They tell me that war changes men, makes them wild. That's only the weak ones, though. He was sad when it was unavoidable, happy when it was ended. A lifetime of harsh realities, defeated by laughter. Memories depart quickly, but I always feel at home there.
It's the flood of little things that makes us who we are. The old stories swim in my mind and slide through holes in nets between my ears, but I seize them one by one. He and she play in all the joyful places I cannot remember. I come from those places, though.
They tell me that bombs only end stories, never begin them. Today's marriage ends in fiery torrents, vague holes where love once lived. But the flames marked the start of theirs. A bombed out celebration, vows to last forever while buildings crumbled before their times. Weddings are visions of white. Behind blackout curtains, a charred cake was hoovered. Love knows no fear of foreign beaches.
I know nothing of how hard his life has been. Memories of de-mob suits and hastily constructed brick squares can never jump the generation gap twice. But I remember the happiness, even though I was never there. Cynic is my native tongue, but he taught me the language of laughter.
People don’t meet their grandparents; they know them already.
The little things are what I remember. Callendar was my childhood destination. It wasn’t the journey; I forgot that in minutes. Days of shared experiences followed every time. Stones tossed over waterfalls mingle with football in the park.
One snapped windshield wiper taught me everything I needed to know about life. Doune to Callendar is a short drive. The day was punctuated by a steady torrent of water. His old car was unused to such treatment from the heavens and lodged a protest in the form of a cracked wiper. It was a Sunday, and the days of roadside assistance were still a decade off. stuck on the hard shoulder, he wrapped a long stick in a towel, laughed, and got back in the car, still dripping from the flood. For him, it must have been one of the longest half hours of motoring that has ever existed, but I found the ride home nothing short of hilarious with one hand driving the car and the other alternating between gear changes and window clearing. Clouds don’t have silver linings with him. They’re silver on the outside.
Everyone in his generation learned how to play cards. For us, it was cribbage. I don’t remember the games, but that wasn’t the point. When we were within a thousand miles of each other, we played almost every day. For each point on that holey board, I learned life by example. I drank in honesty between face cards and humble confidence with every pair. When I was six, I cheated. I switched a seven of clubs for a five of hearts. I think he noticed but didn’t say anything in case he was mistaken. When I tried it again, he asked me what I was doing. I couldn’t lie. I could tell that he was disappointed. “We don’t do that.” That was it. He shook his head, and I thought he had just lost every ounce of faith in his youngest grandson. My tears were more real than any child’s response to spanking would have been. A tissue, a hug, and another match. I’ve never done it since.
“Life is for those who show up," he told me once. It wasn’t a repeated truism. I never heard him say it again. I was getting ready for a football match and I may well have been the most useless defenseman in the history of the sport. The fight with my mother over not going to the pitch had been ongoing for what felt like hours and was likely at least five minutes when he took me aside and said that. I was seven and I had no earthly idea what he meant. He said I’d understand after the game. Reluctantly, I put on uniform and pathetically unworn trainers. Honestly, I made exactly no spectacular plays that evening—or any other, for that matter. But after ten minutes on the field, I figured out why I was there. Never give up, he meant. I didn’t have to be any good to make him proud but if I ever gave less than my all, I’d never be able to live with myself.
Life went on—both his and mine. A few weeks from time to time have never been enough. Hours holding the ubiquitous phone, source of joy and frustration in one, have been filled with answers to every question I’ve ever had.
He jokes that if I ever need help with my seminar papers or the most demanding of client projects, that he’s only a phone call away. It's not funny to me; talking through ideas with him has given me more success than he could ever have guessed. But that’s not why I call.
I’m truly the personification of the bad decision. How to deal with stress and respond to incompetence have always eluded me. I see new-age Christians with ubiquitous merchandise proclaiming, “What would Jesus do?” If I want to keep my temper under control and my reputation intact, I ask myself what my grandfather would do. What if I don’t know? Well, that’s when I ask him—and I’ve never been disappointed with the results.
They tell me that life changes men, makes them weak. That's only the wild ones, though. “The secret to life is laughter," he told me once. “Tell everyone.”