seen only two years ago. Suspenders holding his slacks up. His body frail. His hair unkempt. Shoes without laces. And he didn't know who I was. But he smiled, and warmly said "hello," then went on to play with my dog, Brady, whom he renamed "Baby," seemingly unaware of the fact that she was growling at him. "My dog is a dog for boys and girls. She is both a boy and a girl dog" he said, "she doesn't have any of the boy and girl things." I had no idea what he was talking about. Androgynous canines aren't something I've ever been made aware of. "I'm Alex," I said, feeling odd that I needed to introduce myself to someone I've known all of my life. He then smiled at me in this way that he used to when I was a kid. It's a smile that says, "I know you're uncomfortable, but it will be okay." If only we could talk about all those old times when he comforted me with that consoling smile. I suppose I could tell him, but it would be nothing more than a stranger telling stories. Not to mention, he seemed more interested in "Baby."
I showed him where he would be sleeping, and he smiled, nodded his head and began to lie down. "Do you want to go to bed now?" I asked. "Do I want to do what where?" he asked back. "Would you like to go to sleep?" I returned. "I'm sleeping here?" "Yes," I answered. "My dog is a dog for both boys and girls" was his only reply. He went to pet "baby" again, and, like before, she growled at him. "My dog can be mean too," he told me, "if we're going on a walk, and she wants to go somewhere she isn't supposed to, she just drags me along until we go there." "Yes," I said, "Brady is the same way. Sometimes you wonder if she's walking you or you're walking her." At that he laughed. It was the same boisterous laugh he has always had.
When he laughed, I realized that, even if I had become a stranger to him, he wasn't a stranger to me, he was my grandpa. The one who put up with having my finger shoved in his mouth, on my first birthday. The one that went out of his way to have a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon made for me bright and early, when I stayed at his house. The one that first introduced me to butter, rather than margarine (and I haven't weighed the same since). The one that opened up, for the first time ever, about his traumatic adventures in World War II, when I needed to ace a history project, and asked if I could possibly interview him. The one that said some of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, about my grandma, when she passed away. The one with the consoling smile that told me that everything will be okay, even if I am uncomfortable with it all.
I have an old television next to my computer. It hasn't worked in years, but I've made a makeshift photo display out of it. Whenever I have a bad day, or get dumped by yet another girlfriend, or don't get any feedback, or get in a fight with a friend, or get a nasty hatemail, or have a horrible case of writer's block, or just think I can't go on any longer, I look at that display, and I feel a little bit better. It's probably the best thing that I've ever seen on TV.
The display has a picture of me with my dog, Brady, when she's just a puppy. Her face is right up against mine, and she's staring into my eyes, our noses touching. Another photo has my great-grandfather and I, and he's holding me, and I'm smiling in a way that I don't think I've ever smiled since. It's like I don't have a worry in the world. Another photo is me sitting on my grandfather's (the one who died back in '92) lap and staring curiously at the camera. I have another up of me on the same grandfather's lap, and my brother on my grandmother's (the one who's still living) lap, on a sunny day, under a tree, surrounded by roses. Then there's a picture exclusively of Brady. There's another of me sitting by my grandma on the couch, all content to be beside her, her reading the paper. And, finally, there's the picture that you see on the top of this page, my grandfather holding me in his arms, with me sticking my finger into his mouth, on my first birthday. For the past couple of years, I've thought of that picture in the same way I did the ones with my deceased grandfather; a magical part of the past that will never come back, and me with a person I will never see again. Tonight I see it differently. My grandfather isn't deceased. How could he be? I just got him ready for bed, put some blankets over him, and heard him politely thanking me. As I walked out of the room he also said, "it's good to see you around again."
I don't know if the statement means that he actually remembers me, but it brought tears to my eyes, nonetheless. My grandpa is still very much alive, and I think tomorrow I'll get up bright and early and make him a hearty breakfast. One with a pile of pancakes, a bunch of bacon, lots of syrup, and a fresh stick of real butter.
©2000 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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