Coffee always tastes better out of my grandfather's mug. I am on my third cup, already. I really should cut back, it is only 9:30 in the morning. I like to imagine that using his cup helps me keep his memory alive. He could be right across from me. If I close my eyes, I can see him peeking his eyes over the top of his newspaper because he thought of something to make me smile while I eat my Apple Jacks. We weren't particularly close as I became a teenager, but I always adored him. The way his truck smelled like Summer and sawdust. The way his eyes sparkled when he caught a glance of my grandmother, always busy bouncing around the kitchen, or guiding colorful blocks through her sewing machine. He had such a calm presence, I wonder if he was always that way or if it was something he gained from wisdom in aging. I feel hopeful, and connected to something deeper than a story in a book.
I still have regrets from the way he spent his last days. He was surrounded by people, but he seemed so alone. Accepting, but sad in a way I have only seen in the eyes of a few other people. After my grandmother passed, he lost his will to recover. They were together for sixty years. Their relationship survived World War II, four children, paychecks big and small, another war, several moves and remodels, and all of the added challenges of changing times, and aging bodies. This understanding puts my heart into perspective. My worries about life feel so much smaller after seeing that their love endured.
Grandparents are our first heroes, and a lot of the time, our first experiences with death. They never seemed old to me, growing up, though. They were young at heart, and maintained a sense of humor about life. My grandmother put Fritos in her sandwich, and kept Family Circus and Marmaduke clippings on her fridge. I can recall every inch of her household, partly because it never seemed to change, and partly because I was the youngest grandchild, so my visits were sometimes lonely. Sometimes, I catch a smell that sends me time traveling to her small closet laundry room. All of her dogs were fat, and they kept jelly jars to use as glassware. She made their bed every morning, and turned down the bed for my grandfather every night. I can still hear her laughing from the room down the hall, where my sister and I slept on a pallet during our visits. The best kind of conversations happen over breakfast and coffee.