Wednesday, April 22, 2009


One of the things I most regret is not asking for my grandfather's stories before he died.

I love stories, but it always feels like a delicate thing, asking for them. I think that this is at least partly related to the fact that life was so shrouded in mystery when I was growing up, everyone so carefully not talking about anything, living in houses of vellum and secrets. So asking my family members to tell their stories has always felt like intruding, like asking about an unsavory medical condition.

But not asking is such a waste, because I learned all of these things after he was gone that I would much rather have heard about from him. On one of my trips back to Florida this year, driving down a long empty road with my mother, she looked at me for a second and said, "I think that you were the only person he ever really loved." And while I can't believe that that is true, the thought was a little like being stabbed, knowing that I was only carrying my memories of him into the future and not any of his memories of himself. Selfish.

Sitting on the cold tile floor in a room of my mother's house, I sifted through the detritus of this life I should have known. There was a letter from a relative talking about watching my grandfather play his guitar in a country band on television, something I can't even imagine him having done. And there were envelopes after envelopes of pictures, of him posed underneath the Kapok Tree looking like Huck Finn, of the family picking cotton in fields which are now strip malls, of my great-grandaddy the bootlegger dapper in a suit and lounging confidently against a fence.

And now I can't believe that I spent all those years living five minutes away from my grandparents, seeing them a few times a week, and never thought to ask.

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