I didn’t know my grandfather. My family would go over his house every Sunday afternoon for lunch, and he came to live with us for ten years after my grandmother died. He died in our house, but I didn’t know him.
My grandfather had alzheimer’s. My grandmother died when I was eight years old, and she had already begun to see signs of his deteroiation. Before she died, I was terrified of my grandfather and always avoided him. His wrinkled face was always set in a deep, disapproving frown, and he never showed any interest in me or my siblings. He moved in with my family seven years later, paying for an addition to our house to accomodate his assisted living condition. His frown only deepened, and he was more interested in his newspaper and food than in his growing grandchildren. His alzheimer’s kept getting worse, too. It wasn’t too long before he forgot our names. His frown was replaced with a clueless, gaping expression, his eyes blankly watching us as we moved about the house, doing our chores or goofing off as kids and teenagers do. The last name he remembered was my mother’s name, and then he died.
My grandfather wasn’t a total stranger to me. I knew his name. I knew his interests. I knew his birthday. I knew the standard social media facts, but I didn’t know him.
Then I was sitting at his funeral, listening to my father and my uncle talk about my grandfather, and that was the first time I understood how little I knew him. He had joined the Navy when he was seventeen and fought in War World II, serving in the Pacific Theater, though he never saw any action. After six years in the Navy, he transfered to the Coast Guard and served there for fifteen more years. He retired from the Coast Guard and started working with the Post Office, and there he stayed before retiring after sixteen more years of service. Even in retirement, he didn’t stop working. He began working with the State Highway Authority, focusing on the bicycle traffic. He kept record of bicycle accidents, worked with the B&A trail, and went to different schools throughout the county teaching children about bicycle safety. He was a judge for the state 4-H bicycle competition, and he always had a ready supply of helmets to pass out to children.
Since the funeral, it seems as though whenever my father gets together with his brothers, they only ever talk about my grandfather’s acheivements. They talk about his time in the military, they talk about his time in the government. They talk about his life with their mother, and how he raised his second grandson as his own son. They talk and they talk, but I still get the impression that they didn’t know him either.