Hi grandpa, how are you? I hope you are well and doing better than you did here in this earthly life. You once told me that your mother had send you to take this picture. I had never seen this picture, so after you had passed I went searching for it, and luckily it still existed. This picture puts a smile to my face every time. Look at you…! My cute little grandpa, dressed all fly in your little grown man suit. Where you wearing those gold cuff-links your mother had custom made for you on her measly single- mom wages when you were a baby? I was surprised she even let you, her one and only, can’t-do- no- wrong manpikin take this picture, since she believed that people who had their picture taken would die. If it weren’t for that one sneaky photographer, I wouldn’t even know what she herself looked like, since she just didn’t trust photographs. But she send you to have your picture taken anyway. And boy, am I happy she did…!
I especially noticed your shoes in this picture. Now either these shoes broke after this picture was taken. Or these were the shoes you were able to buy after you had to stand for hours outside of your father’s mansion, being ignored while him and his family went about their business, eating dinner, until they finally acknowledged you, scolding you, one of his many “bastards”, for having the audacity to come and ask for money to buy shoes. Shoes you needed because the only pair you owned broke, and you weren’t allowed to enter the school yard without proper shoes.
My mother told me that once, when she was a teen, she had to help you write a letter to seek employment. When she had asked you about your level of education, you had just looked away, shaking your head, as if you were hiding a deep hurt and shame. You had nothing to be ashamed of, especially not if the reason you had to quit school was not having the money to buy shoes. What a tragedy. And it’s especially sad, since I discovered that your mother’s first cousin was one of the first black teachers in the country. He even owned his own school. At first I thought that maybe the two sides of the family weren’t close. But that didn’t seem to make sense either, since you had several close relatives who were probably named after that teacher uncle.
After hearing that shoe story, I understood. I understood why you refused to turn on the little tv your youngest daughter once gifted you, because “electricity is too expensive..!”. Why you insisted on clearing your six hectares of land in the countryside with a machete, because you claimed you couldn’t afford a lawnmower. Why the only shirts I remember seeing you wearing were barely holding on, so old and see-through that they looked as if the slightest touch of a finger nail would just shred them apart. Why you, with all that frugality, still owned upwards to twenty plus pairs of shoes in a time where it was so economically dire that even I as a child never owned more than four pairs of shoes at a time; one for school, sometimes another pair of sneakers for physical education, a pair of evening shoes, and pair of slippers to wear to play in the yard. I got it. I understood why you lived in a house where there was a garbage pile in the middle of the kitchen floor, and where the slightest contact with any and every surface in your house would leave my body or clothing either black or an ashy white depending on the body part or color of my clothing. Why you lived in a house where I made sure not to drink anything before visiting, because God forbid I had to pee while at your house, and had to deal with the sight and smell of your toilet. Why, in all that dust, mold and filth, those twenty pairs of shoes were always polished and shiny. Not that you would ever wear them, since I had known you to be mostly at home or at your six hectares in the countryside. Like I said, I understand.
I understand the frugality in itself, too. You would always go on and on about your father, who had saved his money, when the wages of his fellow rubber tapper comrades would literally go up in smoke when they would use banknotes as rolling paper. How he had managed to acquire his own rubber tree concession, and then had bought his mansion and other real estate property, including the little one room row house across the street from him where you lived with your mother and grandmother as a little boy, and the house you rented to start your very own family. I get that you wanted to measure up to him by being equally as frugal in a way. What I don’t understand is the filthiness when you were older though. Why? What was the purpose? Why didn’t you just empty your plate in the garbage can? Why did you let the water pile up in all the cans and buckets in your yard knowing good and well that it would attract mosquito larva? My mother told me that when her mother died and she took on the housekeeping duties as a kid, you would what seemed like intentionally walk on the wet floors she had just mopped with your filthy work shoes. Why? Why did you do that to your grieving child who was trying her best to keep the household running? Did you do it to get your children’s attention? I know you complained to your wife’s sister that they were avoiding you, that they would go upstairs when you were downstairs, and to their room as soon as you would go upstairs. But you have to understand and put things into perspective, especially considering the circumstances of your wife’s death. Of course you weren’t their favorite person at the time. The bond between you and your children wasn’t the best even before your wife had passed. Remember the Father’s day incident? When your children had prepared this play to honor you on that special day, and you had scolded them mid performance, screaming to them:”I don’t celebrate Father’s Day…!”.
And these “eccentricities” continued well into their adulthood. Surprising your daughter, who worked at the headquarters of a prestigious bank, with a visit at work when you had just come from your six hectares in the countryside, in your typical worn out shirt, grass-stained pants attire. I’ll never forget the irate look on my mother’s face when you gleefully told her how a woman that lived a few houses down, had stopped you in the street, claiming that she would pray for you and had offered you some money. I can laugh at these latter incidents even though I’m sure that my mother and her siblings didn’t find anything funny about them when they happened.
Yes, you were complicated, you were complex. You left us with a lot of unanswered questions. But you were also my grandpa, who would go out to pick olives, cherries and all kinds of fruits when we would visit. If only you had know for how much money they sell “Shooring” over here! A grandfather who would faithfully write down all the birthdays of his grandchildren every year, and despite his old age would never forget to at least call on a birthday. A grandfather who had an interesting perspective on important historical figures, one that has greatly influenced my own perspective. So yes, you were complex, but then again most of us are, right?
So that’s why I hate that every time I think about you, I get angry. I don’t get angry because of who you were are as person. No, I get angry because of the circumstances surrounding your passing. We told the doctor not to put you under general anesthesia for what is usually a fifteen minute procedure under local anesthesia. She did anyway, and you never regained consciousness. I get angry at the fact that we lived in a country where we didn’t have a proper medical board, and where we couldn’t sue for malpractice. Sometimes I wish we fought harder, went to the press.. just kicked some ass! You just wanted to be able to read the tiny letters in the newspaper again. My father had the same procedure done not too long ago over here. It was so simple! He went in an hour before the actual procedure, they gave him some eye drops, gave those the time to do their job, and then called him in to have his lens replaced. It literally took fifteen minutes max! It was all just so unnecessary.
I’m also angry at myself because I didn’t even know beforehand what you were going to do or that you even had to check in to the hospital. Why didn’t I take the time to get more involved? I’m also frustrated with myself because after you passed I didn’t even remember when the last time was that I had spoken to you. You were my last living grandparent. I should have taken more notice. I also realized then that the last time I spoke about you wasn’t flattering.It was during a language course, and we had to construct a sentence with the word “grandfather”. I think I said something in the line of “My grandfather is a complicated person”. Which was true, and I’m all about honesty. But I now wish the last thing I said about you wasn’t something unflattering to a group of people I did not know very well.
In those moments that we now know were your last, your brother, who you had reunited with shortly before passing, was there too. He was familiar with Reikhi techniques and had instructed us to put our hands on your body to channel our energy and to urge you to wake up. I can still see it all happening… You, tiny and skinny, lying in the hospital bed, dressed in only your underwear, your left eye taped shut, with a tube down your throat, unconscious but gasping for air. And us standing around you with our hands each on one of your body parts, just constantly going: “Wake up, please wake up!” I realized in that moment that I had never been this physically close to you before as in those final moments and that I had never had any physical contact with you besides a handshake. And I also complied and was urging you to wake up, but deep down I just knew that you weren’t going to make it. Internally I was just praying, pleading to God and asking Him to please have mercy on your soul. Telling Him that you were the best father you knew to be. I asked Him not to fault you for not being able to break that vicious cycle and for not being able to show you cared, especially not when you lived during a time where mental health, and depression and therapy were still very much taboo. I begged Him not to blame you for simply not having the tools to deal with that hurt and rejection you must have felt from a very young age on. Rejection from your father, from society, from some of your in-laws who didn’t think you were educated enough, had the right skin complexion, but above all didn’t want their sister to marry “a son of that man”. If He is as righteous as people claim He is, and I know He is, I know He must have listened.
And then there are some moments where I’m at peace with how it all happened. Because you were never sick, and would have probably died in your sleep. In that house. Alone. At least now you were surrounded by family.
Your six hectares in the country are beautiful. Your children are developing it, they’re building on it, cultivating it. It has become a real family attraction. I know that deep down you would have loved what it has become, even though you’d probably fuzz and critique their decisions if you were still alive to witness it…lol. I know you are at peace wherever you are. I know that you are rid of that deep unspoken hurt. I know that you’re in a better place. Until we meet again…!