Sunday, June 29, 2008

the last american cowboy

Some of you have posted beautifully lately on hearing the wisdom of those you've lost after they've gone. It's moved me, so much so I can barely get through your posts without breaking down crying. It's moved me because my grandfather see, I always thought he'd come back for me too.

I loved him fiercely. In a broken extended and dysfunctional family he reigned supreme, with a quick and fiery mouth and for most of his life a ready fist for anyone who got in his way (women and children excluded of course). His family was the most important thing to him on earth and never found the words to express it, he'd show it by giving everyone a hard time in an incredibly funny sort of way. He grew up rough, 11 brothers, poor, the bluest of collars. He had my mom early, he was sixteen years old and as such she grew up inside pool halls, watching his hands gripping a pool cue and a wrench with equal acumen.

I was the oldest of a mess of grandkids and we were closer because of it. I loved him fiercely, even as he made mistakes I only saw the grandeur of his honesty, the raw authenticity of a man who grew up in the streets. As I grew older we'd made our own way, I'd spend hours with him in his old barn, sharing a beer and pawing through endless miles of acquired junk. We'd talk about how much he loved his family. There was no bullshit between us and he was indefatigable, this man who could kick everyone's ass and as he grew older mellowed a bit but never really all the way.

When he was diagnosed with cancer we were all in shock. It came violently and without mercy, stripping him of his vigor in a way none of us could have imagined. One of the last times I was alone with him in the barn we talked candidly, him giving me a hard time for not settling down and telling me that was one of the reasons he was still hanging on, to make sure I didn't settle for a piece of shit. By some divine intervention and not too long after I'd met J.


His wife called me one day and said she didn't think there was much more time. She said it would be a good idea to make the long trip back and to do it soon. By then I'd only known J for a few weeks but I invited him to come and I was honest, I don't know where this is going but it seems pretty good. I want you to come and meet the old man. So we travelled a long road trip and climbed to the top of his dusty mountain and when I introduced him to my grandfather I said the same. It's not been too long yet but it might be something and I need you to size him up. And I knew he would too, there was one guy deep in my youth who he met and actually threw out of the house, the poor guy wasn't doing anything wrong and yet my grandfather had a sense, he actually opened the door and said you can get the hell out and you need to stop seeing my granddaughter too. At the time I was pissed and a few months later I'd realized exactly what he was trying to tell me that day and he was absolutely right.

The day I brought J to meet him my grandfather did something he hadn't done in months, he pulled on his cowboy boots and hat and enormous belt buckle and took J for a long walk, they scoured the property and my grandfather showed him all the things that were most important to him from his homemade cemetery to the cross on the top of the highest hill. My grandfather as was his way made no pretense I'm seeing if you are good enough for her, because I'm going to be dead soon and no one else here will kick your ass if you aren't so I'll have to do it before I go. But when they came back several hours later my grandfather looked at me, he's alright, girl. I think you might be right about this one. He's better than all those other dumbshits you brought out here. And I remember I started crying, not because of what this might mean in terms of me and J but because I knew he'd be dying soon, one less thing to keep his stubborn body alive.

He died a few weeks later and I've never heard from him since. I always thought he'd come to me, our love was so fierce and long I had assumed it would transcend death. But I still can't hear him and I wonder if I ever will. I've got no doubt he's busy, there are probably fights to be had and darts to throw where he is but I wish he'd let me know he's still paying attention. Because every day, old man, every single day of my life I still miss you and wish we could have just one more day in the barn.


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34 comments:

meno said...

Well, he may not be talking to you, but i just heard a lot of what he had to say. Thank you.

flutter said...

I imagine him to be watching you, letting you find your own way

carrie said...

You'll know it when it happens.

It has been so surreal reading these lost grandparent stories - having lost three already. Even more so with one who is half-way there . . . I am connected to and arms entwined with each and every one.

Thank you, for this.

Omaha Mama said...

dammit - you made me cry

How lucky are you, to have loved someone so much. I hope that you will get that visit, I really do.

ms chica said...

yeah. just yeah.

painted maypole said...

beautiful post - what a gift to have that relationship.

i have a feeling, Jen, that you hear him more than you know... through the things that he's taught you and the gut feelings you get and the memories of him... his voice is there, inside of you. It may not be as clear as you'd hoped, but I bet he's in there... whispering so quietly, and you are listening, without even knowing it.

Arwen said...

It's kind of scary when it happens, and you say the wrong things (or at least I did). I couldn't bring myself to go back to the front desk to find out exactly who called me but I am pretty sure it was my mom.

Lara said...

He's there. I've met my grandparents since they've died -in dreams,through a medium,through a hundred other signs. I grieved so much after losing them I wasn't sure I could recalibrate my life without them in it. I did, of course, but I have also learned there are connections with our loved ones who have died - everywhere.I'd be happy to tell you about my experiences, but I'm never sure how far to go on comments...don't want to sound like a crazy!

ewe are here said...

Lovely.

And I have no doubt he's paying attention.

the end of motherhood said...

I bet he would be happy to know that you are still paying attention...

cynematic said...

Jen, that was beautiful, fierce, sad.

Maybe you hear him every time you tell someone else about him; if we don't hear his voice directly, we get a strong sense of who he was and what you and he meant to each other.

QT said...

I'd keep an eye on that little one of yours....some of the things she says certainly seem to be wise beyond her years...

Oh, The Joys said...

I know he's all around you everywhere, just not sayin' much. He's watching you though. I just know.

Mayberry said...

I'm just looking at your quote with your comment form and it sounds like there wasn't a lot undone between you and grandpa. Which doesn't mean you don't miss him like crazy.

bgirl said...

perhaps he is in awe of you and your grace, and for that he just smiles, speechlessly smiling at the wonder of you.

Ron Davison said...

Now that's love and writing and honesty brilliantly blended. Thank you.

kaliroz said...

This breaks my heart because he sounds so much like my own grandfather.

Magpie said...

that was one good man you had there, and another you've got now.

Polina said...

You know, it's 2 months now since I've lost my granddad and a year and a half since my grandmom has gone... It is too late to realize that I have always loved them but have never had a chance to show them my love. not even a chance, but, may be, a wish... it is so painful now... I know I could say a hundred words now, but they don't need them any more...

Mad said...

I find that the older I get the more I become the loved ones I have lost. I take great comfort in that.

hele said...

This post made me cry.

Now my heart feels washed clean - thank you beautiful sister.

Janet said...

Perhaps he stays silent because you are navigating through life so beautifully. This was a beautifully written post.

Amy Y said...

Maybe he's there, but speaking through a lil girl named M?
Just a thought...

I have a hard time with the afterlife... I don't understand it and why some people can sense, hear, feel things that others can't.

I haven't hear from my Great Grandma's or Grandpa that have gone. Even the ones I felt closer to...

mamatulip said...

I always thought that my mother would come to me, and while I do think she has, it wasn't the way I thought she'd come, nor was it as frequent as I thought (and as I hoped).

But I know she's with me, and I know your grandfather is with you.

Binky said...

You sure know how to tell a story. When are you going to write a book, already?!?!

I know, I know. The problem is that the people who've got the most to tell often have the least amount of free time with which to tell it. But I sure hope you do, someday.

Kyla said...

Oh babe. I know he is. I just know it.

TZT said...

You drew such a vivid picture of him, I feel like I should miss him too.

So yeah, he's here. Most assuredly.

marymurtz said...

What everyone else said. And this: look at J. Look at M. Look at the work you do, the life you have.

I think your grandfather speaks through you every day, the way he influenced your life and the decisions you make. He would be proud.

Amanda said...

Oh, but don't you know? He is here in J, a looking glass he felt out and warranted as clear and reliable enough to be his conduit to you. One day, perhaps in your paradise jungle, you'll feel him. I know this as surely as I know my grandfather was there in the thick summer night.

I adore you, sweet friend.

crazymumma said...

It sounds Jen, like you have much of his strength and no nonsense attitude.

In that, he is with you always.

Defiantmuse said...

this is really beautiful.
yes. something in the air, huh?
xo

Bon said...

i'm late to this Jen, but wanted to comment anyway...because it is so beautiful, your grandfather so vivid.

and because i know the ache. i always thought and hoped my grandmother, my rock, would come for me too...give me some sense of her presence if there was such a thing. i look now for my son in the same way. i don't know if it's just that i'm not tuned to hear them...but even in my faithlessness, in the shreds of my once-belief, i still long to transcend death.

Ally said...

Jen, what an amazing tribute to an incredible man. What an honor to read about him.

Expatriate Chef said...

Much the same as I feel about my father, thanks for that moment to remember. I hear his words every day, memories, yes, but they are part of me and continue to speak as reminders that keep me on course.